Fear Keeps Us From Choice
Today, much American thought and behavior is driven by fear. Given the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the lengthy covid pandemic (two years and counting), the January 6th attack on our own national capitol, mass shootings (how many of those in the last two years), and alarming and fear-mongering political discourse, etc. It only makes sense. Right? Yes, but…
Fear is the physical and emotional response to perceived threat, an active response to an unmanageable or uncontrollable perception. It happens in the body, the brain, and the mind. Fear hijacks the frontal lobe, and the more reactive, primitive part of the brain that governs fight or flight, the amygdala, takes over from the part that makes decisions and chooses behavior. It activates stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Both heart rate and blood pressure increase, and blood flows away from the heart and toward the limbs in support of physically defending one’s self. Fear weakens the immune system, causes cardiovascular damage, and absolutely narrows one’s vision of what’s desirable or even possible. It peaks, then dissipates.
That’s some of what acute fear does. Chronic fear does more of the same, more prolonged but just a little less intensely. While all these physical reactions are taking place, the emotional component of self is moving away from feeing good and is now seeking and sorting information by what’s wrong rather than what’s right. And boy, does that open a Pandora’s box of possibilities. Because, of course, you generally see what you’re looking for.
One example would be the problem of “helicopter parenting,” by parents who don’t trust their children’s safety while dealing with their daily experiences at school, in their community, in after-school activities. These anxious parents keep children so protected that they don’t get trial and error opportunities to take responsibility for and learn from minor mistakes and injuries. Consequently, the kids approach adulthood without the earned confidence and emotional stability of knowing they can deal with their own issues and experiences.
In metaphysical models only love creates and only love heals. In his book, “Love is Letting Go of Fear”, Gerald Jampolsky M.D., teaches that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Fear tends to deconstruct, to oppose, to avoid. And it transfers easily to our children.
Perhaps fearful situations and possibilities more easily get attention because they have a more dramatic sense, OR maybe it’s even biology, still around from our primitive instincts and histories — self defense and protection from tigers and invaders.
Still, most of the time fear is a result of imagining a future event or experience. It may seem to defy acceptance that the antidote for such fear can be simply bringing your attention back into the present. Baba Ram Dass’s admonition and book title, “Be Here Now” is loaded with metaphysical significance and while it may be tough to do, to create as your own in-the-present experience, its direct simplicity can be readily mastered. It’s not about burying your head in the sand; it’s about being more aware of what is in actuality going on around you and switching brain functions from the amygdala to the frontal lobe. That means from primitive reaction to current functional choice.