Sunday 22nd March 2020
Understanding the roles of fear, hope, and faith. In Part 1 of this blog I explained my model of the reptile brain, and why our veneer of civilisation is only wafer thin. Put people under enough pressure and they turn into lizards. In the unlikely event you have any doubts about this please visit your local supermarket. You will find that some people are behaving completely out of character, and it will only get worse.
Fortunately in the same supermarket you will see other people who are behaving with huge kindness to complete strangers. The one constant is the high level of fear amongst just about everybody.
I concluded Part 1 by reaching the uncomfortable conclusion that hope is far too fragile in most people to be an effective antidote to fear. If hope is not the answer then what is?
It just might be faith. Throughout the centuries faith has been an ever present constant. All religions are based on faith, and many philosophies too. I do not subscribe to any formal religion and on occasions have been accused of being anti-religion.
This could not be further from the truth. In many of my books and articles I have stressed the importance of faith, and identified the positive impact that religion has made to civilisation. My problem is how some people use religion for their own selfish or even criminal purposes, which completely contaminates the spiritual basis of their faith.
In Part 1 I promised to learn from people who survived the most extreme conditions imaginable. Did they survive because of faith, or was it something else? I will share two inspirational stories of people who faced almost certain death, and survived the most appalling physical and mental stresses.
The starting point today is Victor Frankl, and his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived three years in the concentration death camps, and during this time lost his whole family. His survival was a miracle, and the fact that he used these experiences in his later life to establish his psychotherapeutic practice is even more incredible. This extract from his book expresses his thoughts exponentially more powerfully than I could possibly be able to do.
“Human existence – at least as long as it has not been neurotically distorted – is always directed to something, or someone, other than itself, be it a meaning to fulfil or another human being to encounter lovingly.
For man is originally characterised by his search for meaning rather than his search for himself. The more he forgets himself – giving himself to a cause or another person – the more human he is.
And the more he is immersed and absorbed in something or someone other than himself the more he really becomes himself.”
There you have it. Faith for another person or cause. Passion is another quality to consider on the short-list, and is a much-overused word. When people describe their jobs and careers sooner or later they stress how passionate they are about their work. Sometimes it is obvious that indeed this is true.
However very often it is obvious that they do not. They are not lying, they are just deluding themselves, probably because of what other people think they should believe. They are constructing some internal representation of what they think others will respect as a glamorous profession.
There are times when we all need help to identify the difference between what we think we believe in, and what we truly believe in. Indeed we spend almost all of our life living in the middle of delusion.
The second example is known as the Stockdale Paradox. James Stockdale was an American naval commander during the Vietnam war, and held prisoner in appalling conditions for over 7 years. The author James Collins interviewed Stockdale at length whilst writing his book, Good to Great.
He asked Stockdale if he could tell the difference between those who were able to survive their dreadful conditions, and those who could not. Who were they?
“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
This quotation resonates strongly with me because in the world of self-development ‘positive thinking’ is a much-overused cliche, and in my view a fairly useless strategy. A far more helpful interpretation of positivity based on the above is known as the Stockdale Paradox, and this is how Stockdale described it.
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
In other words, avoid the self-delusion trap, but never lose your guiding faith.
Another self delusion trap that we all fall into is believing that fear and anxiety are the same thing. They are not. Fear is not a problem. The problem is the way we think about fear, and this is why many of us are so confused.
Fear lives in a deep part of our brain, almost certainly the reptilian part. It has been around for millions of years for a very good reason. Without it we would not have survived.
I know something about fear, and I know people who know a lot more about fear than I do. I experienced fear on a number of occasions, both in war zones and in challenging locations working as a doctor. As examples, being under fire, mortar attack, ambush, imprisonment, riots, robbery and probably a few other things too.
I also had periods of illness including a near death experience with malignant malaria. As if this is not enough, in my medical capacity I have been exposed to countless cases of major trauma arriving in the emergency room.
So why am I sharing this with you? It is not for pleasure because these are painful but fortunately distant memories. I am sharing them with you for one reason. Because surprisingly, not least to me, is that I had no fear during these in-the-moment experiences.
We all have incredibly powerful hormones and neurotransmitters that are primed to help us instantly. These responses are hardwired and do not require any effort on our part to release them. They are always there, ready to be called upon as necessary.
However, there are many times when I experienced acute anxiety. Anxiety is a delusion, because it is worrying about future events that may or may not happen. We cannot predict the future, but we are really good at imagining it. So good that our bodies believe it as truth, and react with a biological stress response.
Anxiety is a relatively new phenomenon, and it probably only reared its ugly head when we learned how to talk to each other about 60,000 years ago, and tell our stories, and share our fantasies as if they were real.
If you can find a way to think about anxiety and fear in a different light it will be one of the most liberating things you will achieve in your life. The bottom line is that anxiety is coming from our conscious mind and is a hindrance that we can do well without.
This blog is already far too long and I will not stretch your patience any further today. There are two other subjects that are incredibly important in overcoming fear. I will share them with you in the next and final part of this blog.
The two subjects are infinite intelligence and “ego is no amigo”. This is a taste of what is to come from Thomas Edison.
“I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us – everything that exists – proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision.”
I leave you now with contributions from members of my Facebook group The Psychoic Revolution who have found their own strategies that work for them, and just might work for you too.
“The feeling of excitement to me is similar to the feeling of fear. Using that to my advantage I tell myself I am excited when actually it could be fear I am feeling my mind!”
“The difference between those who are successful and others who are not is the fact that they are brave enough to fight the fears. The mindset is a very powerful thing if we know how to use it.”
“Hope and fear is a little different for me these days as I have quite a strong faith. My life has certainly become easier. I ask myself in a situation can I do something right now to sort it out? If I can I will. If not I hand it over to God.”
“I simply have a list of things to do to achieve each goal and for each thing on that list I have a few ways of dealing with it, so if one doesn’t work another will. That way you can move forward without fear of failure and knowing you will succeed and achieve.”
“Could it be that we are either a hoper or a fearer? I find myself blindly hopeful even in the face of great adversity. I constantly return to a state of hope. I am not naturally fearful of anything, not even spiders, snakes, or mice. Strange but true.”
“We may be stepping into a Muay Thai Boxing ring. A place where death is never too far away. At the least serious injury. I may be elated. It is a place I find an amazing pressure test for techniques to address fear.”
“I use the Deepak Chopra’s ethos of planting the seeds of what I can’t control and plant them in the Universe’s garden so that they can blossom into fruition for me.”
“What I have learned is that fear is a ‘feeling of insecurity’. We have tremendous inner resilience and strength once we learn to tap into that, I practise mindfulness which works for me, along side listening to my higher self and getting my little self out of the way.”