10.22.2014

Maintaining My Inner Dude

Sometimes I get anxious and feel overwhelmed. Lately, when this happens, I try to release my inner Dude and “take it easy.”

It seems to work.

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.

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