By Lindy Diamond, Editor Cape Jewish Chronicle
While a part of each of us may love mysteries, our minds are designed to seek the known.
We try to create situations where we know and can correctly anticipate conditions, but unfortunately life doesn’t always play along. And that can be downright scary. Most kids go through a stage in which they’re afraid of the dark, and fear of the unknown is just another version of those dark shadows in your bedroom.
Our distant ancestors observed that predators higher than them on the food chain preferred to hunt at night and this association has become an absolute; the dark is where the bad stuff is. Cut to modern times, and with less grassy savannahs and more concrete jungle, our frightening unknowns take the shape of other things; new teachers, public speaking and large crowds.
So often in life we treat the unknown like a ferocious bear hiding around the corner, where actually all it is, from our vantage point in time, is unknown. According to Australian Psychologist Sabina Read, the reason why we see the unknown as potentially negative more than potentially positive is because of negativity bias, where humans prioritise negative events over positive ones, preparing us for the worst in order to maximise our chance of survival. But when we take the negative connotation away, the unknown can be a neutral place from which to act, which is definitely a better place than one of fear.
Founder of the Capitol Creativity Network in Washington, Michelle James, suggests that we “change the lens we use for seeing the unknown: Is the unknown something to be feared, challenged, dealt with, managed or overcome? Or is it something to be navigated, explored, embraced, cultivated, or expressed? If you think of facing the unknown, what thoughts and emotions come to mind? What metaphor? A beast to be tamed, a wave to be surfed, a game to be played? How we perceive the concept of this unfolding future we call the unknown determines how easily we navigate it.”
She continues by explaining ‘the beginners mind’. “Since we are living in a knowledge-based society, the more we know, the more intelligent, capable and competent we are considered.” But if we can bring what we don’t know to the table and let it sit side by side with what we do know, we can bring a fresh approach to any new situation.
In an article entitled A Torah Approach to Anxiety, Sara Esther Crispe, previous editor of TheJewishWoman.org offers a beautiful way to deal with anxiety in three distinct stages.
“Dealing with anxiety in our life is a three-step process that begins with suppressing the anxiety as well as our ego, and trying to lessen the intensity of it. Next, we must remove ourselves temporarily from the problem and redefine ourselves as separate from what is aiming to bring us down. And finally, with a renewed strength and perspective, we must speak about it with those who can support us and help us.” She says.
So whether we treat our fears as a beast to be tamed, a wave to be surfed or a game to be played, here’s hoping for a year of being mindful and kind to ourselves and others as we navigate the sometimes shadowy corners of our lives.