Fear is the memory of danger. It serves a purpose, often keeping us out of danger like not touching a red hot stove top, but in many ways it’s a dinosaur. The fight or flight response of fear is a hangover from ancient times when people had to avoid flying spears and hungry mammoths. It created the urgency to act before thinking. Life doesn’t hold the same dangers for most of us now, and yet our brains still hold the same capacity for fear. Our challenge is to separate healthy fear from unhealthy fear. This is part of the process of photoshopping memories- updating the information and reframing the challenges behind fear.
Healthy fear gets you out of the path of a speeding car, and checks in with the doctor about a strange lump. Unhealthy fear is F.E.A.R, false evidence that appears real but is mostly a fabrication of the reptilian brain and the ego that wants to keep you imprisoned in your own mind, unwilling to be fully alive because it’s too risky to venture out. Overcome this unhealthy fear, and you will wake up to an inner security that will put external threats in a new perspective.
TS Elliot said, “I will show your fear in a handful of dust.” 9-11 showed us fear in a skyline of dust, an urban wasteland. Ten years later, the dust has settled, but the fear remains for many. Unfortunately, some politicians, most branches of the media and too much religion tap into the reptilian fear impulse and encourage unhealthy fear. Whole systems of so called security are established to create the façade of safety. One of the ways we can photoshop the awful memories of 9/11 is to update some of our information and reframe our workdview.
I flew out of American on Christmas Day, 2009, the same day that the famed “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped explosives to his underwear and attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit airport. As a result, I passed through the tightest air travel security regimen that the world has ever seen. Countless hours and dollars were poured into patting down 7 year old girls wheeling Dora the Explorer backpacks full of Christmas toys and crayons. (I always thought there was something fishy about Dora, her evil side-kick Boots and that cunning talking map.)
Update your information about air travel. In the past decade there have been a handful of terrorist related incidents on US airplanes. Most of them failed or were foiled by other passengers. If you look at the total number of passengers on planes in the last decade, the odds of being on a flight with a terrorist incident is 1 in 10 million. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 500,000. Here is a stark way to reframe the events of 9/11. You are more likely to die from falling out of bed than as the victim of a terrorist on a plane. Or to reframe this in a positive context. Your odds of finding true and lasting inner peace skyrocket when you rid your mind of irrational fears.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to have air travel security measures. We need to take precautions. But there is a world of difference between precautions and paranoia. A precaution is taking a cell phone and GPS on a long car trip. Paranoia is not leaving your home. There are few things in life we desire more than security, and yet it is often like chasing the wind. Just when you think you’ve caught it, another gust comes up from behind and knocks you down. Security has an elusive charm that keeps you searching but can leave you vulnerable to surprise attacks and missed opportunity.
Security is tightened at major national airports, leaving the gate open for someone to enter the system in one of the smaller, less secure, airports. It’s like double dead bolting your front door, but leaving the side French Windows wide open. There are gaps in the border walls to Mexico. There are loopholes to laws and tax systems. Bottom line, there is no perfect security system. You can surround yourself with the greatest military might on the planet and still not feel secure.
After ten years of tightened security measures, do you feel safer on an airplane? Maybe. But at what cost? While so much focus is on air travel, what other security threats are being ignored? The ultimate question is- Are you prepared to sacrifice personal liberty for the illusion of security?
As long as you frame life against an expectation of security, you will never feel safe. When you frame your life and memories against a backdrop of freedom and personal responsibility, you will be at peace. To live is to risk. To love is to risk. To risk is to surrender. To surrender is to find peace of mind.
Updating memories with new information is one step in reframing traumatic memories. The chance of something happening on an airplane is slim. The risk in visiting New York City is negligible. People wearing turbans are no more or less dangerous than those without turbans. If 9-11 teaches us anything, surely it is to live while you are alive, and not allow the illusion of security and the frame of fear to hold you captive.
Recently I discovered that someone in our neighborhood has built a bomb shelter. I could understand this during World War 2, but in our quiet town in 2011 it verges on paranoia. The same person moved from the other side of the state for safety reasons. The desire for security is insatiable. There is nowhere to run and hide from life. It demands to be lived. There is no place, no travel, no system, that can satisfy the ego’s desire for security. The biggest problem is bomb shelters of the mind, the protective layers that keep you locked in a small perspective.
F.E.A.R- come back to the false evidence part of the equation. Change the frame.
There is a parable about a man who wakes up in the middle of the night to find a poisonous snake coiled next to his leg at the foot of his bed. He lies awake all night, frozen in terror, praying that the snake won’t bite him. As dawn breaks, and light begins to shine on his bed, he finally realizes that it’s not a snake at all. It’s a belt he forgot to put away when he went to bed. Once he knows the truth, the snake disappears, the memory of the night is reframed, the fear is gone and he is filled with relief.
Until he had seen the light, so to speak, his imagination got the better of him and he imagined his own demise at the hands of the snake. When you shine a light on the memories and call them what they are, you can make unconscious emotions conscious and reframe false evidence.
This is one of the ways we can honor the loss of 9/11. Call it what it was, but not more than that. It was the tragic loss of life at the hands of a few extremists. Insane people with insane beliefs can knock buildings down and kill people to further their agenda, but they can’t win inside your head and heart which is the engine room of your life, unless you let them. Choose love over fear.
The choice is there for each one of us- continue to reenact the fear, and you will live your life in a bomb shelter of your own mind. In this case the terrorists win. Or else put events of the past in perspective, and reclaim your power. Live with courage, which is not the absence of fear but the choice to proceed despite the fear. Sometimes your worst fear becomes your greatest opportunity.
Where do you find the strength to persist despite the fear? This simple story illustrates a profound truth. A mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther, so the magician turned it into a panther. Then it was full of fear for the hunter. At this point, the magician gave up. He turned it into a mouse again saying, “Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.”
Have the heart of a peaceful warrior and nothing outside of you can conquer you. Therefore there is very little to fear. You nurture the heart of a peaceful warrior with the rock solid inner stillness that accepts change without attaching to outcomes.
The stage is set for an incredible evolutionary leap beyond reptilian fear and you and I are a part of this shift. As more people make a choice to live with inner freedom and personal responsibility, the very DNA that defines our fear impulse will be recoded. As we reframe the ego’s insatiable desire for security, we will stop looking for things that don’t exist and start truly living while we are alive. This is the greatest way to honor the loss of 9-11.
Let these words from Native American poet, Joy Harjo sink deeply in. She writes from her personal experience of fear. Change the details to match your experience, but keep the essence of her message.
I Give You Back
By Joy Harjo
I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear.
I release you.
You were my beloved and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you as myself.
I release you with all the pain I would know at the death of my daughters.
You are not my blood anymore.
I give you back to the white soldiers who burned down my home, beheaded my children, raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the food from our plates when we were starving.
I release you, fear, because you hold these scenes in front of me and I was born with eyes that can never close.
I release you, fear, so you can no longer keep me naked and frozen in the winter, or smothered under blankets in the summer.
I release you I release you I release you I release you
I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved,
to be loved, to be loved, fear.
Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.
I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice my belly, or in my heart
my heart my heart my heart.
But come here, fear.
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.