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  • Great White Thought Attack

    Don’t let fear trick you into taking actions that don’t serve you…

    There are few things that can infect another person faster than a highly contagious virus, but fear tops them all. A recent experience illustrates the power of thought to trick people into misguided action.

    There are few things that can infect another person faster than a highly contagious virus, but fear tops them all. A recent experience illustrates the power of thought to trick people into misguided action.

    One morning somewhere in the endless spool of days of the coronavirus lock-down, Kathy burst into my office. She looked alarmed. She blurted out that a surfer in Santa Cruz had been killed a few hours earlier by a great white shark.

    The news bulletin said the unnamed victim was a 26-year old surfer. Our son Matson is an avid surfer who frequents the Santa Cruz beaches. He also happens to be 26.

    Kathy’s eyes dilated towards a full panic. She looked at me for some other explanation. But I was still digesting the news.

    She pulled out her phone and texted our son. Not pausing for a response, she called him.

    The call went straight to voicemail.

    We looked at each other, and Instantly fear filled the space between us. A flood of grim images poured into my head and I spent the next minute frantically searching the internet for further details. Then a fresh thought crossed my mind.

    Whoa, George! Something’s not right here.

    That was the moment when I realized I couldn’t rely on my thinking: I was being blinded by fear.

    Experiencing Life From the Inside Out

    That single moment of recognition opened my eyes to the availability of a more grounded, inner intelligence, from which I might find a clearer understanding of the news that Kathy had just given me.

    The basis of my skepticism was that I’ve discovered that we experience life from the inside-out– through the lens of our thoughts. For five years I’ve lived my life with the growing understanding that all of my experience of life comes from within me, and is not caused by outside events and circumstances.

    At that moment in my office, the only possibly objective fact was my wife sharing a story of somebody being attacked by a shark off the coast of Santa Cruz. My experience and understanding of here were entirely my personal creation. It came through my thoughts, and I knew my thoughts aren’t me, nor belong to me; rather they pass through me in an never ending, forever changing flow, like clouds in the sky.

    In my understanding, thought and feeling are like two sides of a coin—inseparable and mutually reflective. One is always an expression of the other. Frightening thoughts feel fearful, and fearful feelings tell me that I’m having fearful thoughts. That’s all my thoughts and feelings ever guarantee me.

    What my feelings are not doing are giving me reliable information and guidance about the world around me. Feelings, particularly strong and urgent feelings like fear and anger, are an unreliable guide for assessment and action.

    Fear is good for only one thing: waking us up.

    Smoke Alarm, False Alarm

    Fear works like a smoke alarm. When it goes off, its loud and startling bray alerts us to the possibility of fire, to an imminent threat to our health and wellbeing. Smoke alarms are designed to wake us from even a dead sleep.

    What smoke alarms are not telling us to do is to immediately run for the fire-escape or dial 911. Once we are awake, the alarm’s job is complete. Then it’s up to us to identify the source of the threat and to determine what to do about it.

    Likewise, fear excels at waking us up and getting our attention. But fear was never meant to guide us. When we’re feeling afraid our feelings distort our thoughts and perceptions, as well as reducing access to the parts of the brain where reason and common sense reside. When we act with fear’s guidance, we often see in hindsight, that we had acted hastily and irrationally.

    Fear compromises our ability to see what’s really going on.

    The Lens of Feeling

    A metaphor for how fear shapes and distorts our view of the world is a pair of prescription glasses. The lenses of your particular prescription are unique to you, and are shaped by your thoughts and feelings. Everything you experience of the world is filtered through them, like the film of a movie projector. You are the projector light, your thoughts the film, the images projected on the screen your experience. That’s the inside-out understanding.

    When you are calm and centered, the lenses are clear, and you have better access to your higher mental functions—common sense, reason, and intuition, (and greater capacity for love and compassion). You could say that with a clear state of mind your experience of a particular situation is more likely to congruent, or aligned with the facts on the ground.

    When you’re gripped by fear, however, the lenses distort, shaping your thoughts and perceptions in ways that often do not serve your best interests. When people say, ‘I wasn’t thinking clearly’, this is what they’re referring to.

    This is normal, an everyday occurrence. Through lenses distorted by fear, the stick on a meadow path becomes a snake, and the stranger on the corner who doesn’t look like you becomes a threat to the safety of you and your family. One time, I was shaken out of a deep sleep by an earthquake. As I looked around my bedroom, for a few moments I believed that a freight train was rumbling by my house. The nearest train tracks were fifteen miles away!

    Ever notice how when something frightens you, your peripheral vision shrinks and narrows? Our bodies physically change when we’re frightened or anxious. Nature gives us tunnel vision focus when we feel threatened. The downside of this helpful feature, however, is the loss of our peripheral vision, the ability to see possible explanations and solutions outside of our narrow field of view.

    The combination of distorted lenses and narrowed perspective drastically reduces our ability to make sound assessments and strong choices. Yet sound assessments and choices are exactly what’s needed when facing any threats to our health and safety.

    Wisdom’s Omnipresence

    If we’re not seeing or thinking clearly, what can we do? How do we clear our lenses?

    A moment of awareness is all it takes to clear our lenses, for better thoughts and more possibilities to enter our awareness. The knowledge that my experience of fear is coming from within me, plus the understanding when I’m afraid I can’t see or think straight is often enough to allow me pause, to double check my thoughts and perceptions before taking action. The key is the moment when I shift from being scared to a moment’s awareness when I recognize that I’m afraid.

    The sudden awareness that I’m afraid is what clears the distortion from my lenses

    That moment of awareness is the tip of an iceberg of wisdom within me. Awareness that I have fearful thinking signals the presence awakening of a wisdom we are all born with. Available beneath the sea of fear is a deep well of clarity, reason, common sense, and fresh thinking. This moment of awareness is not only a resource, it is my compass, always pointing me in the direction of my own wellbeing.

    In these dark and uncertain times, a better understanding of how fear both serves us and misleads us leads better assessments and response to events and circumstances which frighten us. Understanding that we all have innate wellbeing, and that wisdom, clarity, and common sense are only a moment of awareness away, opens the way for a whole new experience of life.

    The Way Out is Looking Inside

    Back to my office and the shark attack.

    …. I suddenly became aware that I was having some very scary thinking. I immediately knew I couldn’t trust the stampede of thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. I paused, took a breath.

    I had spotted the iceberg.There were other possible explanations.

    It was still possible that our son had been attacked—truly a gut-wrenching thought.

    But, I thought…it’s a Wednesday, the middle of Matson’s work-week. He lives and works two hours’ drive from Santa Cruz. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of 26-year-old surfers on California’s coast.

    My fear began to subside, the reassuring light of wisdom illuminating the gloomy cage of fear.

    Fear woke me up. Understanding and insight guided me forward.

    A growing understanding of the impact of our thoughts has become an invaluable navigational aid for my life, leading to huge increases in happiness, well-being, productivity, and creativity. If you’d like to learn how it can help you too, please contact me for a complimentary consultation.