We just returned from a long trip during which we got to skip into the lives of our seven children and fifteen grandchildren. (No great-grands . . . yet, but it won’t be long I’m thinking.) It’s hard to have all of our children scattered to the four corners of the earth. I can’t be the Elder two tipis down who offers food and advice and care of the little ones. Instead I am like a butterfly touching down to taste the fruit of my labors (literally) for a single moment.
In each place we stopped, I felt all that was good in their lives—and I also felt their fears, the fears of young families facing an uncertain world. Will my family be okay? Is the planet going to burn up? Can I afford to live in this house? What future should I follow? Will I have enough money to feed those who depend upon me? Will I get Alzheimers? (Well, that one is Milt’s.) Am I doing enough, being enough, acting enough, having enough? What will I do if all the systems around us crash? Will my car start tomorrow?
Big and small, all of these fears were fluttering around the many households we went in and out of. These fear-flutters followed us back to our hotel rooms and into the car we were driving and trailed along the many miles. My tribe is afraid. And I can do nothing to alleviate their fears. What’s up with that? I developed an intestinal thing and thought the metaphor too close for comfort—I was scared shitless.
I‘m wondering what we do with so much fear? We live in a world where fear is fostered–we eat and drink it daily. The problem is that most of these fears are out of our direct control. They are future-oriented, nearly nameless, bigger than big.
To their credit, all of our children and grandchildren are doing well. They struggle, they grow, they move forward in spite of their fears and are creating lives that have zest and a lot of love.
Back to my question, though. What do we do in a fear-riddled world? How do we wake up each morning and not feel crushed before we even get out of bed? I would really like to know the answer to that question.
Did you know that fear actually shuts down part of the brain? The reaching, growing, hungry dendrites retreat, the synapses are flooded with adrenaline, and we suddenly feel exhausted and unable to move. It may seem like a simplistic solution, but we need to banish fear from the mind. It serves no purpose unless the danger is immediate and actionable.
The only way I know how to banish fear is to give the mind something else to work on—a project, a plan, a creation, a bit of writing, a new thought, an idea, a bit of music or art, a complex problem to solve, a map to draw, a studio to build, a picture to fill in. It is our only hope! And in the process of creatively engaging with ANYTHING else, we reverse the effects of fear (and agingJ) . Suddenly, sluggish neurons wake up and pay attention. Little structures called dendrites begin their task of connecting and hunting for cool new ideas that lead naturally to other cool new ideas. Endorphins and other magical hormones begin to flow through the brain like good (and natural) medicine. We move from lethargy to life.
After our long trip I felt so tired and half sick. A serious case of the “why bothers” came over me. But I had some tasks to do and figured I better get on them. Yesterday I created a manual for our Youth Radio Camp that is scheduled for this Saturday. As I worked on the manual—thinking young thoughts to help the youth connect with the idea of doing radio—I woke up. An hour went by. Another. I was on a roll, adding images into the manual, thinking of these many projects we hope these young people will create. I actually got “high” just thinking about it all. My tiredness fled, and I had to pull myself away from my work to go on to the next task.
The thing that always amazes me is that my brain loves to take on any challenge. It isn’t particularly fussy as long as there is a bit of challenge in it and a nice measurable end to the challenge. My brain likes to be asked to do something difficult. Crazy. It is no mystery how to banish fear—ENGAGE ELSEWHERE.
When we were in Rapid City I taught a workshop called, “Yes, I can” that was all about how the brain creates and how we can direct our energies toward the creation we most desire. At one point during the workshop I drew two flower pots on my white board. One had a plant in it and one was empty—waiting to be planted. I said that life is like these two pots and we have to decide whether we want to continue to water and feed one plant or skip over and begin building the soil in the second pot—getting it ready for something new. It doesn’t matter if the pots are about career, relationships, futures, whatever. As I looked at those two pots, I realized that our choices in each and every day are just like those pots. We get to decide. If fear or a negative situation is ruling our lives—it is because we are watering that plant.
Yesterday, I abandoned the dying plant of fear and illness and worked on a new pot—the youth radio manual. By day’s end, I was restored.
I guess in all of my rambling today, I want to leave you with a single thought. There are always choices. There are big problems to solve in the world, but we have to have the energy to do the work—and that means choosing to create living solutions rather than to dwell on all that is wrong. One is life—the other is death. Which do you choose?
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