Isn't it interesting how some of us crave safety and security? So much so that when we are in the presence of fear, we want to retreat, run, or hide away in order to avoid the situation completely. On the other hand, some of us actually crave adventure or even risky situations; we have a warrior-like mentality and rise to meet the occasion, daring to embrace whatever the situation to be. Both of these are normal reactions in the body, and we are hard wired to have a physiological response in the presence of fear. How we handle the situation, however, is based on a variety of factors.
Fear is a normal physiological response that occurs when in the presence of stress, whether that is a perceived threat or any other form of exciting situation. It is a time when the sympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system becomes activated, more commonly known as the "fight or flight" response. Our body either wants to run from the threat, or rise to face it head on. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, the brain sends a signal to the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, to release adrenaline. We experience an increase in heart rate, breathing becomes easier, the pupils become dilated, and we receive a rush of stored energy, while other "non-essential" activities such as digestion slow down.
Although this response is normal, it can become overactive when we are persistently exposed to a threat, whether it is real or imagined. This means that for some, there is no "real" danger, only a perceived one. We see this phenomena in the manifestation of phobias and irrational fears. Some of us may even be genetically predisposed to having an overactive response or have experienced some sort of disease which disrupts the nervous system or glandular function. Even modern day living can trigger this response through the heightened use of technology and the constant exposure to stressful information. Less commonly, we can see an under active stress response where, despite perceived danger, an individual is unaffected.
So what can be done?
First, simply bringing awareness and noticing how you respond in certain situations can be incredibly helpful. Allow yourself to experiment with the feelings of fear. Instead of going through your immediate response, pause and take notice of how you are feeling before taking action. This, of course, does not apply if you are in immediate danger such as in some sort of attack. In those situations, please, by all means, allow your sympathetic nervous system to do its job!
Secondly, reach out for help. Depending on the underlying reason there are so many different avenues to take towards restoring balance in the body. This may be meditation, acupuncture, bodywork, talk therapy, supplementation (whether natural or synthetic), the list goes on. Find the route that works for you with where you are at now, and be open to the idea that your needs may change and a different course of action may be required somewhere along the road.
The reason that this topic was on my mind today was because last night I went for a walk in the woods to enjoy the Full Moon. This was not the first time I was out in nature at night, and we were not in the deep back-country; however, I still felt that creeping sensation of fear climbing up my spine and a minor panic from the unknown. Because I knew that I wasn't in any immediate danger, I was able to pause and reflect on what I was feeling. I took a deep breath and allowed myself to fully take in my surroundings. My vision adjusted and I was able to see more clearly, my hearing became sharper, and my feet became more attuned to the terrain.
See if you can pause the next time you experience fear and ask yourself what your body is trying to communicate with you. Are you in true danger or is it simply a habit your body has learned?
The Full Moon.
Today the Moon is Full in the sign of Libra. According to Yasmin Boland, in her book Moonology: Working with the Magic of Lunar Cycles, the energy is focused on relationships and partnerships. It is reminding us to see the beauty in life, and find balance between our individual needs and what we do for others. Some questions to consider at this time include:
Have I been focusing on other people's needs more than my own?
Have I been too easily influenced by others or unable to make decisions on my own?
Have I been living my life based on someone else's opinions or perspective?
Can I bring more beauty into my life?
Have I been too focused on outside appearances?
She also explains that the Full Moon, in general, is the perfect time to practice forgiveness and gratitude, because it signifies the end of a cycle. It is about releasing the old, letting go of things that may have upset us as well as any negative events, attitudes, people or patterns. It is when we should release what we do not want in our life, such as feelings of resentment, anger, jealousy, guilt, and shame. It is a time for deep inner work, a time to look within, and an opportunity to allow healing to occur. Boland also suggests that once this energy is cleared, it is important to replace with gratitude in order to increase positive feelings and improve outlook.
What can you let go of this Full Moon?
What are you are grateful for?
This past year has been an exceptional one for many of us, full of uncertainties and deep reflections. Some have experienced loss while others have found new opportunities and beginnings. Despite all of this, there seems to be a hopefulness in the air with these first few days of spring. Just as nature begins to come back to life after a long, quiet winter, we feel the same sensations within ourselves as well. This phenomena is acknowledged and explained through the Eastern philosophy of the Five Elements.
In Chinese Medicine, the Five Elements are Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. Although these elements exist in nature, they are recognized within us as well. As Dianne Connelly writes in her book, Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements, "We are a replica of the universe passing from season to season in a natural unending cycle of life."
The Spring season is associated with the Wood Element and just a few days ago, on March 20th, we celebrated the Equinox signifying the beginning of Spring, a day where day and night are of nearly equal length. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we will now experience increasingly longer days until we reach the peak on June 20th, the Summer Solstice, or the longest day of the year in terms of sunlight.
Many are familiar with the Yin-Yang sign; which represents the two opposing forces in nature that contain a seed of the other. The two are interdependent and one cannot exist without the other: the only reason we can recognize light is because we know the dark, and vice versa. Yang is associated with the sun while Yin is associated with the moon; therefore, spring is a time of rising yang.
Spring is a time of beginning and rebirth; the Earth flourishes as new seedlings come to life and animals return whether from migration or from hibernation. The most relatable way to explain the Wood element is to look to a tree: a tree is rooted into the Earth, yet also reaches it branches up towards the Heavens. If it is healthy, Wood can be flexible, as it yields to bending and the wind, yet also strong and durable.
Although I usually spend a lot of my free time in nature hiking, I don't always take the time to wander or get lost in nature like I used to. Hiking for me has become more of expedition to reach a specific destination, climb a certain mountain, or complete a certain amount of mileage. Although these are all good things, I was not always like this. I used to visit the woods to wander and visit places I felt called to, where I would sit, observe, listen, and sometimes journal.
With the recent pandemic, I have begun to re-evaluate my direction, lifestyle, and choices in many ways. One of which has been to reconsider my relationship with nature. I have felt the need to return to a deeper appreciation of the Earth, to enjoy and explore it, even in the littlest of ways. I was fortunate enough to practice this just a couple of days after the Equinox, when I went to explore a small wildlife preserve just a block from where I am currently living and walk down to one of the local rivers. I have lived in this place for almost a year, yet had no idea this spot was so close by. It humbled me to discover this and helped me to remember that connecting with nature does not need to be an all-day event or trek into the woods. The pictures is this post are the ones I took while on my walk.
I think is is important to remember to connect to nature in any way that fits into your lifestyle, it does not have to be anything fancy, physically demanding, or take much of your time. Even just taking a moment to pause, take a deep breath, and gaze out your window is enough. In a society where we have become more and more integrated with technology, I believe reconnecting with nature in these ways can be incredibly helpful for maintaining some peace of mind. If you are feeling especially adventurous, search for any walking trails or preserves nearby your home. You never know what you might find in your own backyard!