Leaning into fear

Today’s quote ties in nicely with Murakamis quote from this Wednesday: My favourite singer Ryan O’Neal from Sleeping At Last also has a song about the fear of being hurt, called “Pluto”.

I woke up from the same dream / Falling backwards, falling backwards /Till it turned me inside out / Now I live a waking life / Of looking backwards, looking backwards /A model citizen of doubt

“Pluto” (Sleeping At Last)

In a literal sense, the song is about the ruler of the underworld, Pluto (or Hades) whose job it is to look into the past and decide if a person deserves to be in heaven or hell. Pluto is yearing to escape this circle of life and change his ways (“One day I had enough”). That however would lead to a huge and possibly devastating impact to the rest of the world.

What I want to do today is look at the psychological theme of fear that is woven into the song. As I mentioned above, the song is about the fear of getting hurt. In the first verse, the speaker seems to wake up from a reoccurring nightmare in which he had to face his fears that also worry him in his day to day life. After waking up, he acknowledges that he has been “a model citizen of doubt”, a person who has been worried for almost all his life. He has now taken the first step to bettering his situation, accepting that he is afraid. Even though the line before says “looking backwards”, I think the speaker isn’t only afraid of the past but also of the future. He is crippled by the anxiety of where he might be in the future and he worries that fear could hold him back. I don’t think there exists one person out there who’s never been afraid of their past, the future, world pain, war etc. in their life.

“One day I had enough / Of this exercise of trust / I leaned in and let it hurt / Let my body feel the dirt / When I break pattern, I break ground / I rebuild when I break down / I wake up more awake than I’ve ever been before”

“Pluto” (Sleeping At Last)

Now begins the chorus. Here is where the speaker is making a decision: He doesn’t want to be held down by fear anymore. Instead, he now wants to lean in to the fear and look at what’s coming with a fresh perspective. He lets himself feel what he is afraid of. “Breaking ground”, which usually means “breaking up land” in a literal sense, can been seen here as an analogy for a new beginning in the speaker’s life. I wouldn’t say that this new beginning means that he has “overcome” his fear. In a sense he has, but this word has this meaning to it as if the fear was gone completely after that. But since it is a constant in our lives, a constant companion, I prefer to use the word “integrated”. By integrating fear and letting go of our resistance to it, we now know that it can be a valuable teacher on our life path, given that we let it of course.

So show me where my armor ends / Show me where my skin begins / Like a final puzzle piece / It all makes perfect sense to me / The heaviness that I hold in my heart belongs to gravity

“Pluto” (Sleeping At Last)

After the speaker has decided to conquer his fear, he now looks for a way to do it, to let his guard (his armor) down. Looking for guidance, he seeks for someone that can show him the way. This can be any kind of god, but also a realtive or a friend in his life. When we as humans talk about our fear to other people, we begin to understand that they have the same fears too. Sometimes we may wonder that we are still dealing with these major, sometimes existantial, fears after so many years of human development. Psychologists call this the “evolutional mismatch”. In other words: We live in the modern world but our brains are still “stuck” in the stone age. Glenn Geher, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the State University of New York, phrases it this way: “Our brains are wired for certain conditions, but our surroundings no longer match those conditions”. So, when the speaker says: “The heaviness in my heart belongs to gravity”, he understands that this fear of his is something that everyone else has to deal with too and accepts that is simply part of being human. When we accept our primative fears, we can face them. “In recognizing this gravity as both a heaviness and protection, the speaker seemingly comes to peace with it and trust the feeling” (genius.com).

How can we conquer these primative fears of ours? One way is to aquire knowledge about fears. When you know where your fear stems from and how it can be triggered, it can quickly look less scary to you and you gather courage to face it. Eckart Tolle for example showed in his book “The Power Of Now” that fear cannot survive in the Now. He speaks about a phenomenon called “psychological fear”. This is fear “is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now”. So when we are worrying in the future, our body is still in the here and now, but our mind is compulsively projecting into the future which creates a so called anxiety gap. When we realize that both the past and the future are illusions, we can practice to become more present in the now. To conclude: Realization is the first step, then comes the training. If you need any help with fear, try talking to someone about it and maybe you can work at some of your fears together. You can also get help from a therapist who can give you a hand and helpful research proven techniques that can help you on your individual yourney. One helpful treatment is the acceptance and commitment therapy. This is a form of cognitive behaviour therapy which “helps clients to abandon […] restrictive strategies and instead experience and accept their difficult thoughts […] and feelings as a necessary part of a worthy life” (APA Dictionary). In a second step the patient now learns to apply new ways of thinking and behaviour that can help when challenges present themselves again. Of course, this therapy has to be spoken through with your therapist. If you struggle to deal with something alone, please know that there is no shame in asking for help. Thank you for reading!

My sources:
– Abramson, A. (2020). Our Brains Are Stuck in the Stone Age. Retrieved 21 August 2022, from https://elemental.medium.com/our-brains-are-stuck-in-the-stone-age-13bb5d2aea36
– Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. New World Library.
– APA Dictionary of Psychology. (2022). Retrieved 21 August 2022, from https://dictionary.apa.org/acceptance-and-commitment-therapy

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