Fresh Ideas: Protecting peace of mind in not-so-peaceful world
Fear in response to danger is a curious kind of wisdom. That rush of dread spurs the brain to send blood to muscles and enable the fight or flight response. Pain is the body’s way of telling us things inside are amiss. The brain correctly interprets pain in the body as a danger signal, and so we see our doctor. But emotional pain isn’t a “healable” condition, and the brain’s expectation of danger when bruised feelings cause upset and pain, misleads us.
Since we no longer confront wild animals and spear-wielding enemies, we find trouble for ourselves: arguing with the next-door neighbor, hating the arrogant boss (or hapless employees), finding your children impossible. When we let reactive emotions get the upper hand in our behavior, life becomes an emotionally painful minefield. We continually expect the worst, and the defense response becomes a knee-jerk reaction; that fight/flight energy has to go somewhere. Bitter feelings droning away in the background of one’s mind will color our behavior and reinforce the habit of expecting the worst. These feelings attract more things to criticize, until we’re a painfully twisted bundle of fretting. Relentless media attention on the daily antics of the emotionally confused, unstable individuals in the world who have been empowered to control the destinies of millions.
Fear and pain are learned early and often. The flood of opinions, commands, criticism and humiliations, and insults real or imagined that others are impelled to deliver form interactions that nibble away at the self-confidence we’re born with. Rather than recognizing and valuing our own personhood, we devalue ourselves, and our spirits rise and fall based on our daily encounters. The opinions of others have become more important to us than our own.
When we grow up with only the opinions of others as guidelines for our behavior, we become cynical adults who deal fast and loose with the truth. We’re no longer as open as when we were small and trusting, having lost faith in the honesty and sincerity of others. Although we begin life with intense ethical standards and a strong sense of justice, we soon realize the people around us ignore these inconvenient strictures. The mind’s propensity to go with the flow of others’ behavior makes for a weakening of our life forces. Since everyone lies, and it’s accepted behavior, what value is there in truth? These confusions permeate life.
When we live a life without much direct, honest discourse, we learn little of importance. If dignity, respect and honor are a waste of time, it’s easy to blame others for what we lack and be afraid and jealous and emotional about what we may be missing or losing. We’re the prey of liars and those who choose to build up our fears. How do we learn to tell the truth if we don’t hear it? Today no one tells us “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Rather, it’s “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
None of these behaviors are conducive to a confident, productive and valuable life. Why waste the single life we have in the pursuit of objectives that feed the worst in us? The pathway to freedom lies with knowledge and clear attention, thought that provides character and opportunity, and action that creates a viable environment. All disharmony arises from our personal thoughts, desires, fears and projections, words and actions, and the needs that allow others’ opinions guide our decisions and beliefs. Emotions are the moving forces in life, and basic to our nature are love, hope, and joy. The only worthwhile objectives in life are those based on the desire for this kind of expansion, opportunity, and above all, harmony.
Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.