Tolerating Calm, Part 3
OK, I was planning to wrap-up this whole tolerating calm thing today. However… it ain’t gonna happen. I’m having too much fun writing about it. For the 3 people reading this blog (Hi Mom!) I promise I’ll get to the “how to fix it” stuff. Later.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the nervous system mistaking calm for vulnerability, and freaking out. Last week I explained that the tolerating part in “tolerating calm” is the big problem. Calm is just the springboard, from which some people dive into the unpleasant waters of things like dread, anxious overthinking and panic.
All of which boil down to the same word: fear.
This is not an easy word. Few enjoy announcing, “I’m afraid!” It is not unusual, when I suggest to a person I’m working with that they might be feeling fear, to hear something like, “Well, I’m not sure it’s fear. I’m just concerned. That’s all.”
It’s hard to admit that we feel fear. Because doing so is… well, fearful.
Rational vs. Irrational
In Canada – like other countries colonized by Europeans – Western philosophy is the foundation of our thinking. Western philosophy (or at least some of it; I know I’m overgeneralizing here) basically considers rational thought to be superior to emotion. This is a dubious — actually… it’s just plain wrong — assumption made by a bunch of long-dead white men. Centuries of such thinking, however, do make it a hard habit to break. Most of us tend to think that we should (often a terrible and useless word) be able to ignore fear. “It’s irrational. Don’t worry about it.”
This is not wrong, per se. However, it doesn’t take into consideration the dinosaur and the monkey.
The Dinosaur and the Monkey
First, imagine yourself in the photo at the top of the page. Ridiculous, I know; but humour me. There you are sitting at a red light — whistling perhaps — on your way to pick up some milk. You glance at your rear view mirror and, low and behold, you see… that.
Rationally, one might say that you could just chuckle to yourself and think, “Heh heh heh. Dinosaurs died-out millions of years ago. There’s no way I’m seeing a Tyrannosaurus. It’s not actually staring directly into my eyes, while preparing to leap forward and eat me for lunch. I guess I’m hallucinating! Heh heh.”
Come on. You really think you’d react that way?
Don’t forget, we’re not-so-distantly related to this little guy.
This less-than-cheerful dude does not care about Western philosophy and rational vs. irrational. Nope. His policy is “Scamper first. Think later.”
We all have a bit of this monkey in our nervous system. (So to speak.) In the dinosaur scenario, our inner monkey will scream, “Hit the gas!” Simultaneously, it will grab the adrenal glands in its furry little hands, and squeeze. Adrenaline will squirt into the bloodstream. Our hearts will pound. Muscles will tense. A bead of sweat will appear on our brows. (If you’re interested, there’s a much more scientific explanation of all this, involving no monkeys whatsoever, right here.)
When this happens, the great difficulty in “tolerating calm” is revealed.
You might say, “Yes, but this is an imaginary scenario. It’s all in your head.” If so, shame on you! You obviously have not read my blog post on that matter. The dinosaur and monkey are just metaphors, used to illustrate the point: at least for some people, the fear response is so powerful that tolerating calm seems impossible.