“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”.
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.
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.
“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”.