>Born to fear


Any of our ancestors in the African savannahs that were inveterate optimists, constantly underestimating risks (predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind) simply and in the blunt calculus of life did not live long enough to pass on their genes.

So which ones succeeded? The pessimists, the paranoid. Perhaps Andrew Grove had it right after all: "Only the paranoid survive". Consider this: we are the many-time removed inheritors of paranoid and pessimistic grandparents. Their fear enabled us to sit comfortably in our 5 bedroom houses and 3 SUV garages watching oil spew in the Gulf on our hi-def TVs.

So, biologically we are wired with super sensitive systems in our brains which monitor our environment for threats. 24-7. Is it any wonder you are tired all the time? But our threats these days tend to be more abstract. Our hearts start racing when our self-esteem is threatened, for example, or during the (mostly) bloodless battles of boardroom and bedroom. These "threats" activate the same circuits that enabled us to successfully flee a saber-toothed tiger: hormonal overloads to activate our fight-or-flight responses.

Of course, as we all know, when we are defensive (or offensive – in more than one way) we immediately activate the same responses from our fellow workers and mates. Having evolved to live in groups it is natural that we also evolved to pick up "vibes" from others and respond appropriately.

The depressing fact is how much energy we all expend on a daily vicious circle of attack and counter-attack, grudges and gossip,  withdrawal and defensiveness. At the end of about 18 hours of such activity we crawl into bed exhausted, only to get up to the alarm clock the next morning berating us for a new day’s battle.

But there is another way. It requires less energy that our accustomed way, though at first it will feel more difficult – mostly because you are trying to run your life two ways at the same time. This is similar to what happens when people begin an exercise routine. At first they are more tired, hungry than before. After a while the beneficial aspects of exercise start to percolate, and they find themselves with more energy, sleeping better, and so on. Why would we expect spiritual activity to work any differently.

So here are the 5 exercises in sobriety which, if practiced with diligence, will lead to higher levels of energy being available to be used in more noble pursuits:

1) Fear God
2) Vengeance is mine says Yahweh
3) Think of yourself as last and least
4) Be vigilant ("be sober, be watchful") to your intentions behind thoughts and actions. If these are the wrong intentions then stop and immediately smash them against the Rock, that is Christ.
5) Seek silence. First reduce your speech (spoken and unspoken), then reduce your thoughts. 



About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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