Fear. That small word that has such an enormous impact. And today, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, there will be many people feeling any one of the words associated with fear – here’s just a few: anxiety, jittery, uncomfortable, alarmed, jumpy, distrustful, timid, shy, apprehensive, unsure, uncertain, scared, worried.
Recognise any of them?
Many of these words can be used to describe how people in the UK, my country, feel about Brexit.
In both the USA and UK there is a lot of uncertainty going on.
Uncertainty tends to make people want to batten down the hatches, to cling on to what they know, to try to predict what is going to happen. Then we see people wanting to control others, to set up systems that will enable this and to minimize damage to themselves.
All of this applies not only to what is going on politically, but to individuals as they age.
When you are coming towards the end of your life, whether you think that is aged 50+ or 80+, uncertainty is what looms ahead. We don’t know what end of life means. We shy away from the word ‘death’, unable to comprehend what it might mean.
In the Western world, we behave as if it isn’t going to happen, and then have to take the consequences.
Hence we have rising hospitalisations, people suffering as life is prolonged unnecessarily, and thousands dealing with the mess and muddle that so often ensues after someone dies.
But all of it starts with fear.
If we can become more at ease with that word, and its cousins of uncertainty, not-knowing and contraction, then we can also face up to the practicalities involved in end of life, as well as the current political situation.
But it’s impossible to do that without re-connecting with your own individual life.
So I ask you, where is fear knocking on your door today?
In what area of your life? Maybe it is at a top political level. Maybe instead it is more about a neighbourhood issue or indeed, maybe it is because you or someone you know is coming towards the end of their life.
Whenever fear knocks, and in whatever guise, it is wise to open the door. It goes against your instincts, which is to bar the door, close the curtains and pretend there’s no-one there. But doing this entrenches fear more.
Doing this means that fear just infiltrates in more insidious ways, creeping up through the floorboards of the house, coming in through the air vents.
Just as with emotions we welcome in and wish to stay, we need to welcome in any member of the fear family and allow it to be present.
That means we have to allow it to be felt in our bodies. We need to notice the thoughts that accompany the feelings. And then we need to wait.
Now, I’m not talking here about fear in response to physical danger, when waiting is probably not the right thing to do! I’m talking about fear in response to what our minds are thinking.
Because have you noticed that not everyone is terrified of Brexit, Trump or dying? And it’s not because they voted one way or another, or are in 100% health, even though it looks that way. It’s because they are thinking about it differently.
So let me invite you to think differently, if you find you are feeling fearful.
First, open the door to the feelings. Let them into your house and allow them into all the rooms. Keep the back door open so they can depart as easily as you allowed them in.
This is one thing I discovered for myself after my husband died. When I let the feelings of grief (fear, anger, tears whatever) be felt, they disappeared. Yes, they might come back again, but slowly the length of time between visits lengthened. This does not happen if you block your door to feelings; rather the pushed-away feelings build up and burst out at all sorts of inappropriate times.
Secondly, notice your thoughts and even if they are screaming to you to act now, don’t do anything. Wait until the fearful feelings have left your house, and only then act.
If you do anything while fear is whirling around, the beneficial effects of what you are trying to do will be limited, and any detrimental effects will be heightened.
I know waiting is not a very sexy word. I know ‘not-knowing’ or uncertainty are not easy bedmates. But they are actually very rewarding when you get used to them.
Next time you notice yourself getting worked up about the political situation, pushing away thoughts of dying, death and grief, or just ignoring the whole lot, I invite you to actively welcome in the thoughts and feelings instead.
And then practice waiting and see what happens.
(and by the way, one way to welcome in end of life feelings and thoughts is to address the practicalities of what needs to happen when you come to pop your clogs. Check out Before I Go: Practical Questions to Ask and Answer Before You Die – it will help you).