You Can Feel Safer Feeling safer is a tricky
subject, with complications both personal &
Feeling safer is a tricky subject, with
complications that can be both personal and
Yes, there are real threats out there, but
evolution and other factors have left a lot of us
walking around in a kind of paranoid trance. I've
been there myself, and the results include feeling
less peaceful and hopeful, and more worried and
cranky, than is right.
So I hope you find this post helpful.
Is There Really a Tiger in Those
Consider these two mistakes:
1. You think there's a tiger in the bushes, but
actually there isn't one.
2. You think no tiger is in the bushes, but
actually one is about to pounce.
Most of us make the first error much more often
than the second one, because:
Evolution has given us a paranoid brain.
In order to survive and pass on genes, it's better
to make the first mistake a hundred times rather
than make the second mistake even once; the cost of
the first mistake is fear for no reason, but the
cost of the second mistake is death.
Saturated with media, we get keyed up
about murders, disasters, economic turmoil,
horrible things happening to other people, etc. -
even though our own local situation is usually much
In ways that have been repeated throughout
history, some political groups and even governments
try to make the public more compliant by
exaggerating the threat of apparent enemies.
As a child, you were stuck with certain
family members or peers, and had little power and
limited coping abilities. Naturally, a person
develops expectations and anxieties based on that
history - even though today, you have much more
freedom to find the people you want to be with,
much more say over what happens to you, and many
more ways to deal with tough situations.
Dealing with the Real Tigers
Certainly, it is extremely important to
recognize the real tigers in your life.
They come in many shapes and sizes: perhaps an
impending layoff at work, a cough that won't go
away, a spouse who might yell at or even hit you, a
crime-filled neighborhood, a teenager growing pot
in the attic, a friend or co-worker who keeps
letting you down, or the health risks of smoking
Try to notice any tendencies to overlook or
minimize tigers, and do what you can about the ones
that truly exist.
Seeing through the Paranoid Trance
Meanwhile, try to recognize the ways that you -
like most people - routinely overestimate the
threats coming at you while underestimating the
resources inside you and around you.
In effect, most of us feel much less safe than
The unfortunate results include: unpleasant
feelings of apprehension, worry, and anxiety; a
hunkering down and failure to reach as high and
wide as one might; stress-related illnesses; less
inclination to be patient or generous with others;
and an increased tendency to be snappish or angry
(the engine of most aggression is fear).
It's enormously costly to feel like it's
always Threat Level Orange!
How to Feel Safer (As Safe As You Reasonably
Some people get understandably nervous about
feeling safer - since that's when you lower your
guard, and things can really smack you. So be
careful with the suggestions here, go at your own
pace, and perhaps talk with a friend or
Further, there is no perfect safety in this
life. Each one of us will face disease, old age,
and death, as well as lesser but still painful
experiences. And many of us - an "us" that includes
every person in the world - must deal with unsafe
conditions in the community, workplace, or
This said, consider in your heart of hearts
whether you deserve to feel safer: whether you are
more braced against life, more guarded, more
cautious, more anxious, more frozen, more
appeasing, more rigid, or more prickly than you
rightfully ought to be.
If the answer is yes, here are some ways to help
yourself feel gradually safer, so that your inner
reality of calm and confidence matches the true
reality of the people and settings around you.
First, take a quiet moment in a protected
setting - perhaps while cozy in bed, in a church or
temple, under a tree, or with a friend - to explore
anxiety and safety. Notice if you feel more
watchful, more nervous deep down than you truly
need to be.
And then bring to mind the sense of being with
someone who cares about you; recall a time you felt
strong; recognize that you are in a protected
setting; mentally list some of the resources inside
and around you that you could draw on to deal with
what life throws you; take a few breaths with
l-o-n-g exhalations and relax. All the while, keep
helping yourself feel more sheltered, more
supported, more capable, and safer. And less
vigilant, tense, or fearful.
Become more aware of what it's like to feel
safer, and let those good feelings sink into you,
so you can remember them in your body and find your
way back to them in the future.
Second, in daily life, look for legitimate
opportunities to feel safer. Use some of the
methods just above - such as the sense of being
with someone who loves you, or the recognition of
your resources - to help yourself feel at least a
little safer, and maybe a lot.
Then see what happens. And take it in, again and
again, if in fact, as they usually do, things turn
And there is really no tiger in the bushes after
* * *
As they say in Tibet, if you take care of the
the years will take care of themselves.
is a neuropsychologist and author of
Brain: The practical neuroscience of
& wisdom with
Rick Mendius and Mother Nurture: A Mother's
Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships. A summa cum laude graduate of
UCLA who received his doctorate from the Wright
Institute in Berkeley, CA, he founded the
Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and
Contemplative Wisdom, edits the Wise Brain
Bulletin, and writes a blog for PsychologyToday.com
as well as a weekly newsletter called Just One
Thing; his articles have also appeared in Tricycle
Magazine, Insight Journal, Inquiring Mind, and
Buddhist Geeks on-line magazine. He teaches
regularly at universities and meditation centers in
Europe, Australia, and North America, and has audio
programs with Sounds True. Rick began meditating in
1974 and has practiced in several traditions; he
was a board member at Spirit Rock Meditation Center
for nine years and is a graduate of its Community
Dharma Leaders program. He leads a regular
meditation gathering in San Rafael, CA. Currently a
Trustee of Saybrook University, he was also
President of the Board of FamilyWorks, a non-profit
agency. He and his wife have two adult children.
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