Change your thoughts. Change your life. It’s something we hear all the time because it’s true. If we change our thought lives, we change our real lives. But HOW we do change a thought we’ve held and kept as true for so long?
Let’s start with fear. All my life I’ve been told that fear is the opposite of faith. I’ve been taught that faith and fear cannot co-exist. I now know that my thinking has been skewed.
First of all, fear is not your enemy. It might be your frenemy. But fear of itself is a biological blessing. Anxiety, on the other hand, is your enemy. And what is anxiety? Prolonged fear.
Cup your hand and place it on the back base part of your skull. That’s where your most primitive brain is housed. It’s the stem from your spinal cord to your brain. It’s where your limbic system lives and operates to store memories, and to process information for your survival.
At the end of last summer I decided to hike Timp. By myself. It takes fit people at least 12 hours to make the up and back trek. It took me longer. A lot longer. By the time I hobbled down to base I was exhausted in a way I’d never felt. I was within earshot of the parking lot when I came across a rattlesnake curled up in the last patch of the day’s sunshine. In that moment fear put every system in my body on high alert. My cardio system sped up my heartbeat. My integumentary system made my skin tingle and sweat. My respiratory and circulation systems changed my breathing and blood flow.
I eased around the snake and began to release the effects of fear when I heard the sound of children laughing. Around the corner raced a troop of young boys.
A new bout of fear ricocheted through me.
“Look!” one of them shouted. “A sleepy snake!”
The adults with the boys were still out of sight, so I ran back and found a new use for my hiking pole. I worked to push the snake off the trail, down into the bush and away from the boys who showed absolutely no fear at all. They wanted to tease the snake, to play with it.
Fear, I realized from that experience, is a biological blessing.
While ongoing research turns up new information almost daily, we do know that our emotional lives are housed primarily in our limbic systems. This has to do with the memories processed and stored in our brains. I had memories about the dangers of snakes.
Those boys apparently did not.
Now that I understand fear is designed as part of my biology, I’ve changed my thinking about the emotion, and I have an appreciation for fear that I never supposed was possible. Fear is to be acknowledged, accepted and used to propel me in the right direction.
I know that when I feel fear, Cortisol, adrenalin and other neurotransmitters flood my brain. This is so I can become something more than I was. This is so that my body amps to high alert to keep me safe and ready.
When I honor my fear, it passes through me and leads the way for me to follow. When I challenge fear or run from it, the road before me is blocked.
I suspect we’re all afraid of many things. Me? Hurting someone tops my list of fears. Failure is also up there. I’ve failed so many times at so many attempts—the memories are etched deeply and resiliently. I’m afraid of snakes, mice, rats, spiders, and the vacuum cleaner. Oh, and flies. I am terrified of flies.
What are you afraid of? Every one of your fears is associated with a memory, conscience or not.
Now imagine a fearless life. Sounds easy. No fears to conquer. But let’s take a closer look. First, it would bring new levels of peril. If our ancient brains didn’t kick in, we wouldn’t know when to feel fear. We’d live within striking distance of snakes and die in droves.
Second, there would be no reward. There’d be no growth or strength gained from facing non-existent fears.
Third, in reality, a fearless life would be a boring, if not a meaningless existence. Thrills and chills give us the sensation of being alive. Without some danger, we’d all exist along a flatline.
I’m not suggesting that we live in fear. I’m not telling anyone to take unwise risks. I am suggesting that we live with fear and let it work its magic in our lives.
Doubt, not fear, is the opposite of faith. Fear and faith must co-exist if one is to strong-arm the other.
Fear, I’ve learned, stimulates, motivates, and teaches. It challenges our faith and when our faith is challenged it grows. It guides us to greater opportunities. Wise Eleanor Roosevelt admonished, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
What scares you, my friends?
What fears have you overcome?
How have your lives been transformed through those experiences?
When we realize that we can change our thoughts about something as fundamental as fear, we realize we can change our thoughts period.
That’s powerful And nothing to fear.