Don’t Panic

“They’ll panic? I’m about to panic!” – Ahsoka Tano

Don’t Panic” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

In a ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” Arthur Dent is mostly oblivious to the rest of the world and its troubles. One day he wakes up to find his house is about to be demolished to make way for a highway bypass. The local council had posted the plans and somehow Dent had failed to take notice. As this was unfolding a Vogon star ship had entered Earth’s orbit and declared to the world that the planet would be destroyed to make way for an intergalactic hyperspace bypass. Pandemonium ensues and everyone panics.

With the help of his enigmatic friend, Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent manages to get off Earth before it blows up. Still wearing his night gown and pajamas from the morning Arthur Dent reluctantly sets off an intergalactic adventure that takes him across and to the end of the Universe and the beginning. The adventure begins with the default clause of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; “Don’t Panic!”.

 

“Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

The Second Arrow

Alcoholics are catastrophic thinkers. We tend to imagine the worst possible outcome in all scenarios. An argument is the end of a relationship, a reprimand at work is as good as being fired and a letter from the government or IRS is a herald of financial disaster. We are the worst for dreaming up the worst case scenarios.

The Buddha alluded to catastrophic thinking when he spoke of the “second arrow”. The first arrow was what actually happened to us, the true cause of the suffering. The second arrow was the event magnified within our own minds. The suffering is worsened by our own emotional and irrational reaction to it. The first arrow is out of our control, the second arrow is within it.

 

Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

Worst Case Scenarios

When I was a child I would shake in my shoes when called to the principal’s office. I was terrified of imagined and realized punishments my Father would inflict before they happened. No matter what the reason, I still feel unease when summoned by my boss at work for a private chat in his office.

In school at the height of the cold war I was named the “Doomsday Prophet” for my dire predictions that a nuclear holocaust was about to happen. It never did.

Never one to relax I was constantly on edge in the Army believing that each new day would herald more misery, corporal punishment and probably some terrible end. I listened to rumors and digested the news with alarm and consternation. My body was a ball of nervous anxiety. Fortunately my training conditioned my reflexes. To feel fear is normal but to react with panic in combat is unforgivable. .

 

He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”  – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

Panic Junkie

I became drawn to calamity and chaos like a moth to fire. I was addicted to anxiety and panic. Events in the world seemed to mirror what was going on inside me. With a sense I could make a difference I set off on a global bar crawl to set things right. I traveled from the famine of East Africa to air raid sirens and religious hatred in the Middle East, the fraternal war and ethnic bloodletting in Bosnia to the tribal and racial violence in South Africa.

I washed up amidst the “colorful” poverty of the Favelas and the burning season in the Amazon in Brazil. The memories play back like the frames of a movie reel. Within that collage of noise and color I remember the haze of alcohol and an undertow of fear and self loathing.

 

The Burning Issues

Something I saw in Brazil affected me. The Amazon touched my soul. The morning mist shimmering in the early light as it hung low on a still river. I remember the call of macaws as they passed majestically over-head. The dim world of the forest was silent but for the call of birds and spider monkeys complaining in the canopy high above. The forest was vast and it had the power to utterly possess me. It had the primordial and divine peace that I yearned in my own life.

The smell of smoke and the haze hung over the forest as fires burned far away. The forest was being pushed back by ranchers and gold miners who were locked in a struggle with rubber tappers and Indians. I was told in 1994 the forest would be gone in twenty years. This alarmed me.

The forest burned. The world was being destroyed and I felt growing anger and alarm. The more I realized I was powerless to make a difference the greater my resentment grew and fed my anxiety.

 

If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

 

Did you ever hear the tragedy of Skywalker?

Irrational fear aroused within Anakin a sense of panic at a destiny he could not control. Fears were magnified in his mind and became catastrophes he could not control. The need to change and control that destiny drove him to abandon reason and allow his shadow self to dominate him.

Anakin allowed irrational fear and catastrophic thinking to bypass a life time of Jedi training. Objectivity, reason, rational decision making and sound judgement were replaced by the darker side of emotion. Emotion rather than reason owned Anakin. This ultimately led Anakin to the dark side.

 

I’d far rather be happy than right any day.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

 

F*k Everything and Run

Sobriety has taught me that any decision based on fear and panic may help in the short term but long term the consequence often negate those positives. In the past I would panic and make rash decisions and do something I would later regret. Often I would say “F*k it” and run away from my responsibilities. I would get drunk.

In hindsight I would realize that these actions incited by fear, anger and ultimately catastrophic thinking had done nothing for me and usually it only made matters worse. Why did I put myself through that? Everything turned out fine.

After witnessing the burning season in Brazil I entered University and studied environmental science. Two decades later I work in conservation and observe with alarm how fear and panic has hijacked rational and reasoned discourse. Short sighted decisions are made with little regard to far reaching consequences. I’m pleased to see that the Amazon is still there. There are monumental problems in the world but I have faith and believe in hope.

 

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

Know Faith No Fear

My life was one of reactivity, catastrophic thinking and panic. It’s strange that until you recognize it in others you don’t recognize it in your self. It took me to get sober and work on myself to realize how irrational many of my fears were and how catastrophic thinking ran my life.

Every time I feel the second arrow hit I pull it out immediately. Let the first arrow hurt for a bit but don’t make it worse by imagining something that is not real. Remember the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; “Don’t Panic”. In other words have faith, not fear.

 

“So this is it, we’re going to die” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

The House is on Fire

I don’t want you to panic. The house is not burning down. The world is not coming to an end. There is no reason to abandon reason. If things are not right, work to fix it and put it right. Do what is within your power to do and let go of the rest.

Avoid jumping to conclusions, silence the doomsayer within and never listen to doomsday prophets. Use your own judgement and think hard before deciding.

Study and be prepared to change your view when evidence suggests otherwise. Avoid falling for group-think and hysteria.

Recognize and avoid the mob fueled by dogma and anger. You were given the faculties to make up your own mind and think for yourself. In other words, be a little like Arthur Dent.

 

Don’t Panic

Panic and catastrophic thinking is not for us. Jedi are free thinkers we respect and acknowledge our emotions but we do not react to them mindlessly. We use our brains to decide what is true while remaining tolerant of the views of others. Gathering the facts as they are, we choose how best to act in a way that is applicable, beneficial, practical and positive.

Whatever you do Don’t Panic.

 

Epilogue

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.” – Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”.

 

 

Build Resilience: Overcome Fear

Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself” – The Clone Wars “Sacrifice”

Fear often stops us in our tracks. Of all the emotions it is the one which hijacks our hopes and dreams the most. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure and ridicule are reasons that prevent people from starting let alone achieving their goals.

Most of the things that we fear reside only in our minds. We spend time imagining different scenarios of what might happen without realizing that there is no evidence or rational argument that supports the fears we harbor. The more we try to resist, avoid or flee from the things we fear the larger they loom. By confronting our fears we often find that they fail to materialize or have been blown out of proportion by our imagination.

Fear can either be an obstacle or an opportunity. We can use our fear to demonstrate faith and practice principles. Through fear lies the potential for power. We must simply overcome our fear and demonstrate our strength, courage and resilience. In order to overcome fear we must go through it.

The more we push ourselves to confront what we fear the more resilient we become. A fighter who enters the ring convinced that he is no match for an opponent has already lost the bout in his mind. We can however choose to enter in to the unknown as best prepared as we can be and face down our fears.

 

The Dagobah Lesson

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live” – Marcus Aurelius

When Luke Skywalker stood at the entrance to the dark cave he was about to confront his deepest fears manifested as the Dark Side. Fear is the opposite of faith as dark is the opposite to light. Fear is little more than absence of faith in our own divine capacity to find the light within ourselves. Luke entered the cave and came face to face with his darkest fear, not his nemesis Darth Vader, but his own dark side. Dagobah showed Luke Skywalker that fear resides only within us. Faith or the Force can be used to light our way through the darkness of our Fear.

Fear can also drive us to do courageous things. When we hear of stories of heroism in war and peace we often hear it said that “fear” spurned them in to action. A war hero often can’t explain why he rushed a machine gun nest or ran under fire to recover a wounded comrade. Neither can the bystander who rushes in to a burning house to rescue those trapped inside. Fear can drive a reaction that defies the natural instinct for self-preservation. The mental and physiological effects of fear can produce incredible courage and almost superhuman powers for some while render others completely immobile or send them in to mindless panic.

Our response to fear is at times unpredictable and surprising. In the Army there were those who were outstanding peace time soldiers fall to pieces under fire and a complete disgrace of a soldier in the barracks who surprised everyone with exceptional courage in combat. Some very courageous veterans face the greatest challenges and fears not in active service but when they transition to civilian life and leave behind the protective shell of the Army. The fear is debilitating and devastating because it takes everything and leaves nothing.

 

Fear to Recovery

Fear not the future, weep not for the past” – The Clone Wars “Voyage of Temptation

Fresh out of the Army I was fearful so I got drunk a lot. When I was drunk I could be fearless one night and a pathetic coward the next. Fear riddled my being. The past haunted me and the future terrified me. In the present I found the solace of booze.

Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways” -Glennon Doyle Melton.

In recovery I learned that courage comes in many forms. It is the person in the meeting who has lost everything including her dignity and self-respect and now sits before us holding back the tears and telling the story of how she came to be there. The amount of courage it can take for some to share their stories and seek to make amends in early recovery is in a way far braver than the instinctive compulsion to rush out and save a comrade while under fire. It is the sort of courage that will provide us the strength and resilience to stay sober.

 

An Insidious Rumor

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

The important thing to remember is that Fear is a natural response to a legitimate threat. Fear is what kept our ancestors alive. In modern society fear has a different nature and is not always legitimate or real. Fear today is mostly insidious and chronic such as the fear of retrenchment, poverty, rejection or illness rather than the acute and immediate threat of being torn apart by a lion.

 “Fear is a great motivator.” – The Clone Wars “Heroes on Both Sides”

Intangible fears have been created to control us better or get us to do what Governments and Corporations want us to do.  We are conditioned through media to fear the perpetual enemy, the existential threat. Be it the Terrorists, Commies or the Russians, someone is out to get us. Fear is the greatest motivator. It was an irrational Fear of mortality that spurned Anakin to seek to control the Force and led him to the Dark Side. The Empire used Fear to control the Galaxy, the Emperor used it to control Darth Vader.

Some of us suffer chronic fear and anxieties that require professional help while others rarely feel any fear at all but have specific phobias that send them to pieces. If we are asked to name our greatest fears many of us can’t. Some of them are like whispers in the dark, a cold draft or a passing shadow. We know fear when we feel it. It is what we do about it that matters most.

 

Own you Fear

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when are afraid of the light.” – Plato

When we know our fears we can face them. Resilient people have a healthy relationship with fear because they recognize those that are real and those that are false or misleading. Resilient people do not jump to the worst conclusions and automatically create fearful scenarios and doomsday outcomes. An overly positive and optimistic view is avoided as well. In the absence of clear evidence resilient people do not make immediate judgement and then charge them with emotions such as fear or anger.  Resilient people recognize that fear is a tool for them to channel in productive ways. Fear is only to be feared when it short circuits our rational mind and hijacks out capacity for reasoned choice. When fear controls us.

Let us not forget what happened to Anakin Skywalker. As a child he suffered fear and tragedy. A young man and Padawan, Anakin started to feel anger for the injustices of his past. In “The Revenge of the Sith” we saw that anger turn to hatred pushing Anakin to the dark side. Anakin never lost the fear. It was always there, growing stronger with time, controlling him and eventually possessing him. Even as Darth Vader he existed under perpetual fear. Only his son Luke Skywalker could redeem him through forgiveness and courage. It was not the absence of Fear that won the day but the ability to rise above it.

In order to overcome fear and build resilience we must know what it is and what it is not.

Fear is

  • A natural and healthy human response to perceived or actual threats
  • Often the product of imagination or falsehoods
  • Often magnified in our minds through ignorance
  • Contagious and can be manifested in society through prevailing attitudes (eg. Terrorism)

Fear is not

  • Always objective and rational
  • An abnormal responses to life
  • Unique to the individual
  • A weakness
  • A final reason to not do something we want to
  • Unnatural or shameful
  • Inherited and a part of your nature

 

Further Reading

Stoic Warriors by Nancy Sherman (2016)

Fear

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering“. – Yoda

Fear is a pervasive element in the Star Wars saga. The symbolism of the Death Star is a classic example of fear and terror manifested. Imagine such a weapon; the immense size of the Death Star foreboding alone would strike abject terror as it filled the sky with its ominous presence. The Death Star was also able to destroy entire planets with the simple flick of a switch. It was the Dark Lords ultimate weapon against his enemies and its true power was Fear.

As a child I grew up under the shadow of the Cold War. The threat of nuclear war a was a pervasive fear  that I remember as a young child. It seemed that the Soviets and the West were committed to destroying each other with scant regard for life. It may have been saber rattling and perhaps we came close to midnight a couple of times. I remember laying at wake at night barely 11 years of age imagining that missiles were arching through the night sky toward their intended targets. The thought was terrifying and with world events and the current trajectory we find ourselves in I wonder what my children imagine when they lay in bed at night.

The Black Dog

Being an alcoholic is to live in a perpetual state of extremes.  We are either in a state of buoyant optimism and hope or we are filled with anxiety and ridden with fear. Sometimes both in the same day. Our hearts will leap with a sense of renewed purpose and a sense that all is well and then slowly the cold wind and grey skies of fear and morbid reflection creep in. It’s no wonder that we drink to gain an even keel and try to feel half decent.

Neither of those extremes, false hope or undefined terror, were valid or accurate perceptions of reality when I was an alcoholic. They were simply the symptoms of a diseased mind and a depressed mental state that bordered on bipolarism. The other way to look at it was it was simply rampant imagination. I was simply a victim of the alcoholics ability to create a world in his or her own mind. A perception that is completely untrue if viewed objectively. I would swing between fear, sadness and elation and self medicate with booze to celebrate the euphoria or chase the “Black Dog” away. I would stall in depression for days. Thoughts of hopelessness and suicide would drift in and out like passing dark clouds.

Reclaim your Sunshine

With admission and acceptance of my disease and surrender I started to reclaim my sanity. I had been insane all of this time and now the fog was lifting. Reality had been distorted. Sobriety taught me that the fear of uncertainty is a normal human emotion when it is rational. Fear and dark imaginings can also be illusions. We needn’t let fear rule us and steal the sunshine from the day. When can face fear and watch it melt away like a phantom and realize it was all in our head.

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Today things are better. I still get sad, angry or down on occasion but these emotions I feel are appropriate and healthy. I don’t need to feel sad for feeling sad. I can also decide what is real and what is imagined. My disease still tries to play “Jedi Mind Tricks” on me but I’m one step ahead. The monsters have receded in to the background. I view the threat of a nuclear war or the sudden appearance of a Death Star in the morning sky in an objective and rational fashion. One I hope is still highly unlikely and the other is almost (but not entirely) impossible. I won’t be losing any sleep over worrying about either.