The recently series of disasters in Japan triggered serious fear in some folks in America. This is curious considering how far removed we are from the actual experience. This, I reckon, is key to what sets us apart from other animals. Thinking enables us to make matters worse than they would otherwise be (of course the opposite is also true). The fluctuating stock market is a perfect example of both cases. On the other hand nightly newscasts focus on the negative; bad news sells.
Worry makes it worse
It’s a little different for people actually experiencing disaster. Theirs is a visceral sense: feeling shock, loss, discomfort, and fears directly resulting from a physical experience. Any animal, including us, would feel this way faced with similar circumstances. Where we part company with the animals is in imagined fear of loss and discomfort which cause worry and stress.
I was dumbfounded today to hear about a friend of a friend, arriving from Japan, who had her sandwich confiscated by US customs. Such irrational, not scientifically supportable fear of radiation also resulted in panic purchasing of potassium iodide by some Californians recently. This feels understandable. However, to see this at the official level feels much less so. Once I would have just seen this as “Them… those idiots”. Now I know it is “us… we idiots”, and this is truly humbling. I’m afraid our self-image is quite out-of-sync with who we truly are, animal-wise.
Curiously, whenever we feel doubt, the mind invariably imagines the worst case to be the more probably one. Ironically, the worst case is usually not the case! My mother’s state of mind whenever her cat failed to return home at night exemplifies this. She would fret and worry that he’d been run over or what not. Every time he’d return home the next morning. Yet, every next time he’d stay out, she would always imagine the worst. I’d remind her of how he’d always return, and how he was undoubtedly “out on the town”. Nevertheless, evidence and reason were impotent; emotion ruled the day.
Don’t worry, plan wisely
On the other hand, it is equally striking how consistently we ignore real worst case probabilities that lie just beyond the horizon. An obvious example is the overly optimistic way we approach life. Decrepit years lie ahead, yet many fail to take heed and prepare in body or soul. The same lack of preparation occurs in countless other ways where there is no ‘news breaking’ stimuli rattling our cage. The current debt crisis is a most striking example. We need a shocking event to trigger serious concern, and when it happens, we invariably panic and over react. We think we are rational, we talk as though we are rational, yet we behave irrationally.
Fear is the master puppeteer
I’ve long underestimated the deep impact emotion, especially fear, has upon our lives. Not anymore. Fear is the master puppeteer. I’ve always remembered the way the Bhagavad Gita speaks to fear.
Prepare for war with peace in thy soul. Be in peace in pleasure and pain, in gain and in loss, in victory or in the loss of a battle. In this peace there is no sin.
This is the wisdom of Sankhya ‑ the vision of the Eternal. Hear now the wisdom of Yoga, path of the Eternal and freedom from bondage.
No step is lost on this path, and no dangers are found. And even a little progress is freedom from fear.
Yes, this is a bit idealistic, but it has the priorities right. I find a more practical and realistic”progress” in simply understanding that emotion (esp. need and fear) drives thinking which creates counter-productive worry (and desire of course).