Tony was a regular boy. He would show up once in a while in our neighborhood to play and join in our games. Sometimes everything went smoothly for Tony and playing was fun; other times other kids would tease him, would taunt him and would threaten to harm him. When the latter happened, Tony would retreat sheepishly and leave. Tony did not have a regular home, he was an orphan. He lived at a city sponsored school/orphanage and would come to our neighborhood to visit a family who had befriended and was nice to him.
There came a time when we did not see Tony for a while. When he showed up next a boy in the neighborhood decided to repeat the intimidation routine on Tony. As the boy approached him and talked rough to him Tony just stood there. This time Tony did not retreat and did not sheepishly look down. Tony remained calm and firm looking straight into the eyes of the other boy. I will never forget the next two statements uttered by this elementary school age boy, “I’m not the same Tony as I used to be. You cannot push me around anymore.” The other boy stood there somewhat confused and not knowing what to do. Tony was not playing his usual part. Tony remained calm but resolute on his gaze. The other boy turned around and left him alone and did not bother him again.
Life can be difficult and filled with challenges and stresses, regardless of our age. Tony, in spite of his young age, taught me two valued principles in handling life. One, stop running from your fears. Second, stand up to the fears and challenges of life.
Stop running from your fears
All of us have moments of vulnerability. The stresses of life, an unkind word or act, the voids we carry in our heart, these factors and others may create in us feelings of anxiety and fear, even panic. Only those who have spent never-ending nights in anguish due to perceived danger can attest of the torturous experience fear can cause. During these most agonizing moments, our first instinct is to flee, to find refuge somewhere, somehow. But as experience has taught, very little refuge can be found when we flee something that is inside us. There is no place distant enough to protect us because wherever we go, there is the fear, the anxiety. In order to stop running from our fears we need two things: new internalized knowledge and new skills. The new piece of knowledge I would like to offer is that wherever we go, there is the fear. So, we must make a conscious decision that we will stop running from our fears and realize that we will feel uncomfortable sensations, but they will not harm us. What does that mean? This means that we can handle the sensations and be bold. By internalizing this information we can stop the vicious cycle.
Stand up to your fears
Just like Tony, as we look at our fears straight in the eye, we will find out that we have more control of the situation than we previously thought. There are different skills you can use. First, distract your mind by bringing your focus to the moment. Use a car key or something with a rough surface and rub your thumb on the rough area of the object. Keep the focus on that item while telling yourself that you are safe and that you can handle any feeling that comes your way. Second, if you can move around, do so to allow your body to use some of the energy that has suddenly become available. Third, practice to mentally go to your happy and relaxing place where you have previously built happy memories. If at any time you feel the sensations are coming faster than your distracting efforts, pause and confront the sensations by mentally or verbally inviting them to come at you with all they have. Like I said, fear is a sensation and even though is uncomfortable, it will not harm you. So, be brave for it will be then when you will realize that you are bigger than your fears and you will stop feeding the wolf that has been chasing you for so long.
There is a poem I discovered many years ago while still in elementary school that has been a source of perspective and inspiration. It is called Desiderata by Marx Ehrmann. The poem starts, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself… It continues, “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings… Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself…”
Years of practice might have reinforced the response to become agitated when faced with stress and difficulty. But as human beings we have the power to change the course of our lives. Most of the time it takes time and practice. Sometimes, we can be the recipient of a miracle and the change can happen suddenly. Regardless, we need to change the focus from running to stopping and standing tall to a better and more tranquil life. Be bold, be brave. The sensations are uncomfortable vexations, but you can handle them. The more you do it, the freer you will feel. Best wishes.