Fear, Pain and First Till
Because I have been struggling with back issues for several months, even though Mother Nature has been cooperating with a week or so of beautiful late March weather and temperatures, my body has been consistently saying no to heavy garden work.
Actually my body still said no, but my mind decided to override the veto and haul out the tiller anyway just to see where my pain threshold resided. Remembering an old lesson about pain, fear and perception, I fired up the machine and commenced to tear and claw at the land.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that my back held up well, though I am quite sore as I write this blurb four hours later. Still, the First Till is in and Mrs. Cog can now sow some lettuce and early Kale.
It always amazes Mrs. Cog that we can turn some soil, drop some seed and Mother Nature rewards us with goodness and bounty. Ain’t she grand?
I mean both Mrs. Cog and Mother Nature. ;-)
Back to that life lesson about pain and perception. I wrote about my experience seven years ago in my original five chapter essay “Welcome to the Insane Asylum”. Below I include the (long) excerpt from Chapter Four where I discuss the ‘incident’. It was a lesson in fear management that has paid dividends ever since.
If you would like to see an image of the x-ray taken of the ‘incident’, the link below brings you to the page where you can access all five chapters with the image at the top.
“Fear the Nailman
OK, so now what do we do? Well there are two final concepts I wish to discuss, that of critical mass and the catalyst. But before doing so, we must discuss our own fear. No matter what psychological games I play on myself, that mountain appears to still be in front of me. And I don’t know if I have the courage within myself or others to do the hard work that will enable me to see the illusion.
Or we might say “yes I understand the mountain’s an illusion, just as the walls of the powers that be are an illusion. But I’m frightened and unsure what to do”. Fair enough, so am I. The first step is to talk about our fears. By doing so, by dragging the monster out from under the bed and the boogeyman out of the closet, we go a long way to disarming our fear.
I said way back in chapter one that we’re only as sick as our deepest darkest secrets. Well, we’re also only as immobilized as our deepest darkest fears. So before I begin with the final two concepts, let me relate a personal experience about fear. It’s often easier to create our own reality when we’ve seen others do so. And “fear” is simply a reality we can both empower and disempower at will.
I’d worked in residential construction for nearly 20 years, from when I was 16 to my mid 30’s, encompassing the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Towards the end of this period, I found myself working for someone else on a crew of one and a quarter building a house. In other words, I was doing 90% of the work and he would show up when I needed a second body to lift walls and place floor joists.
As usual, I was working alone one morning, on top of a step ladder with a compressed air gun nailing down the double top plate of a wall. I was reaching with the gun in my right hand while pushing the wall in place with my knee and left hand. A strong gust of wind pushed me off balance while I was just about to nail the top plate next to my knee. I missed the top plate and shot the 3 ½ inch glued and barbed framing nail into my left leg about six inches above the knee. Can you say Ouch?
From what little I could tell, it was the perfect shot, directly through the center of the leg at a slight angle, through the center of the leg bone and out the other side but not through the skin on the back side. The only thing that prevented it from going through and out of the other side was the head of the nail. I’d just shot myself, nailing the leg muscle to the leg bone, and I was all alone and unable to walk, barely able to get off the ladder. And this was before cell phones.
Then I got lucky. I expected to be working alone all day, but my boss showed up 30 minutes later because he’d forgotten something. He quickly called the ambulance and along with the fire department they got me off the second story and into the emergency room in about an hour and a half, the delay caused by the lack of stairs in the unfinished home. Once the emergency room doctor saw the x-rays, the on-call orthopedic surgeon was summoned.
Unfortunately, for reasons never fully explained to me, the surgeon took over two hours to show up. Personally I think he was off in a motel somewhere. The ER doctor didn’t want to order pain meds because I’d been handed off to the missing surgeon. So I was basically abandoned medically while call after call was placed for the MIA surgeon. I’d been in pain now for over three hours with what was effectively a gunshot wound through the bone. And quite frankly I was getting very worried and was nearing panic when suddenly almost all of the pain disappeared.
This lasted about 2 or 3 minutes and I was baffled. At first I thought something bad had just happened, that maybe I was going back into shock. But I felt OK, not dizzy or cold or disorientated. I was thinking clearly and I was fully aware of my situation and my surroundings. I’d just decided to start hollering for someone to come into the exam room when the pain came blasting back. Oh my, now that was a shock.
For about 5 minutes I was stunned and somewhat befuddled. What had just happened? What the hell was going on? And then a realization and understanding swept over me. It wasn’t the pain that had disappeared and then reappeared; it was my fear. The fear I was experiencing (where the hell is the doctor, what are they going to do about this nail, will I be able to walk, will I be able to work) was creating a emotional positive feedback loop that exaggerated the pain which exaggerated the fear and so on.
Basically my emotional state was more of a problem than the nail, at least as far as the pain was concerned. Since I knew that it was now possible to be fear free, meaning the “reality” of no fear had just been demonstrated to me, I decided to try it on my own, in effect to experiment. I knew I could be without fear because I’d just experienced this reality for a few minutes.
Rather than try to understand why it happened, I wanted to focus on making it happen once again so the pain would go away. So I decided that I had no fear. I’m not talking about hoping or wishing or thinking or praying or trying not to be afraid or trying not to have fear. I decided fear was not present because it did not exist at that moment and time.
This is an example of how something becomes real or a part of our reality simply because we have “proof” it’s real, regardless of how silly or impossible it might seem. I consider this the central core to our madness, this constant need for proof of our reality before we accept our reality. Or let’s reverse that sentence. This is an example of our denial of certain realities if the “reality” can’t be proven to be “real”. Let that concept sink in for a minute.
Consider how much we depend on others, mostly authority figures of every kind, to tell us whether something is real or not. And if we’re told it’s not real, we dismiss it from our minds and thus our reality in the same way I dismissed the fear from my reality. If we’re told something is “real” we believe it pretty much without question. “They attacked us because they hate our freedom; now shut up and get back on the hamster wheel.”
I knew the absence of fear could be “real” because I had just experienced it, in the same way we know our feet will touch the floor when we roll out of bed in the morning. We never even consider that the floor won’t be there when we swing our legs off the bed. We don’t question it because it’s there, it’s real, with such a huge degree of certainty that there’s no doubt whatsoever.
This “reality” has been “proven” to us repeatedly each and every morning. We don’t doubt it because it’s “real”. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise. We approach so much that’s in life in exactly the same manner, thus making real something that might not be real if we hadn’t been told it was real. For example, every source we turn to tells us that the towering walls and powers that be are impossible to bring down. This is not true yet the vast majority of us believe it to be true, thus making it “real”.
It wasn’t even that I knew I had no fear. I simply accepted the condition of the absence of fear as I would the condition of the floor under my feet and the examination table under my butt. I created the reality by expecting it to be there, which is not the same thing as hoping it will be there or expecting the fear to go away. The fear simply wasn’t there because it did not exist. I can create and empower the fear from within or I can choose not to create and empower the fear from within. I have the inner power to make the fear “real” or not.”
Do. Or Do Not. There is no Try.
When I related this to a friend a week later, at first he laughed. But then he said it reminded him of that scene from Star Wars where Yoda is training Luke. Luke has just failed to lift the star fighter out of the swamp muck and Yoda scolds him after Luke said he would try again. Yoda says “Do! Or do not! There is no try!” I understand using this movie reference sounds somewhat “out there” but I need to emphasize that there simply was no “try” to be without fear. There just was no fear. It did not exist and it never existed. In fact I had made the absence of fear so “real” that to actually feel fear at that precise moment would have been a contradiction of reality because there was no fear to feel.
I experimented a few minutes turning my fear on and off, of turning the reality of my fear on and off, until I felt I understood how to do it. I was literally going from lots of pain to very little and back again. It was very surreal. The key was to assume total and absolute responsibility for my fear or the absence of my fear. There was no “this situation is making me afraid” or “that nail in my leg is making me frightened” because I make or don’t make whatever reality I want. Nothing makes me do anything. I and I alone control myself and my reality. Only I can “make” me do something. I’m accepted my responsibility for creating my own reality. Nothing else is responsible for making my reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Consider how often we use the word “make” when describing our reality, in particular our emotional reality. You make me mad. I made her angry. She makes me happy. I made my son angry. They made me upset. The actions of the powers that be make me furious. The bankers are making me very upset. Obama makes me furious. In each situation, we’re abandoning our responsibility for our own emotional response. Thus whatever response we present is not our fault. The other person or entity then owns us, which is another way of saying controls us, because we hand over control of our emotional state. This inevitably leads to our physical control.
All there can be is the simple and absolute understanding of the experience of the absence of fear, of being without fear. For example, you’re reading this now. You’re not thinking “I don’t want to be afraid” or “I want this fear to go away” while reading this. You simply aren’t thinking about fear because there’s no fear present. I was creating that condition in my mind. Actually it “felt” like I was turning on and off a switch that was literally located in the back of my head. Something had shown me how to create an alternative reality. And like the good student that I am, I followed instructions.
Suddenly the surgeon walked into the exam room with a bunch of people in tow. After 10 minutes of looking at x-rays and examining my leg, he turns to me in the most matter of fact manner considering the situation and lays out two choices for me. They can rush me off to the operating room, cut my leg open and extract the barbed and cemented nail from the center of my leg bone. This choice could subject me to infection risk as well as a long recovery time because of all the cutting and possible sawing.
“Or we can take care of it with these.” He turns around and in his hands are two very shiny and beautifully crafted vice grips, one large and one slightly smaller. He didn’t need to tell me what he wanted to do because it was obvious. He wanted to grab the head of the nail with the vice grip, lock the jaws closed and twist it out. I was a bit shocked that one choice involved surgery and the other involved a pair of vice grips.
I asked about the danger of pulling the nail out in the exam room and he spent a few minutes talking about ripping open an artery and hemorrhaging, breaking or shattering the bone from the torque applied when twisting the nail out and even tearing the muscle with the barbs. “No big deal” is how he summed it up. I asked him for his recommendation and he flashes this big smile and says “I’m here, you’re here, let’s get the party started.”
After a few seconds of thought I told him to go for it. He asked me if I wanted a shot for the pain and I said no, I had the pain under control. He asked again about the pain, then looked at me and said no more. I did say I’d need a minute to prepare before he started. Five minutes later he said he was ready and I went to that place and flipped that switch I’d just learned about, where there is the absence of fear because there is no fear.
As it turned out, the “extraction” was much more difficult than he expected, what with the barbs and cement. After about a minute of twisting and pulling the nail as one would a corkscrew, he finally was able to pull it completely out. Both he and I (after it was done) were astounded that I was able to bear the procedure without crying out in pain or using the second pair of vice grips on his ear or nose in retaliation. BTW, 25 years later I still have the nail and the x-rays and I regularly pull them out (pun intended) to remember that important lesson.
One week later, when I visited his office for a follow up, I asked him if he’s normally that cavalier and forthright when talking to patients under similar circumstances. He said no, he doesn’t normally and he’d thought about it often, wondering what came over him. He said he didn’t do anything different than he normally would, meaning the same choices would still have been offered.
But when I persisted with my questions, he did say he felt the emotional situation was “light” and “easy going” and he “felt” (I remember he had a confused look on his face when he said this) he should act the same way. He seemed to be genuinely surprised by what he had experienced. This brings to mind the concept of mirroring, how when talking to someone I mirror their actions or they mirror mine, such as if I cross my arms the person will often do so as well.
The surgeon had unconsciously been mirroring my lack of fear and my calm demeanor. He didn’t walk into a crisis situation. I’d created in him an alternative reality simply because he was exposed to my reality. This is part of the dynamic of herd behavior on an individual basis. Understanding the concept of mirroring is important because it can be used as a source of strength and inspiration when we rally those around us or when we seek support from those around us.
Obviously the point of this story is to illustrate to the reader the power of a belief or awareness of a “truth” or “reality”. More to the point, the understanding of the power I already had and still have within myself, which I used to create an alternative reality (in this case the absence of fear) or to alter the reality I was experiencing. What helped me to believe an alternative reality could be possible was simply that I had already experienced it when the fear disappeared for those 5 minutes.
It’s important to understand that regardless of whether or not I had experienced the lack of fear beforehand doesn’t mean I could or could not create the absence of fear now or later. The “proof” had nothing to do with the alternative reality, other than to build conviction in my mind that the alternative reality could be “real”, thus I could make it real. It was the belief that was the active ingredient here, not the proof. The power was and is always there. We simply chose or don’t chose to utilize it.
Our fear is entirely under our control because we make it real or not. No one makes us afraid or fearful, we make ourselves afraid or fearful; the other person simply presents circumstances that we’re conditioned to believe the proper emotional response is fear. Understanding the root of the power of our fear is the key to dealing it, just as one understands that the power of our currency is our emotional response to it.
To quote Albert Einstein “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one.” The illusion appears to be so “real” that we’re completely seduced by its form and function. We don’t ever consider that something is not real, that something might be an illusion. We use the same words to describe a house or a rock as we do to describe an emotional state of being. Thus it’s “real” simply because of our utter and complete acceptance of it as real.
The power of our minds to create this illusion in all its magnificent detail and depth is so overwhelming that we believe the reality we’re creating is more “real” than that which is actually creating it, our consciousness, our mind, our spiritual being. Sadly, we’re so thoroughly lost in the woods that we use the “proof” of our everyday reality, which is created by us, to disprove the power of our reality’s creator, our own innate and natural power. We are mistaking the finger pointing to the moon as the moon itself.
In Chapter 5 of this examination of our collective insanity, we’ll finish our discussion on fear and then look at how imagination opens our minds and creates our reality. We’ll also examine how reaching critical mass and being the catalyst is the key to creating the changed reality we all want.