In the interests of creating a less threatening ‘space’ for today’s ideas, I am renaming “emotions” as …
… learning chemicals.
These state-of-the-art learning chemicals are at the heart of everything humans are, & do.
In return we treat them as poor, threatening &/or …
… embarrassing, relations.
By misunderstanding & misusing these learning chemicals, humans have been trained to equate success with rising above or getting clear of, emotion, while failure is a …
into their shameful grip.
Recently a commenter challenged my present focus on pain. Yet I have to start from where I am. If I cannot be honest about my current reality, there is no possibility of creating a reliable map to where I want to go. It was only through Robert Fritz’s spectacular work on ‘structural tension’ that it became clear how poor was my ability to see & acknowledge my current reality.
It has taken years and years to go from silence, to voice, & there is an exultation – to have finally reached the point where I can utter the unacceptable.
We have been chained into silence for too long. We sold out our voices …
… a long time ago.
It is a very great thing to get them back.
Anyway I think it’s extremely important to rethink emotions.
Today I want to contemplate the idea that one can be both strong & hurt. In pain & indomitable. Vulnerable & victorious.
What if we can rehumanize emotions &
learn to work with them –
creating the space for them
so they can rehumanize us.
First things first let’s get clear – learning chemicals do not weaken us:
“Feelings of anger and fear and elation emerge from deep inside of us and I think blocking them out is an artificial habit. In my experience, competitors who make this mistake tend to crumble when pushed far enough”
“Instead of denying my emotional reality under fire, I had to learn how to sit with it, use it, channel it into a heightened state of intensity … I had to turn my emotions to my advantage”
“It has been my observation that the greatest performers convert their passions into fuel with tremendous consistency” Josh Waitzkin
Learning chemicals make us remember things – both pleasurable & painful. What to avoid, what to go towards.
When we experience a surge of learning chemicals, we learn something very quickly and very deeply – as if it’s carved into our very bones.
Whether by accident or design, we seem to have learned a fear of these learning chemicals.
What we fear becomes bigger to us, & in turn,
Our fear of our own learning chemicals has created a scenario rather like the dictator gods of mythology.
Surely everyone knows that …
… gods need to be kept
on a leash.
Emotions, like gods, need to serve us
not the other way round.
But something twisted happened. We made fear into a god & then accepted living in fear as a kind of religion.
We’re so used to it that we never asked “who gave it its divine right to rule?”
Living through fear is NOT healthy or natural:
“The first thing to know is that natural creatures, although instinctively shy or timid, are not wildly governed by fears and terrors, as we have been misinformed from our youth up. The “reign of terror” is another of those pet scientific delusions, like the “struggle for existence,” for which there is no basis in nature. Fear is an exclusively human possession, or affliction; it is a physical and moral poison, as artificial as sin, which the animal escapes by virtue of being natural. It is doubtful, indeed, whether anything remotely resembling our fear, a state of mind arising from a highly developed imagination which enables us to picture events before they happen, is ever born into a hairy skin or hatched out of an egg. The natural timidity of all wild creatures is a protective and wholesome instinct, radically different from the fear which makes cowards of men who have learned to trace causes and to anticipate consequences … The very attitude or visible expression of birds or beasts …
… when you meet them in their native woods, feeding, playing, resting, seeking their mates, or roving freely with their little ones (all pleasurable matters, constituting nine-tenths of animal existence), is enough in itself to refute the absurd notion of a general reign of terror in nature … To go out obsessed with the notion of fear is to blind your eyes to the great comedy of the woods.” ~ How Animals Talk – William Long
In 1933 while the world watched warily as Hitler came to power, the new American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt …
… lubricated his country into its future position as Fear Capital of the world, by getting its people to swallow this slippery little pill:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself“
This reminds me of the hypocrisy of execution – in order to proclaim that ‘murder is a crime‘ you get a man (the executioner) to commit murder.
Perhaps it now makes more sense to find a way to use the language of learning chemicals & work with them according to their laws. Let’s look some ways of returning to natural sense by facing our orchestrated fear of fear.
The following comes from a book called Fix Your Phobia (Anthony Gunn). I really don’t think we are far from phobia in many areas of our lives now. But we don’t have to stay there. Facing fear teaches you so much & widens & deepens your life. It helps to unfreeze you & get you flowing again.
But don’t rush it. If you like what follows, the book is small & easy to read – it’s a friend when you can feel very alone.
“Phobias are incredibly common … it’s a strong, involuntary fear of a particular object or situation. The fear reaction is irrational because it is way out of proportion to the actual danger the object/situation presents. People with a phobia will usually completely avoid the object/situation (called phobic stimulus), or endure it with intense distress”
“The degree to which a phobia disrupts your life generally depends on the ease with which you can avoid your phobic stimulus“
“Certain phobias may make a person feel more disgusted than afraid”
“Many people with phobias believe that nothing can be done to treat their problem because it is a part of who they are … Others live in denial … ashamed to admit that they even have one”
“Many parents … keep their children’s phobias alive by preventing their kids from facing and mastering the situation that scares them. In a similar way, phobias can be passed down through families …
… via modelling, or other learning styles“
“your phobia stays strong …through you physically avoiding it, and using medication, drugs and/or alcohol to numb your feelings”
“The problem with …
… any form of avoidance … is that it not only prevents you from learning that you can manage the fear associated with your phobia, but also fuels your phobia … [a] phobic person will experience a … feeling of relief when they narrowly avoid being in contact with their phobia. The problem is that this feeling is like a reward, which means that the avoidance will be repeated, further strengthening the phobia”
“people learn phobias in three ways
- direct personal experience
- watching other people
- sharing information“
“Phobias can also be learned through sharing information about a fearful object / situation … such information is spread through books, magazines, newspapers …
... movies, TV, rumours, the internet, radio or just listening to people recall their experiences. Unfortunately, the media are masters at sharing fear-provoking information and they capitalise on people being drawn to stories about terrorism, shark attacks, child abduction, plane and road accidents, crime, murder, epidemic diseases, road rage, killer insects and animals, earthquakes, storms … the list goes on”
“Most people are terrified of experiencing intense emotion, so to avoid triggering them they will remain…
… prisoner to their old behaviour patterns“
“Viewing the expression of emotion as a weakness is fuelled by the misconception that success is based on not feeling. When the action hero fights the bad guy, we assume they do so without being ‘limited’ by their emotions. Likewise we usually hear the confident assertions of athletes before they compete, never their fears. This implies that if you feel or show any emotion …
… then you are weak and inadequate“
“Accepting that emotions motivate you, and that they cannot be controlled by logic, is the first step to managing them”
“If you ask yourself why you chose your partner, your home, your work, your car and even your clothes, it is likely that your reasons were not practical, but rather emotional. Yet we continue to believe that to be victorious in any endeavour, we must push emotions to the side”
“People cannot talk away a phobia because phobias are learned in the part of the brain called the amygdala – which is off limits to facts and so-called common sense. The only language that the amygdala, and therefore a phobia, understands…
... is the language of emotions“
“To be able to conquer your phobia … you need to be completely fluent in the language of emotions – this means you need to be able to accept your emotions and to learn to ‘sit’ with them. This is quite a challenge because, subconsciously, most people believe that avoiding emotions will actually protect them from pain. To lower the defences that prevent you from experiencing emotion, you … take small, planned steps … If you can recognise your emotions and see them as completely normal, then you are engaging them. The more you do this, the easier it will be to sit with your emotions instead of trying to avoid them”
“By ‘sitting’ with emotions, I mean noticing when you are feeling nervous or afraid or disgusted and then being able to observe the feeling without automatically reacting to try to get rid of it. Think of it like riding a wave. At first a wave rears up strongly and seems as if it could dump and pummel you, but the longer you ride it, the smaller and weaker it becomes …
… until finally it reaches the shore a fraction of its original size and strength. The same happens with intense emotions”
“To take control of your phobia you first need to understand how it has controlled you. It does this by triggering automatic avoidance behaviour”
“Most people with a phobia do not really know much about the situation or thing they are afraid of, due to avoidance …
… their minds fill in the blanks & make the fear worse“
“Safety behaviour is anything you automatically do to avoid confronting your phobic stimulus … but this behaviour is not triggered by the phobic stimulus itself …
… but by the feelings of discomfort … that you associate with it”
“Phobic safety behaviours are powerful. This is why the technique of facing a phobia head-on rarely works – our phobia safety behaviours will simply not allow it to happen … The key to getting round phobia safety behaviours is to sit with the feelings of discomfort that trigger them”
“Surrendering to discomfort in order to gain self-control may well seem counter-intuitive … A common misconception is that to conquer a phobia, you need to be able to feel that you can control the thing that scares you … This could not be further from the truth. Yo do not have full control over anything external to you. … Trying to gain control things that are external to you … only brings disappointment”
“In order to sit with the discomfort associated with your phobia, you first need to build up your strength of mind. This is similar to building up your body’s fitness: you start with lighter exercises and gradually build up intensity:
- Take one square of chocolate, place it on your tongue and close your mouth … Keep [it] there for two minutes … Under no circumstances are you to react by swallowing, biting down, moving your tongue, lips, jaw or head. Laughing is also out. You must remain still for the whole two minutes. … Sit wit the discomfort and rate it. First it will increase rapidly, and then just as quickly decrease“
“All phobic thoughts are distorted in the same way… They will always:
- overestimatea negative outcome
- underestimate your ability to cope“
“Phobic thoughts will grow in strength the more you avoid facing them … start challenging then, just a little, by identifying and labelling them as they arise … [this] stretches your mind, breaking your usual reaction cycle … whenever the human mind is stretched by thinking in a different way, it never goes back to it’s original shape”
“See yourself …
… facing your phobia by doing whatever it is you are afraid of … if you find the discomfort too intense, break down the visualisation into parts … eventually building up to 10 minutes … or until the discomfort is no longer an issue … If done properly on a daily basis, you’ll notice a dramatic drop in your discomfort levels withing a week“
And finally from a champion chess player turned world champion martial artist:
“I have come to believe that the solution to this type of situation does not lie in denying our emotions, but in learning to use them to our advantage … Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continually … When uncomfortable , my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it … My instinct to always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them” Josh Waitzkin ~ Art of Learning.
This is not a be all end all remedy, it’s just another few steps along a path I’m exploring. As long as I find it has interest or merit I shall continue.
Susan, the commenter I mentioned at the beginning of this article also had a valid point – there is a need to focus on the positive. Yet I think if we are courageously honest we will find that we fear happiness. If we can learn to tame our fear-frenzy, then I think we widen our future prospects exponentially, & all the energy we are currently putting into avoidance can be…
… directed toward
Text in this colour from Fix Your Phobia – Anthony Gunn
Text in this colour from Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin
~ ~ ~
Last night before putting this article together, Max, Fitzy & I teamed up for a podcast which has a life of its own as well as touching on some of the points made here. It was a great conversation – thanks guys.
Or listen to our podcast below:
“The automatic, natural contact …
… with his own emotions and needs gives an individual strength and self-esteem” Alice Miller
Over two years ago I made a personal commitment to healing.
It seems that some force took that pledge to heart because my life & health since then seems to have been a long series of …
… eruptions & expulsions
I never want to go through that again, but nor would I be without what I have learned.
I want to share one technique that has changed my experience of life.
I have certainly done nothing braver in my whole adult life
than this technique.
In 2011 I began a programme aimed at healing CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Although I still have the condition, the programme was a godsend.
The technique (which I carefully avoided for many months) involves sitting with pain or …
… painful emotions,
for a period of twenty minutes every day.
This ‘sitting with‘ could be likened to inviting “it” in for …
… afternoon tea & biscuits.
For twenty minutes it sits on your sofa & owing to the fact that you have neglected & abandoned it for years, it smells, looks & feels …
… really, really bad.
At first it can feel more death-defying than tight-rope walking Niagra Falls
Twenty minutes can feel unbearable.
For me the results of developing this ability to sit with pain have been monumental.
I can still recall where I was in my kitchen when I realised that feelings of horror & dread were a daily occurrence for me.
Without warning they would arrive.
Without thought I would enact one of the many …
… evacuation procedures,
I had put in place over the years.
But none of this was conscious until that day in my kitchen.
I guess by then, I had been practicing sitting with painful feelings just long enough to allow a small window to appear & when that day’s horror feelings washed onto my shores I saw them & felt them, as if for the first time.
They were intimately familiar, total strangers.
I had known & not known them.
The ‘why’ of these feelings does not matter here, but my freezing them out of consciousness, does.
Perhaps one day we will understand the brutal cost of …
… emotional glaciation.
But we cannot afford to sit back and wait.
On that day in my kitchen I realised that I had already created a choice.
The choice to unfreeze.
So I began to consciously sit with these feelings of dread & horror. At first, there was a strong revulsion as they sat on my sofa, took up ‘my’ time, slurped tea & dropped soggy biscuits, I wanted the twenty minutes to hurry up & ‘dissolve them’.
All I can say now is, that each time I invited them in, it got easier.
Actually along the way my whole life got easier. Every so often I was startled to discover that something that once felt like it was pulling the flesh from my bones, now had no effect on me.
As you spend more time with these feelings, it can be shocking to notice that their intensity is not that strong. This is a real wtf moment – because the urgency to avoid these feelings is GIGANTIC, yet the feeling itself can be …
… almost minuscule
I think it must be like the elephant tied with a piece of string trick. Our feelings are so condensed within us, that the merest shake of one strand has us at panic, or battle, stations.
When I pay attention to my personal feelings of horror, they are almost always in the left side of my body. They do not ‘hurt’. They have a very strong link to my senses – so that it feels like I’m looking at something horrible, smelling something putrid & eating something rotten all at the same time. My face contorts with this ‘sensual’ repulsion. But that is often the totality of it. All my energy then goes into taking …
… “evasive action”
to get away from this or that feeling.
That’s it really, I jut wanted to give you a tool that someone gave me.
So potent is it for me now, & often so strangely welcome & comforting, that I can ‘take tea’ with these feelings for up to an hour at a time.
I know that this allowing of emotion is changing something big time inside me, I am curious as to where I am travelling, but content for now just to keep doing the work, because I’ve had enough of exhaustion & disconnection.
If you do decide to give this a go just try to feel the feeling. Once you have connected with it in your body, let go of any meaning – no matter how righteous the ‘reason’ might be, when you invite your feelings in for afternoon tea, there is no room for justification – there needs to simply be you spending real time with these ‘messy, unloved, (non-carnivorous), monsters.’
It takes practice & courage, but the rewards will be all yours.