Roosevelt is famous for saying that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. When we are most collectively afraid, someone somewhere always quotes this. Were President Roosevelt still here with us, I would ask him a few questions about this thought because I do have a few.
- If we focus on NOT being afraid, what do you suggest we replace that fear with?
- How do we choose NOT to be afraid say, when a rogue virus we didn’t even know existed a few months ago (because it actually didn’t exist) now threatens our very own lives?
- How do we not engage in fear when one day the President claims all is well and the very next day he’s signing legislation to help the victims of the “unseen enemy” that the Democrats are making use of as a “hoax” (or something like that)?
- How do we actually be more fearful of fear than the virus itself?
First of all I don’t think you actually can avoid fear entirely. I also don’t believe that it would be healthy to do so￼. Fear seems to be a double edge sword. On one side fear is dangerous and creates panic. On the other side, fear becomes our greatest ally.￼
We are simply not afraid of many things we actually should be afraid of and what those things are is always debatable.￼ Right now though, we know that we must allow healthy fear into our lives. When intelligent and learned health experts tell us to wash our hands repeatedly, we do it because know that if we do not, we are at risk for bringing this virus into our bodies.
The famous aviator, Howard Hughes was known to be terrified of germs and as a result developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). His rational mind found no way to escape his emotional one. He had no ability to reasonably assess his risk and whether or not to wash his hands. He was so powerfully afraid that he was compelled to wash his hands that sometimes he would scrub so hard he would injure himself. OCD is what happens when fear itself allowed to run the show.
Last night I read a Coronavirus story that shook me to my core. I visualized myself in this person’s situation and found myself overwhelmed. I am a “high risk” person with an underlying autoimmune disease and a body that’s endured a lot of traumatic injury. The very fact that I’m 59 years old and alive in 2020 is often a great, wonderful surprise to me. Much of the time I live with a river of deep gratitude underneath me because I’ve been in hot pursuit of how to live WITH myself for decades including a very intense few years with a trauma therapist. In my work with her, I discovered that the only way I could continue to live without complete existential dread was to fully FACE the reality of the life I had, the intense fear, understand why it was there, allow myself to feel it, then change my experience with it and remake my life.
Today I’m living with strong feelings of fear. To try not to feel them only makes them overwhelming. When those I care about are diagnosed with the Corona virus, I shudder at the news.
I have come to the conclusion that though, President Roosevelt meant well, fear itself is really NOT something to be fearful of. It is instead something to be acknowledged. In acknowledging my fear I allow myself to be human. I take the fear from my emotional mind and ask my rational mind to process it. Most of the time I can see the steps to take in front of me. Just taking those physical actions, like washing my hands more often and more thoroughly, releases the dread and I can continue on in a healthy way. But last night, my rational mind became my enemy. I could not stop the catastrophizing. My central nervous system was on high alert and I could literally feel a panic attack in the making. Having ridden this bull before, at 2 am I sought out those in the a cadre of teachers and healers I’ve connected with over the years. Eckhart Tolle is one of those people.
In this recent teaching Eckhardt posted on his Facebook page, I was reminded to re-engage in the present by closing my eyes and feeling my hands. Sounds super weird if you’re not familiar to it but what it literally does is allow your brain to move out of thoughts that become obsessive. Often intense fear very quickly turns into obsessive, hamster wheel spinning. Doing this one thing slows the wheel down and even allows you to get out of it.
After I did that, I was still fairly charged so I decided get a story I used to read to my students years ago and read it aloud to myself. I loved the story, it was the middle of the night and verbally engaging in the story further calmed my central nervous system down. When I finished reading I felt safe again, put my head on the pillow and was fast asleep until 7 this morning.
All any of us really possess is this moment. What’s in front of us is unknown with parts of that unknown completely out of our control. Last night, I saved myself from a panic attack. Today I am grounded and embracing what is. It’s really a very good place to have landed.