Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. Thich Nhat Hanh
Running towards the chicken coop I expected to see a fox. What I saw instead was a huge tawny colored cat much larger than my 70 pound dog. It leapt with a ferocity as intense as the sound it made slamming into the wood structure of the coop. From 25 feet away I could see the muscle definition in the shoulders of the Mountain Lion as it crouched and jumped. The thud it made when it landed back on the ground still echoes in my ears. My entire body slammed itself into a freeze frame and yet I was surprised that awe and curiosity were stronger than fear. The adrenaline in my limbs held me in alertness and a thought occurred to me: True fear leaves no time to feel afraid.
Every hair on my skin was alert, my eyes were clear and sharp as they scanned the coop that was partially hidden by bushes to shade our chickens from the sun. Did it get out? My ears felt pointed like when deer listen. What are the birds saying (and not saying)? Is the lion still in the coop? Where is it?
I have come face to face with true fear a number of times over the years, twice with a mountain lion, once with a bear, and twice with a rattlesnake. I call it true fear because my body reacts as though it is in mortal danger, which it is. This kind of fear has been a true gift in that I can now identify the fearful “what if” thinking that causes me anxiety and the true fear of “get safe now.” The get safe now kind of fear passes when the threat is over, the “What if” keeps me up all night and makes me stink with sweat. Both kinds of fear cause stress on the body. The human system was designed to deal with threats by putting the body into a stress state so it can move quickly, avoid the threat and return to a calm state or baseline for the majority of time.
The challenge in our modern times is that there are so many “what if’s” that most people live in a constant state of low grade anxiety and therefore constant stress. Our systems are not designed for this kind of constant “possible” threat scenario that never quite returns to a peaceful baseline. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child talks about different types of stress and names them as positive (healthy) which is like what happened to me with the mountain lion, and toxic which can result from “what if.”
There is a lot I am not telling you about my experiences with these animals, or how I integrated the interactions to help me be more calm, or what I have done to mitigate stress in my life and with the children I work with. What I can say is that my years of practicing active listening –to birds and animals, scanning the ground and the bushes with my eyes and engaging with the environment I live in all supported the integration of these mortal threats in a way that allows me to be more calm than I was before them.
It may sound counter intuitive but it actually makes great sense when one understands the inner workings of our neurology, brain patterning and our developmental processes.
Are you interested in learning more about how to up level your environmental awareness and decrease stress?
In my trainings I show how new scientific research supports the core routines of nature connection and I teach practices that mitigate toxic stress for yourself and for the children you love or work with.