We live in a culture run on fear. Even before 9-11, I remember several nationwide discussions that could be considered “the sky is falling:” Y2K, the Mayan prediction of the end of the world, and the prophecies of Nostradamus. Forces both create and take advantage of people’s fears to manipulate them. Now we have the War on Terror and the daily or hourly bad news to fuel our fears, and frankly, people are so frozen with fear they have stopped thinking.
Some forms of fear are reasonable and healthy. Our fright/flight responses, in a very immediate world, can save us from harm. In our studio neighborhood, we are right to be wary of meth addicts, who are unreasoned and violent, and usually in search of money for their habit. Our fear makes us assess the folks in our area, especially in the early morning or night or weekends, when the neighborhood is deserted and we are more isolated.
It is unreasonable to fear the local homeless folks. They don’t threaten anyone, though it is not pleasant to have to put an old man out of the lobby into the rain when it is time to go home.
I’d like a different word for fear which is reasonable, and fear which is unreasonable. I can describe the difference, but the word stays the same, which is unfortunate. Fear which is reasonable is grounded in these conditions:
- The object of fear needs to be a condition or person that is predictably known to cause harm (meth addict over a homeless person.)
- Is there a high possibility of this situation or person being present or the event taking place (we have a higher incidence of meth addicts and homeless people here than in other neighborhoods in Portland — we see them several times a week, so the possibility is immediate)
- The outcome of this encounter is extremely negative (meth addicts have no boundaries and are brazenly strong and angry, and known to beat people, rather than just take money for drugs — there is a strong correlation to physical harm when that type of encounter takes place — versus an outcome with an encounter with a homeless person needing money, which usually is just uncomfortable.)
It is reasonable, in our studio neighborhood, to fear meth addicts and be aware and watchful when coming and going to the car or bus alone. It is unreasonable to be fearful of the homeless folks all around us.
I’ve defined reasonable fear, but what about the “unreasonable” fears which make us anxious? How unreasonable is unreasonable?
We’ve ridden a wave of lack in the last ten years. In our business, our work normally comes about 50-50 from institutions and private clients. These days, all institutions are suffering from a lack of funding. We’ve watched many competent professionals lose their business in this economy. That alone can strike fear in my heart.
As seasoned small business owners, we are used to the not-knowing of when the next job will find us. We do all the right things — network, advertise, have a backup fund for a slow months, and are good at our job, so word of mouth is strong, hence, referrals. But 15 years ago we were a more robust business. This recession has been a game changer. I handle our money and pay our bills, and now we carefully plan our expenditures and keeping our savings has been challenging.
I have ways of coping with what some might consider an unreasonable fear of unknown, fear of lack, and fear of uncertainty:
- TURN. THE. NEWS. OFF. Want to fuel fear? Listen to the corporate-run, politically charged, less information driven news YAH-YAH-YAHING. Instead, read your news from a reliable news agency, without the hype.
- I don’t talk about it much. Talking about it all the time, especially as there is nothing I can DO about it which has not been done raises anxiety.
- Sometimes talking about it helps. If I already am in an anxious place, then I can release it by talking to my partner. “Tag, you’re it! YOU do the worrying today!”
- Focusing on how we have made it, institutions support us when they have funding, jobs do walk in the door (sometimes uncomfortably late, as I would like work lined up for nine months in advance), and that we are still in business when many have gone under, reminds me that the gods and goddesses are with us.
- My husband is fond of saying, “You never know what is around the corner, what the next second will bring.” We are always balancing half-empty/half-full between us, and our only rule is that we cannot both be in a half-empty space at the same time. Someone has to sit in the cheering section at all times!
- Meditation, and along with that, clear thinking. Taming the monkey-mind, the chatterbox in your head is extremely helpful. There are times when I think I can’t spare the time and that is the time I need to center most! You can’t find release from monkey-mind until you HEAR what goes on in there. Upon hearing it, you can release yourself from it. Voice dialogue, Zen, TM, mindfulness yoga, whatever works as a way in to hearing and calming.
- Distraction: music or an audio book. I take a break from work sometimes and look at two of my favorite artist journal websites. A stream of artistic images is so hopeful!
Finally, I petition the goddess Maha Durga. The Vedic story is that the world was about to fall into utter chaos from the evil forces, and the individual gods were failing. The gods gave their power to Maha Durga, the Great Mother Goddess, who harnessed the collective power and conquered the forces of the worst evils in history! She sits on my desk to remind me that at the worst times, when the worst evils are unleashed, there is a hopeful possibility in the Feminine Force!
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Image is used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic,
courtesy David Shankbone, via Wikipedia. I changed it to sepia tones it slightly to make it dreamlike; my use of this image does nto imply that David Shankbone shares my views.