Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Halloween’s Gift to Us: F.E.A.R.

Halloween is almost upon us, and grown-ups are planning Halloween parties, while kids of all ages figure out what costume to wear and whether to trick or treat. For all the fun we have at Halloween, it is still a day in remembrance of all things scary; ghosts, zombies, witches, spells and curses.

Fear. Or, as I prefer to think about it, F.E.A.R: False Evidence Appearing Real. The “ghost” is a sheet fluttering, the “witch” is but a black robe and tall hat, the “zombie” an amalgamation of tattered clothes and white ghoulish make-up. Yet fear is a real emotion. Any time our survival, our well-being--or that of a loved one--is threatened, we experience fear.

The problem lies, not in that initial survival emotional knee-jerk, but in what we choose to do with it. At Halloween, we may be startled by an apparent ghostly apparition, but a moment later we dismiss it for the illusion that it is. In our daily life, however, too often we confuse our feeling of fear, with something to be afraid of, rather than something to deal with.

I learned this forcefully many years ago when I was rear-ended not once, not twice, but seven times over the course of a year. Even though only the first accident resulted in significant injury, by the seventh I was terrified to get back in my car. I was working, in my late 20s, public transportation in Los Angeles was scarce and Uber wasn’t even a thought in someone’s mind. I had to drive. I couldn’t afford to be too afraid to drive. In desperation, I consulted a hypnotist, something I’d never done before. It worked. In my desperation I did the thing I needed most to do--deal with my fear.

You see, fear is actually designed to be a warning sign: “Pay attention, danger ahead!” I was hit, I was scared--how hurt was I? Would I be OK? But once fear has alerted you to paying attention to your survival/well-being, its job is done. Maintaining a state of fear prevents you from enjoying the life in front of you; your present, the now moment, really the only time you have. Which is why F.E.A.R. makes sense: if you’re on the way to dealing with whatever the threat is, then fear is “false evidence,” persisting merely because you haven’t released it.

Think about it: you had a miserable divorce. You’re afraid to get into another relationship because he/she might be a jerk. Again. You’re hanging onto your fear rather than dealing with how to recognize and avoid jerks. Or, you hate your job. You’re afraid of quitting because you’re afraid you won’t be able to get another job. Your fear gets in the way of exploring your options, such as improving your skill set, checking out where employees are needed, looking into job-search resources.

False Evidence Appearing Real. Just like that scary witch who was nothing more than a dressed-up 12 year old, your fear is nothing more than a “heads up, pay attention here” warning sign. Important, yes. In your best interest, yes. Something to dwell on? No.

Heed the warning; dismiss the fear. Give fear its due, thank it for doing its job, and let it go. The sooner the better. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Patience and Flexibility

One of my favorite shows got dumped from Netflix. I know that’s not an earth-shattering event, nor for that matter are most of the annoying hiccups of daily life: the trash pickup doesn’t happen, the stylist you’ve come to depend on leaves the salon, the dog/cat breaks your favorite dish.

I find though, that if I’m not mindful, I can let these annoyances turn me into Ms. Grinch, not a pleasant consequence for those around me, much less myself. Granted, there’s that immediate hit we get from blaming someone/something, but frankly things just don’t go well for me when I’m in Grinch-mode. I can’t afford to stay there for very long.

Lately I’ve been telling myself something a dear friend shared with me. She was about to embark on a family vacation. Lest you cry “So what? No big deal!” let me point out that her family of 20(!), all traveling together, included four generations, the oldest of which are somewhat health-and-energy-challenged, the youngest of which (great-grandchildren) are a blur-joy. You know, the running around in circles, high-octane munchkins.

My friend’s way of coping with the ensuing mayhem, hilarity and general chaos of corralling these disparate folk onto airplanes, through airport connections, into a foreign country, and then through the two-week vacation itself, was to remind herself of how her grandfather approached travel; “Patience and flexibility” he would say. All it takes is “patience and flexibility.”

What a great mantra for life! I mean, really, apart from the few major disasters that we may suffer through our lives, most of our daily irritations and annoyances are readily solved with a dose of “patience and flexibility.” OK, so my favorite show got nuked. Well, with a little patience and flexibility, I’ll find something I enjoy just as much. The trash didn’t get picked up. The nice lady at the trash company asks if I’m willing to wait an extra few days for pick up. Of course I am. Nothing horrible will happen if the bin is out there two more days. I can always find another stylist, it’s not the first time. And, I did love that dish, but oh well. I’m certainly not going to live without pets.

Thus it is. I find that if I just say to myself, “Self, be patient. You’ll figure out something. Be flexible. There’s always another way,” my irritation quickly dissolves, my load is lighter, and somehow the day goes better.

Patience and flexibility!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Happiness Is a Choice

My beloved pup, Ringo, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a couple of weeks ago. It was quite unexpected. Even though he was 14, had arthritis in his hips, cataracts and couldn’t hear worth a darn, he was one happy healthy boy up until his final week. Then suddenly the aggressive cancer in his spleen (that I didn’t know about) overwhelmed his system and he was gone in a matter of days.

My remaining pup, Baer, who’s all of 7 going on 3 (one Energizer Bunny battery too many), is confused. What happened to his big brother? We were a pack of three, now it’s just “Mommy and me.” He trots his favorite toy, a stuffed dog, around the house, through the doggie door, back into the house, brings it to me. Takes it back outside. Buries it in the garden. Unburies it. Aargh. The boy does not know what to do with himself. I keep telling him, “Be patient, I’ll get you a new brother soon,” but words just aren’t cutting it.

As I sit there petting him, missing our Ringo, I am reminded that happiness is a choice. I can remain depressed, low-spirited and unhappy over Ringo’s passing or I can choose – yes, choose – to see what’s right with right now, and choose to be happy. Jumping up and down happy? No. But OK. Appreciating what is. That I can do.

So I look at Baer, and marvel at this wonderful doggy-companion the Universe has gifted me. I think about how much I appreciate his snuggling with me at night, how fun it is for him to wake me by laying his front paws on my chest and licking my face. What a goof ball he is when he runs rings around the living room sectional, as if on a track doing laps.

I remember good times with Ringo – how much he loved his car-rides, how he loved to roll over on his back and stretch out all 95 pounds of himself for a righteous tummy-scratch. How he would tussle with Baer in his younger years, without ever hurting him. How his version of what you do with a bunny-rabbit lost in the backyard is not to kill it, but to lick it all over, as if to return it clean and unharmed to its “pack.”

As hard as it is to lose a loved one – animal or human – as long as we are still alive, there is something to be happy about. Something to appreciate, something or someone to live for. We don’t help the departed by being miserable, nor does it make anything better for those still here. That we should mourn and grieve, yes, absolutely, but never to forget that appreciation, of what was and is, is what will pull us through and onward.

After all, what will Baer’s someday new brother want? A miserable, depressed family? Or a happy one, eager to welcome him into the fold . . .