From Flight-Fight-Freeze to Flow
By Melissa Michaels
Been scared lately? Scared of what is to come? Scared for the people you love? Scared for your womb? Scared for those who with diverse religious practices? Scared for our beloved Mother Earth? Scared about a whole lot, more than you can even say?
How do we move from fear into powerful, unwavering, focused, fluid action? Sometimes we must go backwards to go forwards. Usually, we must get present to see what is truly happening. And always, we must get resourced to move forward fluidly in effective and life giving ways.
So often our fear is rooted in the past. Often, a visit with our infant self is a great first step on the journey of finding one’s faith-full flow.
What is a baby is feeling when her Mama is gone for many hours, and a plastic bottle is offered instead of a warm breast full of milk? Through the tears, what is the infant saying when an unfamiliar person picks her up and grins right up close in her face? When the newborn flinches at the sound of anything abrupt, what is she saying? Perhaps she is saying … I am scared. If our mom was not safe in the world or within her self, we possibly then marinated in a womb of fear or nursed fear-laced breast milk. We then may be wired to think fear is a natural state of being. Finding our ground in the face our fears can then be a complex matter. Are we out of danger? Was there even danger in the first place? What do I need to feel safe?
Listening to our fears and the needs we have at the root of them … the need for safety, for protection, for connection … is a powerful practice for re-parenting ourselves. This self-empathy can help us root in our resilience in the here and now.
Fear is a foundational human emotion, an indicator of danger or a signal of something exciting about to occur. Sometimes, we are afraid of that which we long for the most. When preparing to teach a new group of students, a pulsating fear often races through my body. I listen to the language of my feelings inside my body. I am able to breathe right into the sensations and allow the energy to transform into sweet expansive excitement, adventure, and even ecstatic possibility! Moving from fear to excitement, there are similar amounts of energy moving through me, just of a very different quality.
Fear is one of our great allies. It serves as a powerful messenger, inviting us to wake up. Pay attention. Danger may be afoot. So often we shut down in the face of fear. Hold our breath. Curl up inside our selves. Retreat. By cutting ourselves off from the life force moving through us, we are also putting ourselves at greater risk. Contracting, we can miss the clue to mobilize, to get to safe ground. “Fear teaches us to pay attention to what’s going on, and a well-honed sense of fear allows us to maintain dynamic equilibrium in an inevitably unpredictable world.” (Gabrielle Roth, 1998)
Deep breaths. Soft touch. The light shimmering on the sea. The scent of a geranium. Women singing together. Bitter lemon on my lips. Breathing out the day. Prayer. Prayer and more prayer. Talking with a friend. In the face of fear, what helps you maintain that dynamic equilibrium and return to the ground of your being?
In the face of all that scares us, we have the responsibility to learn to pause, to come back to our senses, to catch our breath, to reconnect with our inhale and our exhale, likely shifting our consciousness. From there, we can more clearly assess a situation in the here and now. We can orient, see through the whirl of intense energy coursing through us.
Am I afraid that I my soon to be released book is not that good? Did I write something incorrect or outdated? Will trolls find me? Copy-cats? The list is long of the fears I could hitch my mind onto. In fact, in the writing of a soon to be published book, my shoulder froze. Months of this freeze caused me to turn very deep within and embrace my terror. Day in and day out, I held my left shoulder, offering myself tender touches just above my heart … through long painful nights, on and off the dance floor, during writing, alone with my inner little girl and my mighty muse.
With my self-love and the hands of skillful healers helping thaw this shoulder, my terror eventually calmed down. A sweet excitement began to mobilize in my joints. Feathers of softness and beauty grew out from my emancipating wings. Soon this book will launch, and I may fly in ways I have never imagined.
Congruency between my inner reality and my outer service is critical to my life’s work. So in my personal practice and professional teachings, we dance fear, an exercise taught to me by my mentor, Gabrielle Roth. We also dance excitement. We discover with precision how each emotion moves through and feels in our bodies. We practice breathing into the potent sensations, expanding our capacity to pause, assess, and then either move towards or away from whatever frightens us. We befriend our fear and mobilize, rather than getting frozen in our fear of our fears. We practice staying grounded and rooted in our bodies in the face of our real fears. This helps us rewire our flight response to fear. We learn to literally stay connected to our emotional experience rather than bypassing it in some way … fake smiles, acting like nothing is bothering us.
And of course, by slowing down the exploration of this strong emotion, we are able to experience its energy and make conscious choices about how we want to express it. Instead of picking a fight, for example, we find new options for relating to that which is scaring us, orienting towards our vulnerability rather than our defense. Sharing what scares us allows us to move from these potential states of freeze, flight, or fight into mobility, focused and fluid.
When working with large groups of young people, I hear similar versions of the same fears.
The destruction of the earth scares me. Walking alone in the city scare me. My sister’s cancer scares me. Doing badly in school scares me. Not having enough money to eat scares me. More genocide scares me. The abuse of power scares me. Our government terrifies me. Having sex with my boyfriend scares me. Growing up scares me.
~ Voices of Surfing The Creative Youth (Melissa Michaels, 2016)
What scares you?
Please pause to listen, to honor the truth of what is in your heart. Write about it. Dance with it. Pray with it. Process it in all the ways that attract you. Befriend the scared little one in you. Attend to the sensations beneath the feeling. Mobilize all that energy moving through you. Make a performance piece about it. Listen to it. What does it need? Protect it. Keep moving towards it and through it.
In our nation at this time, fear is being intravenously fed to us through Tweets and the rapid firing change of long trusted policies that have served to care for people around the world and the Earth herself. How do we stay awake, connected and mobilizing, rather than collapse in terror?
Sometimes, the best way out of fear is to honor its power as an informant, letting its energy move us right into our outrage and right action. Protection of that which we love and is precious to us is ultimately our birthright and responsibility in these times.
I’ll see you on the front lines.
(Melissa Michaels, Youth On Fire: Birthing a generation of Embodied Global Leaders. Boulder, CO: Golden Bridge, 2016. p.141.)
(Gabrielle Roth with John Loudon, Maps to Ecstasy: Teachings of an Urban Shaman. San Rafael, CA: New World Library, 1989. p.60.)