How to Dance with Fear

It seems like both fear and COVID-19 are global pandemics in equal measure at the time of this writing (Thursday, March 19th, 2020).  I usually tell my clients that their emotional reactions to events and situations are always valid, because they are always emotionally reacting, quite helplessly, to their own subjective perception of the event or situation.  An emotional reaction is like a skin reaction.  Again, it is a helpless reaction to the subjective perception of the event or situation.  Now, our subjective perception can be heavily overlaid or influenced by events, messages, lenses or traumatic occurrences from the past, and our subjective perception is often patchy or flawed and is not, and can never be, objective truth.  And it is important to separate emotional reaction from emotional response in this context.  That could be a topic for another time. What makes the current situation so terrifically daunting and frankly, a mind fuck, to grapple with are the many layers and dimensions of unknowns.  We do not know which of our loved ones will be impacted, nor to what degree.  We do not know the exact percentage of the adult population that will become infected, nor whether we will be among them, nor when.  In the United States, perhaps we do not even know if we are already infected (as the result of the dearth of testing kits here).  We do not know the long-term effects of the illness, nor the exact toll it will take on the economy, nor the number of fatalities we should expect to see in the coming year, nor the long-term impact this will have on the way we organize ourselves as a work force and as a global community in constant relationship with our supporting planet and all other life forms with which we share it.  At the time of this writing, we are sitting together very much inside of the unknown.  And that is what we are emotionally reacting to, and our emotional reactions to that are valid. . . . and most people fear the unknown.  There is a vast vesica piscis between the unknown and death in the collective imagination.  Death is the ultimate unknown.  And I often say that all fear is ultimately a fear of death, or of pain (physical or emotional).  Anything with a central nervous system is going to fear and resist pain and death like crazy.  We are mortal beings with central nervous systems, so a huge part of us is going to fear and resist pain and death like crazy. Maybe this is part of the divine human task.  I love Sera Beek's idea that the divine human task is to love through the shit.  Maybe it is also to fully inhabit our animal bodies while coming to know, in one way or another, our little dose of what Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes called, in an interview on Sounds True, our angelic blood. What do I mean by this?  I am listening to Mirabai Starr's Divine Mercy on Audible at the moment.  She is someone who had already experienced an inordinate amount of death by mid-adulthood, and then took up grief counseling and holding vigil with the dying and their families.  She writes that one of the most valuable practices for the dying, and their families, is to notice pain and fear weaving in and out of experience.  When pain and fear weave back in, you can say, Oh, hello, pain.  Hello, fear.  I know you.  I see you're back again.  And just notice them.  Fear is like peanut butter.  There is only so much of it you can spread over the long toast of your life, however much of life you are blessed to have left.  There is a larger awareness that can hold the pain and the fear when they weave in and weave out again, as they will continue to do throughout any human life.   Mirabai has noticed that this practice has helped the dying and their families a great deal.  Perhaps someone out there has figured out a way to completely transcend these aspects of the human experience (pain and fear), but I have not. It takes courage, and personal power, to feel afraid, and to admit it.  Courage and fear cannot be separated.  Fear is a necessary ingredient in courage.  Fear will be coming along for the ride.  We can thank fear for helping to promote our survival, helping us to avoid saber tooth tigers and oncoming double decker buses, and for allowing us to make wise choices that have enabled us to live to see this day.  However, I want you to take a look inward at the double decker bus of your internal community, now.  Yep, fear is in there.  Hi, fear!  Fear can be in there.  But fear does not get to drive the bus. Before I have you all chanting, Yeah!  Punch fear in the face!, let's look at what else fear does for us.  Fear shows us what we really, passionately, do NOT want.  Use it.  Use it to see what you passionately DO want (hint: it's the opposite), and to promote that.  If you're noticing some existential dread and fear of death coming up aplenty these days, take this to mean that a part of you passionately wants to live and affirm life.  Then take care of your life, affirm life, and use your life as long as you possibly can.  If you're afraid of mass panic and the proverbial paper-thin veneer of civilization, then take that to mean that you passionately want peace and brotherly (or sisterly) love among people, and promote that. We're all racing to keep up with the sudden changes that are upon us, many are feeling deeply lonely, and many are grappling with the kind of huge feelings described above all on their own.  Reach out to someone today to take care of each other emotionally, and in every way.  If you are really having a very difficult time coping, that's what therapy is for.  Click the link here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation with me to see if therapy is for you, if I'm the right fit, or if another therapist or type of therapy would be.  The task of looking for a therapist is daunting and I'm here to help.  Until next time . . be well and be kind.   Photo by Shahid Shaikh on Unsplash