I’ll notice myself feeling nervous or stressed about something, and then I will redirect my thinking on it. By realizing and admitting that my emotional fight or flight reaction to stress is driven by primitive fear originating in my brainstem, I force my higher cortical brain to tame the beast, capture it, and cage or kill it.
In a sense, I think of it as doing battle with “the beast.” This translates into seeing the things that stress me out as character building challenges, rather than things to fear and avoid. This totally changes my perspective and my thinking. Instead of fighting or fleeing stressful (but necessary*) things, I face them head on with my proverbial battle axe at the ready. This is much more satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding (synonyms?), and actually results in personal gain. Accomplishing a challenging goal feels good and eliminates anxiety, allowing me to face remaining challenges with greater ease and courage. Sometimes it generates future profit as well, such as when I work on challenging music to perform later with my band.
I think the key is awareness. When you are stressed and anxious, you might let your reptilian brain take over, and fall back on habitual unhealthy behavior patterns that you used in the past to alleviate stress (eating comfort foods, watching mind-numbing TV, ranting on social media, alcohol or drugs, etc.), without really thinking about it. If you can train your human brain to recognize the presence of the irrational animal brain, and give it a steely stare down right in the eyes before clobbering it, then that which does not kill you only makes you stronger.
Note: I would not stare down a polar bear…I would run…there is a reason we have the fight or flight response biologically wired into our physiology…but most fears and anxieties in modern society are overblown and harmless, fueled by corporate media messages intended (willfully or not) to keep the masses afraid and enslaved to the status quo (“Obama is going to destroy America!”).
That’s getting a bit out of the scope of this post. But the point is, I try to harness my inner Dude and face adversity with confidence and serenity. I don’t think I am very good at it, but I am practicing and getting better. It's a form of Zen, I suppose.
There are religious overtones here, of course. I think some people turn to Jesus for a similar sense of fortitude against adversity. If it helps them to stand up to challenges without fear, more power to them. As an atheist, I find the Dude to be a more pragmatic and thoughtful role model.
The idea of “the beast” as the animal side of our humanity also ties into the idea of the Devil in us all. The brainstem is a vestigial part of the human brain that evolved in amphibians and reptiles. It has limited emotional responses, two of which are fear and anger, that often drive people to do harmful things to themselves or others. Psychological defense mechanisms stem from the brainstem. When politicians and advertising media want to persuade people to action, they target the reptilian brain directly, knowing that in most people, fear and anger trump rational thought every time. Politicians tell you their opponents want to destroy your way of life. Advertisers tell you your life is incomplete without their products. This is the proverbial “Devil,” I think…deceiving people into irrational thought or action by poking a stick at their inner reptile.
In the movie BIG LEBOWSKI, I hypothesize that Walter represents the Dude’s id, or reptilian reactionary and emotional brain. Donny represents the ego, questioning and rational thought, and he is constantly bowled over (pun) by Walter’s outspokenness (“Shut the @#$% up, Donny!”), eventually getting killed off because of Walter's impulsiveness. The Dude is always in constant conflict with Walter, and seldom benefits from Walter’s advice.
* Note: Some stresses are not necessary and they can be disenfranchised.
I feel like not just a million bucks, but three million. That's because of the 2.5 mile run I went on at lunch.
Filled with my own natural endorphins, I am now stretching my muscles in the "relaxation room" at work, before returning to my desk to finish the workday.
This running at lunch thing is pretty cool. My friend Danielle and I only try for 2 miles or so. We don't push it because of the time constraint of the lunch hour. We got 2.5 miles in today, in about 25 minutes. I still had lots of time to shower and change when I got back to the locker room at work.
We are going running again on Friday.
Next weekend I may drive down to Lake Geneva WI where my filmmaker buddy Nick is working on a film. Another buddy, Shawn, from RAGBRAI will be there too. Maybe Sherry will come.
While I do wish my country band would book more shows closer to the Madison area, it's still fun to road trip up north to perform, which we did this weekend. We supplied music for a private party on Saturday night at the Minocqua Brewing Company and so there were a lot of people there. We stayed at the hotel across the street from the venue so we didn't have to do any driving after we got done performing. Very convenient.
I didn't sleep great however, and so I was tired today when we drove back to Madison. I tried to take a power nap once I got home, but I couldn't fall asleep, maybe from all the coffee I drank. But after the pseudo nap I raked all the leaves out of my backyard and took them to the curb where they will hopefully get collected by the city this week. They slacked on it last week.
After the raking, I made a nice Paleo stir fry for dinner, with a couple eggs as the protein source, and then practiced songs in my basement. The country band is back up the Minocqua in a fortnight to play Halloween night there. We are dressing up as the musicians in a well known Americana rock band and will emulate them for a set of their challenging musical material. We have played this material before, but not for a long time, so a refresher was needed. When I got through those songs, I practiced punk rock songs on guitar, for the band I am auditioning for this coming Wednesday. It is a long shot for getting into this band, because I am not as nuanced on guitar as I am on bass. I can play the songs just fine (although my forearms burn on some of the faster ones), but I just don't know if I am playing them the way they want them played. But we will find out on Wednesday. The songs are fun, catchy, and clever, so I hope I make the cut. I am setting my expectations low so that if I do get picked it will be fantastic. But if I don't get picked it will be more or less what I expected. I am really driven to learn these songs though and I have been practicing them furiously. That has got to count for something, especially if my competition is less prepared than I am. I am always amazed how ill prepared some people are when they show up for auditions. If they did not master the material for the audition, I interpret that as not really caring about the music and being lazy and unmotivated. So if this band feels the same way, my preparedness should indicate to them that I am driven to learn the material and also care about the art.
Well...I am off to bed.