In my childhood in southern Alabama I regularly heard sermons about the end times and how terrible those days would be. Preachers sharing their fire and brimstone message waxed long and loud about the perils to come to the unworthy. They quoted familiar passages from the Bible from Revelation to Daniel to the Gospels.
They quoted Jesus from Luke chapter 21 when he says the day is coming when men’s hearts will fail them due to fear. I’m concerned currently that with so much uproar in our nation about all things political, there seems to be a similar apocalyptic narrative.
Once again the end times are upon us….
Somewhat related to this sense of impending doom were those younger days when after a late evening church service we would come home, get ready for bed and the last thing to do was to get on our knees and say our prayers. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the same goodnight prayer I recited which began like this:
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray to God my soul to take.
No wonder people grow up afraid of the dark!
Recently I saw a clip of Jimmy Fallon with James Hetfield and Metallica. Jimmy accused Metallica of making him afraid to go to bed at night with their song and creepy video Enter Sandman where that very nighttime prayer is recited by a young boy.
How on earth are you supposed to rest well after that?!
As a cognitive behavioral counselor I often say “We create our own reality”.
We are what we think.
If we think the sky is falling, we’ll be afraid to go outside.
If we believe, Life can still be blessed in the midst of difficulties; we will live in gratitude even in the hard times.
Milton said “The mind is a terrible thing, a hell it can make of heaven, a heaven it can make of hell.”
We create the reality we live in based upon what we focus on.
The reality is this: There are always bad things happening.
While we read this – war is raging, death is occurring, injustices abound.
The reality is also this: At the very same moment when bad things are happening, Life is bursting forth and there are joys unspeakable.
The very world we live in is experiencing both truths at the same time.
Each and every day.
Beauty, or Ugly, is in the eye of the beholder.
This painting is Pollock #5. In November, 2006, Steven A. Cohen purchased it for 140 MILLION Dollars. I happen to like it, not quite $140,000,000.00 worth though.
Jeff Koons Balloon Dog sold for over 58 million DOLLARS. Hmm…
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Carl Sandburg said long ago – A child is proof God wants the world to go on.
Life goes on.
Sometimes to our joy, sometimes to our dismay.
There are never-ending ups and downs.
That said, I believe we don’t have to live in fear and dread.
Dr. Marc Siegel has written FALSE ALARM: The Truth about the Epidemic of Fear.
In the preface he says this book was conceived unexpectedly on the morning of September 11, 2001 as he was driving in New York City. He noticed ambulances from all over the city exiting at Bellevue Hospital so he also stopped and volunteered his services to that emergency center. He shares that as he volunteered as an MD to the Red Cross over the next several months he noticed a world that seemed to blow each health care concern out of proportion to the real danger. He says “We all personalized 9/11, and it made us feel more at risk, whether we were really at risk or not. We grew afraid more easily than before, misinformed by our leaders and provoked by the news media.” I’m amazed that he wrote those prescient words well over ten years ago as they seem so timely today.
Over the years I have counseled many: widows, single moms, others suffering from significant physical losses including amputation and paralysis. In every case, each had lost significant portions of their personal power. In some cases it was physical loss due to accident or injury. In other cases it was the loss of a life partner, their daily support in the struggle of life, lost to either death or divorce. In every case, each person felt weaker, less strong, less capable, less able. They didn’t feel as equipped as they once were to take on the challenges of the world, the ones thrown at all of us every day. Some of the women were worried about violent break ins, they felt less safe in their homes and neighborhoods related to the nightly news and perhaps even the overuse of the words Home Invasion. Some were terrified of bad weather. I had a sweet elderly client in Dallas petrified during tornado season. She would sit glued in front of her TV for hours watching the weather channel with it’s never ending inflammatory language. If you ever watch their reporters as they prep for a storm it always sounds like impending doom for the whole state. Recently we had friends calling us because of the national reporting of storms in Florida that were literally hundreds of miles from us, but the weather channel made it sound like the whole state was underwater, when in actuality it was only a few low-lying areas in a few counties. Some of my clients were fearful of driving in heavy traffic. They may have had a previous accident or traumatizing event and their vigilance to prevent another occurrence actually kept them off all freeways, which in Dallas becomes a severe hardship.
Sadly, what they all had in common was a disproportionate fear to what was really happening.
Part of their fear was reasonable. We should seek shelter from storms. We should drive defensively, especially in metropolitan areas. We should lock our doors at night. There’s nothing wrong with common sense and reasonable caution. The issue is more about fear controlling your life.
The dread of impending doom, when in reality we generally recover from our various misfortunes and move on. Nietzsche may not be absolutely correct, but what his oft quoted maxim is at least a partial truth “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
We can discuss statistical probabilities all we want about lightning strikes or shark attacks or whatever scares us but the data usually doesn’t dissuade us. If we have had one personal encounter with something we dread it causes us to often defend against that ever more vigorously in the future. Personal pain traumatizes us to our core in some ways, and while our fears may be disproportional to the actual threat recurring, we still feel the negative emotions of fear and dread.
Truth: Your odds of being struck by lightning this year are 1 in 960,000. Your odds of being struck by lightning twice in your lifetime are 1 in 9 million. Yet, I know a guy personally that has been struck by lightning multiple times – Six times I think!!
We can dialogue about getting snake bit, or coming in contact with the elusive brown recluse spider. I can show you the odds for and against. And in many ways the data doesn’t matter. If you’re worried about rattlesnakes under your house, you’ll probably stay worried.
Generally, that’s because fears and phobias aren’t rational; or proportional to the actual risk. And crazy enough, people can actually be scared to death!
Men’s hearts really do fail them from fear!
Dr. Martin A. Samuels Chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston was asked: medically speaking, can someone actually be frightened to death? Is it possible to literally be scared to death?
He answered, Absolutely, no question about it!
He goes on in that interview to share this: “For about seven days after the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon there was an increase of sudden cardiac death among New Yorkers.” When people get distressed, their bodies talk back to them. Lot’s of times people have upset stomachs because of bad news. They feel weak or nauseated.
All because of what they are thinking.
I was talking with a friend, a fellow counselor, about someone struggling with negative emotions, along the lines of fear and anxiety. My friend and colleague said the only problem they are having are bad thoughts. When looking at their issues objectively: no health crisis, positive relationships, pleasurable interactions with others, moderate economic security… just some long-term concerns about economic viability of retirement (we all have that don’t we?)…
The real issue is at hand is what are they thinking?
Self help guru Byron Katie (who I really like) teaches a simple method to deal with issues such as these. She tells you to ask yourself some basic questions.
She offers these 4 questions:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Our thoughts create our emotional experience.
We feel whatever we think about.
I come from a family of worriers. During summer thunderstorms, which occur with almost daily frequency in Mobile Alabama, my beloved grandmother would crawl into bed and pull a sheet up over her head. Sometime around age twelve I was emboldened to assure her that the sheet wouldn’t be very effective should lightning actually strike. She assured me she was aware, but she also said “it just makes me feel better.” I think there are plenty of folks out there who relate, who’d just like to crawl back into bed some days and pull their blankies back over their heads.
Thanks to my family of origin, I’m sure I inherited a disproportionate sense of anxiety. I have spent my whole life choosing to focus on spiritual peace over my natural inclination to worry.
I read Leo Babauta and his blog Zen Habits because it reminds me to be in the here and now and to intentionally practice mindfulness.
I believe we all need these reminders.
Men’s hearts fail them because of fear.
Jesus’ message was Fear Not.
We can believe once again, that God and the Universe are conspiring to bless us.
If we can ever grasp the depth of that truth I believe we can live in peace.
Till next time.