“What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?”
~ Toni Morrison
|Original image: Album cover by Alfatec, Brainphobia|
Fear. It is one of our basic, instinctive, primal responses. Fear is necessary to survival and so our brains are hard-wired with this complex response to real or imagined threats to our safety. Fear demands a response, any response, immediately. It prompts our entire body and mind to react and react now.
The sudden flood of these hormones cause changes in the body that include:
- heart rate and blood pressure increase
- pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
- veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
- blood-glucose level increases
- muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps -- when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
- smooth muscle relaxes in order to allow more oxygen into the lungs
- nonessential systems (like digestion and immune system) shut down to allow more energy for emergency functions
- trouble focusing on small tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)
Each of us find different situations threatening, so what produces these responses in one person may not in another. When we see someone reacting in the throes of fear we may not immediately understand why they are so uptight and anxious just as others don't always get why we're freaking out. We can understand why a survivor of trauma fears similar situations to the original event, but our minds are so good at fear that we can fear things that have never happened to us. Therein lies the immobilizing power of fear. It holds us back from doing things because we imagine the outcome as dangerous. We can even interpret fear as intuition -- and sometimes it is, hence the confusion -- and refrain from something simply because we are afraid. It's very difficult to move against the onslaught of all those physical chemicals and consciously choose not to react immediately, but that is precisely what we need to do when we are in fear's grip and we are actually not in any immediate danger.
Time permitting, we should examine the source of the fear and determine whether it is real or imagined. Imagined fears aren't necessarily less real. I've never been bitten by a lion, but I am pretty certain I shouldn't waltz into the lion's enclosure at the zoo. There are risks we shouldn't be willing to take. But so many perceived risks have good odds of turning out well, but our brains want to protect us so fear takes over. While I appreciate my body's concern for my well-being, it can get out of hand and smother me with its protection like an overprotective guard dog. So I need to determine whether I am responding to something from a place of fear or a place of curiosity and confidence. Fear holds us back or makes us run willy-nilly in the opposite direction while confidence moves us forward and gives us the inspiration to try new things.
Tarot readings can help sort this. We can ask if we are responding in fear and if so, what is that fear based upon. Is it helping or hurting? We can examine alternative responses and then make conscious, not reactive, choices to a stressful or confusing situation. Because fear can wear many disguises such as anger, apathy, and sadness, sometimes we don't even recognize it as fear. Fear is not weakness, it just is. We simply need to acknowledge it and pat it on its head, thank it for its protection, but not allow it to dictate our decisions.
Here is an example of a simple reading on fear:
|Deck: Original Rider Waite|
What do I fear in this situation? The Emperor. I fear losing control, of having the ultimate last word on what happens in my world. I fear giving up that control to someone else who may or may not have my best interests at heart.
What is a more confident response? Knight of Cups. The Knights are pretty courageous guys. They move towards their goal in spite of their fear and this one does so for the cause of love. Despite the very real danger of heartbreak, humiliation, and emotional pain, this knight recommends putting yourself out there for love's sake and to do so from a place of love, not fear.
What is likely to happen if I choose this response? The Tower. This card can by itself provoke fear in many, but take a deep breath and another look. It represents a breaking down of false fronts, walls, and artifices that shouldn't have been erected in the first place. In this reading it shows that the very thing that is needed, courage and love, will break through lies, deception, and ego. From there, things may be lost and rebuilt, but it must happen and will happen regardless. It will clear the air and bring much needed change. Maybe it won't be pleasant, but it will be worth it. Will you maintain control? Probably not. Your fear is justified, but the Tower shows it is necessary to release it and lose it to gain much more.
Scary? Sure. But acknowledging the fear and seeing what is likely to happen when the situation is approached with courage produces confidence which then prompts us to move forward rather than remaining stuck in unhealthy patterns and behavior. We can also likewise determine if the fear is worthy of heeding, if approaching the situation in confidence would actually be foolhardy. Either way, we are consciously choosing our actions rather than merely reacting.