No one ever tells us to stop running from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear – Pema Chodron. When Things Fall Apart.
A few years ago, I had a fast paced and demanding job in Toronto. But I began to feel pain in my upper right abdomen that was eventually diagnosed as an ulcer.
Stress makes the heart pump faster, the pupils dilate and chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol be released. It’s like you’re being chased by a hungry lion, as our ancestors were 200,000 years ago. The “fight or flight” biological imperative saved their lives.
But the hungry lion is living in my mind now.
And even though I had really wanted this “dream job”, and fought hard to get it, it was not right for me. I did not let myself see that, yet my body knew it. And the hungry lion living in my mind began to roar louder.
The top stressors in our lives, like the death of a spouse or a divorce, cause a similar stress reaction in the body, but even the smaller stressors like a demanding job or buying a new house can cause the lion to roar in the mind and the body.
Change that happens to you from outside can feel even more stressful because it’s out of your control. That sinking feeling of hopelessness and loss that comes when you have no choice. When your partner announces that they’re leaving. Or you are given a difficult diagnosis like cancer to deal with.
But when you initiate changes, like leaving a job or moving to a new country, you might experience more excitement, perhaps with some fear.
Instead, you are staring your inner hungry lion in the face.
Dr. Alan Watkins, a neuroscientist, suggests in his brilliant Ted Talks that we need to know that when our biology reacts to perceived or real stress, we can choose to respond differently. Similar to rowing or bicycling, we benefit by breathing smoothly, rhythmically and deeply. This changes the biology of being caught up in the physiology of stress or fear.
Thriving through Change
There are many ideas about how to thrive through change.One of my favourite authors on this subject is David Richo, The Five Things We Cannot Change:
- Everything changes and ends.
- Things do not always go according to plan.
- Life is not always fair.
- Pain is a part of life.
- People are not loving and loyal all the time.
Doesn’t that make total sense? I love his work and book. He gets it.
I finally, finally listened to the roaring lion and realized that the Toronto job and my plans were not working out. It was hard. I felt a lot of pain. But it was time to move on.
When I live with my inner lion roaring, I’m living in fear. I’m saying no to life and no to change. I am avoiding what is unpleasant and grasping at whatever makes me feel better in the moment.
Richo says when we can move in to an unconditional “Yes” to life, we are facing fear and moving in to trust. Moving on with life, knowing things change and end and they’re not fair, allows us to trust beyond what we know.
Richo says our “futile and ferocious attempts to make everything come out” a certain way is the core of resistance, and thus of unhappiness.
So for me to accept that I needed to move on from my “dream job” in Toronto I had to say “Yes” to what was next in my life, without knowing what that was. I could not control the outcome and had to trust that there was going to be something else for me. The lion was no longer roaring in my head and I was facing my fears.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” ~Nelson Mandela
Susan Young, M.Ad.Ed., RYT, is an Integral Life Coach in private practice in Kingston, as well as facilitating Mindfulness Programs and teaching yoga at Janati Yoga School.