Fear unraveled

Don’t look now but a storm is coming.

Do you feel that? The hairs of your arms stand to attention, and you can feel them all as they rise from every follicle like they have been struck by lightning. Electricity is in the air. Your focus sharpens. The heart beats faster and drops like a sports car getting ready to shift into overdrive. But what do you do next? Fight or do you flee? Every one of us chooses our own adventure!

Fight or flight comes usually from fear. The Merriam Webster dictionary define fear as, “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.”. 

Fear is a funny thing, well it’s not funny if it’s something that’s utterly terrifying then that makes you feel like you’re going to die. Fear is what drove thousands of people hoard toilet paper before the COVID pandemic. Fear is what in Northern California drove thousands of people ransack the grocery stores before the bomb cyclone. What do they end up with? A garage full of toilet paper, and a pantry full of bread that is going to go bad in a month. Fear can drive us to do things that are not things that we would usually do. It can make us act irrationally. Fear can also push us to be courageous and have trust that everything will be okay. Lack of fear can also kill us. I mean just look at how many Oregon Trail games ended in little Mary dying of dysentery. Perhaps if Mary would have stayed in jolly old England then she wouldn’t have died in the wild west! BUT, Mary would have never reached her dream of living in the wild west, right?

On the other hand, there are other people that like being or feeling the fear making them feel near death. When they have accomplished the thing that is passed that fear they can’t wait to do it again. Like a roller coaster ride! Let’s go again!!! For example, climbing and mountain that is over 14,000 feet. People train for this, and they gear up for it every year. You see pictures of people at the top, with their sunburned faces, and their oxygen tanks. It is a once in a lifetime thing that they have accomplished. And on the way up they pass a grave of people who have not made it to the top. But these people push through the fear of dying themselves. They have trained for this. They are ready for this. And they are willing to lay their lives on the line to do this because to them they believe in themselves, and they believe it is important.

I, myself have not climbed a 14,000-foot mountain by foot. However, I have been at the top of 14,000-foot mountain or twowhen I lived in Colorado by way of train and/or car. What I can say is that the air is incredibly thin up there. In the same token being up there is like being in another world. The tundra is a place where you don’t see much grow in the way of plants. Sometimes you will see mountain goats up there though. I am convinced that at 14,000 feet and at high elevations in general that the plants and the people grow shorter than other places in the world because the air is so thin up there. Now this isn’t a reason to not go up and experience for yourself! It’s just a keen observation that I’ve had. .

Then there are health care providers in trauma and emergency. Ican speak from experience being in the healthcare field for 20 years when I say that there are some people who will run to help, and there are others who will run the other direction for the hills. Coming from a family of firefighters I didn’t really have much choice in running for the hills, so I was always the first person in the room helping. Actually I did have the choice… andmaybe I’m just cut from a certain cloth? Trust me though there were definitely times where I definitely wanted to run for the hills! As traumatic as it is seeing someone dead and making all attempts to save their lives some people do it day in and day outno problem. What I’ve seen over the years is that there is a fear of the unknown. We live in a society that is focused on staying safe and saving people. We are afraid of death and dying. Dying is taboo in American culture. We don’t know about it, and we don’t want to know about it because it is scary. We just don’t know enough about it. It’s like walking at night and hearing a noise in the woods. The mind goes to oh God it’s a bear and I’m for sure going to die. This is the end. And then impending doom is sure to set in. There is something about being in the dark and not knowing what will happen next, and the fear of not being able to control the outcome. After all, staying safe and saving people is what has helped us evolve to where we are now. There is nothing wrong with that! But in its own right, fear can really hold us back.

For example, one might think that nobody can live at 14,000 feet. The air is too thin. How would anyone live up there? There is an article that states “higher altitude inhabitants are generally smaller than low altitude inhabitants which was confirmed in the Tibetan refugees who’d settled in India since the 1950s. Hypobaric hypoxia is the main challenge at high altitudes, which long established high altitude inhabitants have overcome via biological adaptations, including larger chests, raised blood hemoglobin, and producing more nitric oxide, which delivers similar levels of oxygen to tissues as the lower altitude inhabitants.”.

Looking at this we can see that these people who live at higher altitudes adapt to their surroundings. Their bodies adapt. They can live where they would like and where they feel comfortable.While some may fear of lack of oxygen living at higher altitude, the body can adapt to this with time. I’m not saying to go up to a 14,000-foot mountain and run around like a wild person and not have supplemental oxygen. But what my point is, is that you can adapt. You can push through the challenge, and you can meet the goals that you want to meet.  

Like the U.S. Marines say, “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”.The marines may be too intense for some of us. However, they do have some great teaching points. Also keep in mind that when we are aiming for our goals there is always a certain fear involved. what you are trying to accomplish may feel like a battle. It may feel like you are climbing a mountain. But always remember that if you are feeling fear about something when it relates to your goals that you shouldn’t focus all of your attention in fighting the battle when you’re actually fighting the war. If you look at it in this sense, and you are trying to reach your goal then remember to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Take a step back and look at the big picture. Take a deep breath.And move forward step by step. There are times when I was facing emergencies and trauma and the health care field where I would have to take a deep breath and refocus my energy. When you move too fast, errors can be made. If your fear is anxiety producing, make sure to step back and take a deep breath.Refocus, improvise, adapt, and overcome. After all in the race of the rabbit and the turtle, the turtle was the one who won the race. Right?

Is there a way to be not quite the adrenaline junkie per se and just fight your fears? Sure, there is! However, this is all up to the person.

Mark Twain a distant cousin of mine once wrote, “courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.”.

Those people who climb mountains by foot, who run into burning buildings, who do not give a second thought of administering CPR like Sean McDermott who ran out onto the field recently to provide lifesaving CPR to Damar Hamlin in the recent Buffalo Bills NFL game in the United States… These are the people who are courageous enough to step forward and resist fears to do what they think is right. So instead of being afraid of something, reframe your thought process. What do you think is right? Do you believe in your message? Do you believe that there is no other option than what it is that you want or need to do? This is what moves people passed their fears.

On the other side of the spectrum, I can firmly say that there have been times when it’s time to let something die instead ofpushing through the resistance. There are times where things do run their course. There are times where things are too dangerous to move through. There are times when people are climbing mountain by foot and a blizzard comes and they need to hunker down for the night. They can move on the next day, but they must pause for the storm. There are times where it would be unethical to do CPR on 100 + year old woman who is at the end of her days and breaking all her ribs in CPR would cause more harm than good. But fear not there’s always a message that will let you know whether it is time to move through, to push through, to pause, or to walk away. 

A poem that I read this morning by Lao Tzu may give us more insight.

The Right Fear

When we don’t fear what we should fear

we are in fearful danger

We ought not to live in narrow houses,

we ought not to do stupid work.

If we don’t accept stupidity 

we won’t act stupidly.

So, wise souls know but don’t show themselves,

look after but don’t prize themselves, 

letting the one go, keeping the other.

Lao Tzu

 

Wise souls know. This poem speaks to me. There are times as human beings where we do not fear what we should. We end up getting hurt. Whether it’s physically or mentally. Another person can hurt us. Or sometimes we can accidentally hurt ourselves.Fear in some ways can keep us safe. Fear can also hold us back. When Lao Tzu speaks about how are we ought not to live in narrow houses and not to do stupid work… my perspective is that he is talking about having a narrow mind. Living in a narrow house can relate to being narrow minded in general. Being narrow minded can lead one to doing work that they may not feel as fulfilling. Most of us do not feel like our day jobs are fulfilling. If you have a fulfilling job though then good for you! This is the goal that many are trying to reach! I can speak for many when I say that a lot of us if we could live as an artist solely then we would. However, in this capitalistic society, money is power. Commercialism is power. Media is power. So,we go with what sells. And what sells isn’t necessarily something that you can monetize when it comes to many artforms. And what does sell usually doesn’t sell for a lot until the artist is dead. I know it sounds morbid. But it’s true. Just look at Vincent van Gogh. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not value things until the person creating them is gone.

“If we don’t accept stupidity, we won’t act stupidly.”. As they said in the Forrest Gump movie, “stupid is as stupid does.”. This is knowing and accepting that some things may not make sense. This is knowing that by not accepting fear, we do not accept stupidity. We move passed our fear, and we reach our goals to do what we think is best for ourselves and what is right. This is knowing that whatever fear is holding you back, when you get there, some may think that it’s stupid. Just now that if you believe in it, don’t accept it as being something that’s stupid yourself.

In the last part of the poem, “So, wise souls know but don’t show themselves, look after but don’t prize themselves, letting the one go, keeping the other.”. 

Oscar Wilde once said, “I am not young enough to know everything”.

Is the right fear the fear that holds you back and keeps you safe in looking after yourself? You may stay safe in your little cottage in the woods away from everyone in solitude. However, nobody will ever know the gifts that you have to give if you don’t share your prize with others. I am not saying that it isn’t good to know how to be alone. I have lived in solitude many times. It just isn’t something we as human beings should do long term. It is isolating, and human beings are not meant to be isolated. Case and point, solitary confinement in our prison systems. We have all seen it on prison TV shows and movies. Prisoners in solitary confinement do not do well. Humans are pack animals, and we evolve and grow with each other… not in solitude and isolation.

In another area, fear can drive you to let go of your dreams while shouldering them for your responsibilities of work, family, caregiving, etc… You let go of your dream and trade it with fear instead. If we talk to someone who is much younger, they may say that they never let fear hold them back and they just do what they want much like the fool card and the tarot deck. Also, a young person typically knows everything. We don’t always see it until we get older. But with a few hard lessons as we grow, we are quick to learn that we definitely do not know everything.

In end, fear can help, and fear can harm. Know when to stop, start, pause, improvise, adapt, and overcome. The feeling of reaching your goals when you have pushed passed your fear is one of the best feelings in the world. Whether it is rock climbing, mountain climbing, working in medicine, writing, painting, drawing, and/or making films… Just know that there is always a way to reach your goals. Don’t let fear hold you back.

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