Thoughts on Snakes and Fear

Piggybacking off the last two days posts about fighting monsters (Fighting Monsters Part 1 and Fighting Monsters Part 2), I have another example of how we often view our fear inaccurately.

If you and I touch a hot stove, we are both going to feel heat, and if the stove is hot enough, get burned.

This is how the physical world world works.

We tend to believe that world of thoughts and feelings works the same way. We receive sensory input, and we react to it. But thoughts and feelings do not work that way. There are far more variables at play, a few which include attention, mood/mindset, and beliefs.

Here is an example of how it really works. My wife would say that snakes scare her. This is a perfectly reasonable, logical statement to make. She doesn’t like them, and feels a bit of fear around them. However, it is technically inaccurate.

This summer she was gardening. She was pulling weeds, dead grasses, and leaves out of one of the beds in the yard and putting it in one of those large brown paper yard waste bags.

About halfway into the job, she turned from the bed toward the bag, and to her horror, a small snake was slithering on the rim of the bag. She was startled, and a little scared. After all, she believes snakes scare her.

Now, this was a pretty tiny snake (in the world of snakes and yard waste bags at least). It would not have been big enough to get into the bag from the outside. So the implication was that it arrived on the rim from crawling up the yard waste as it accumulated in the bag, which means my wife actually had it in her hands at one point and put it in the bag herself.

Here is the key to understanding fear: If snakes could actually scare her, as stoves can actually burn us, why was she not scared when the snake was closest to her, when it was actually in her hands? It wasn’t because she had on any magical gardening gloves. It’s because she isn’t literally scared of snakes. She’s scared of her thoughts about snakes.

This is useful, accurate information to have. Because we aren’t scared directly by outside stimuli but rather our scared through our thoughts about them, we have two pathways to change. One is to understand that thought content always evolves, which is why we aren’t scared forever after being fearful or startled. The fear always subsides.

The second is that we are free to change our thoughts if we can, which may lead to less fear. However, it’s been my observation that when fear is understood accurately and is understand as a normal state, it isn’t further feared, which typically creates less anxiety and fear about fear, which reduces how much fear appears in the first place.

Fighting Monsters: Part 2

Yesterday, I posed a few questions: When a child, say 3 to 6 years old, is scared of the monster in their closet, what do we tell them? How do we react?What do we point to about the nature of fear? Where does it come from?

So how would you deal with this situation? Would you tell a child fears are not OK and must be dealt with swiftly?

Would you hand a child a magic potion or a protective amulet and expect it to work long-term to help them understand fears?

Would you send a child to boot camp to train them to increase strength and toughness to defeat monsters?

If you moved to a bigger house with bigger closets, and the child assumed the bigger closets held bigger monsters, would you then send them to more boot camp to get even stronger and tougher?

My guess is that you would respond very accurately and logically by smiling, telling the child that monsters do not exist, and reassuring them that the fear will disappear.

Monsters do not exist. Something that does not exist certainly has no power to scare us, so fear cannot be caused by monsters. What causes children fear are thoughts about monsters.

Fearing monsters may seem silly to us, but we do the same thing when we believe a score on the scoreboard is causing us to feel pressure or the pile of work on the desk is causing us to feel stressed. Nobody (literally no body or living thing) and nothing (literally no thing or situation) can cause a specific thought or feeling response in all of us. Our individual and momentary thoughts about those people and things are what cause the feeling.

If you believe something outside you causes you fear, there is a very high likelihood you are going to remind yourself of that belief in that thing’s presence and feel fear. The thing is not causing your fear. Your thought/belief is.

If you believe something outside you causes you stress, there is a very high likelihood you are going to remind yourself of that belief in that thing’s presence and feel stress. The thing is not causing your stress. Your thought/belief is.

Fear is a normal feeling. It naturally follows worried thinking, surprise, confusion, and uncertainty. Further, it doesn’t have to be dealt with or trained out of existence. It will disappear without any intervention, and the better we understand the source of the fear as thoughts rather than some outside source, the less we will believe we are in the grips of an outside force that has control over us.

By exposing this illusion of external control, we gain freedom.

By remembering that we are imperfect and will forget the nature of fear from time to time, we gain freedom over the belief that we must be perfect and in control of ourselves. It is perfectly fine to let thoughts and feelings arise and subside as they will. Doing battle with them is what exhausts us and drives us to distraction.

There’s no need to fight monsters or our own reactions.

Fighting Monsters: Part 1

This blog topic is going to be posted in two parts. I’d like you to consider the questions I pose, perhaps even converse with others, or post a response, before moving on to tomorrow’s second part.

When a child, say 3-6 years old, is scared of the monster in their closet, what do we tell them?

How do we react?

What do we point to about the nature of fear? Where does it come from?

Fear and Courage

I talked with a few people about fear this week. One important thing about fear to keep in mind is this: Fear has its greatest power when you believe you are actually feeling a situation or even a potential situation (a future situation). This creates a justification for your fear, and often, a seemingly insurmountable external foe.

But remember, we never actually feel situations. We feel our thoughts about situations. Fear is just our own experience of our thoughts, not a condition the world forces upon us. There are no external battles that force us to fear them. It seems that way, but the fear always resides only within. This is normal, and not to be further feared. When you realize the true source of fear is thought, you will come to see fear for what it truly is: A fleeting condition.

Another useful thing to remember about fear is that you won’t find comfort in outside conditions. Just as fear resides inside you, so does comfort. So if you are searching for outward signs that the time is right to take your risk, you won’t find any. You might think you have found comfort for a time, but before you act, your mood will change and the fear will return no matter what you are looking at outside.

If you seek true lasting comfort and courage over fear, look within yourself. There are no external battles to win. The goal is internal and within reach.

Pick ‘Em Up

My college coaches didn’t allow us to practice in silence. We were supposed to be loud with encouragement and communication. When practice fell silent with apathy or self pity, we were sure to hear a certain phrase: “Pick ’em up!”

Pick ’em up was our command to get loud with encouragement and enthusiasm. Of course, the command did not need to be issued by coaches. Players could just as easily sound the command to pick ’em up.

The idea was that when we were silent, we were probably too focused on being down in someway….

  • down on the scoreboard,
  • down on our playing time,
  • down on the weather conditions,
  • down on our conditioning, or
  • down on our selves, coaches, or teammates.

When we shouted encouragement, we were picking each other up. Now, based on what I’ve written lately (see It’s a Great Day to be Alive or Pointing in the Right Direction), you should understand that nobody can actually force another person to increase their own enthusiasm. However, we are reliable beings with working senses, and if someone is shouting encouragement at you, it’s hard to ignore.

It’s also hard to ignore the messages we send ourselves in a loud and clear fashion. If I am yelling, “Come on! Let’s go! We’ve got this!” at you, it’s also hard for me to ignore my own voice, and it tends to feed my own enthusiasm, even if I initially had to fake it.

In yelling encouragement, it is very likely that I will pick up my own enthusiasm, and it’s also likely that anyone hearing me will connect to my enthusiasm. The reason they connect is not because I forced them to be enthusiastic. That’s impossible. What really happens is that I am pointing in a direction that they understand. As with Coach Egnatuk reminding me that it was a great day to be alive, the enthusiasm is in them already, and they simply recognized or remembered it when I pointed it out. Their fire was never out. It was just forgotten momentarily and only needed a reminder to be stoked into a raging blaze.

This is great to know because it means that if we ever feel as if someone else motivated us, the motivation was within us all along. The implication of this is that we never really need anyone else to pick us up. We only need a reminder, and that reminder can come from inside or outside.

When you get many people together on a team who understand this, enthusiasm appears to be contagious, and indeed, some people may describe it that way. One person points in a direction, and two or more people connect to it and follow that direction. It can be an incredible experience.

So when life seems like it is driving on your team and about to score, remember to point in the right direction for your teammates and pick ’em up.

Overcoming Fear of Your Light

Earlier this week, one of my friends, Benjamin Rice, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes about our inner light.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness which most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

This quote is from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. I’m not sure I agree with the entire quote, but I think it rings true for many people. What I really love about the quote is it accurately captures a concept I’ve seen in many people: Fear of our light.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you fear your light, brilliance, radiance, power?

For a moment, consider why anyone would fear their light, goodness, power, brilliance?

I have a few thoughts on why this could happen. Some of these thoughts come from research, but others come from thorough experience and observation working with a good number of clients over the years. Here are a few good candidates for why someone might seemingly be afraid of her own light.

  • Discomfort with Change: People are simply very uncomfortable with change at times.
  • Fear of Failure: If we try to shine, and don’t meet with what we term successful outcomes, we believe we will feel like we failed. Or perhaps worse, we believe we will be failures. Thus, in this case, fear of success really turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: People are sometimes afraid to confront their light because they are fearful of giving up control. If I believe in control but don’t attempt to exert that control in pursuit of some outcome, I can still believe that I will have control when the conditions are right. I can save face, so to speak. There’s some safety in that. But if I let my light shine, and I get rejected or don’t get the outcomes I’m looking for, my confrontation with the limits of control is more stark and forceful. This seems risky if I am not ready to confront the limits of my control. Here again, fear of success turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: Marianne Williamson’s quote above has an important suggestion for why we might fear our light: Maybe we simply fear standing out as special. After all, if we are special and not doing much with our lives, aren’t we squandering our talents?

If you’ve read Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love, you probably know that she defines a miracle as a change in perspective. So following her lead, if you are stuck fearing your light or darkness, I’d like to point in a different direction for you. See if these perspectives help you embrace your light.

  • Discomfort with Change: If you are having discomfort with change, relax. You certainly aren’t alone, and there is nothing wrong with you. If you are truly letting your light shine, rather than making a grab at the illusion of outside sources of happiness, you will be fine.
  • Fear of Failure: We create our experience of the world with our thoughts. Success and failure are mental concepts, not physical ones. When we fear failure, we aren’t typically thinking about being a novice high wire walker practicing without a net. We When we fear failure, we are usually fearing the imagined consequences of failure. This is usually not a productive endeavor. It’s more accurate to understand that you can and will change your interpretation of success and failure as your thoughts shift (and they will shift as surely as the winds will change direction and intensity). You can also understand that you aren’t defined by outcomes, and you can focus on the moment.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: If you read my writing, I hope you already have an understanding of the illusion of control. Control actually contracts your influence and potential. Lose control, and replace it with belief in your powerful influence, and you will feel your light shining brightly.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: I think Marianne’s words point in the best direction here. She wrote:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine……

Please do not fear your inner fire. We are all powerful beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams, and when we let this light shine, we can help light the world for others, pointing them toward their own inner brilliance. Use the gifts you have to influence the world in front of you. Don’t worry about making a huge contribution to the world, your contribution should be to your world, which is your team,  your family, your friends, your community, your organizations. Rise and shine today. Be brilliant.