I click open my novel to start revising and my heartbeat goes-- fight-or-flight, fight-or-flight, fight-o-flight!
I jump up and go to the kitchen to microwave my cup off coffee. Even though it hasn’t cooled.
In the moment of facing the page, I am like a mouse bolting from the swoop of a hawk. My amygdala (reptilian brain) fires a message to my sympathetic nervous system telling it that my body is in acute danger. This message is so commanding, I jump up and leave the room.
I wrote about this fear a few months ago when I asked the question: What would you do, if you weren’t afraid. I’m exploring it more deeply today and asking: Why does part of my brain think revising a novel is a threat to my life? And what the heck am I going to do about it?
First, I’m going to remind myself it’s not me. Fear happens to everyone.
Sometimes I think the difference between what we
want and what we're afraid of is about the width of
an eyelash. ― Jay McInerney
What I want is risk. What I fear is failing. What I
want is fresh air, currents, and mountains. What I’m
afraid of is heights, drowning, and change. – Lakin Easterling
Fear of failure is part of the human condition, so I accept it. But acceptance isn’t standing on the doorstep, neither in nor out. Stepping into fear is crossing the threshold between the conscious and unconscious mind.
When I feel my heart going fight or flight- fight or flight- fight or flight, acceptance means taking a deep breath and sitting still. Not scampering to the kitchen and not forcing myself to get started on that revision no matter what it takes.
Sitting still, breathing deep, feeling fear. Feeling my rapid heart beat, feeling my quickened breath, feeling the nerve endings in my skin waking up. Letting the fear rise. Listening to what it’s trying to tell me. This what’s called getting to know yourself.
In decades past, this was woo-woo, some silly sh%t therapist’s would tell you to do. In this decade it’s imperative.
It’s imperative because if we don’t listen to the fear and learn, we will act on it. Everybody knows we humans don’t make good decisions with our amygdala.
We need to act under the power of our prefrontal cortex deeply engaged with our heart.
Sitting still and getting to know our fear gives our frontal lobe time to overrule our flight or flight, reptilian brain. Don’t worry, it will still work if you’re about to be hit by a car.
When we get familiar with our fear, we begin to realize that most of it is a lie. We’re afraid of things that might happen. Afraid of things we imagine. Afraid of things we can do absolutely nothing about.
That’s when our heart opens. Sitting still with an open heart, using our prefrontal cortex our actions will be wise.
When I feel my heartbeat speed up, and my breath quicken, I don’t say to myself, Mary, don’t be silly, revising a novel will not kill you. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to learn something about myself and to open my heart. I take it as an opportunity to practice acting from a place of wisdom.
Make sense? A bunch of hoo-rah? Let me know what you think.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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