What is it about fear that completely takes us over?
Or anger? Or any other similar emotion?
We feel it viscerally and completely.
How do we know that we’ve been “taken over” by an emotion like fear, anger, worry, sadness, and the like?
Besides not feeling peaceful, and certainly not aligned with our best selves, we are no longer “we”. We’ve lost touch with who we truly are.
Consider the phrases: “I am afraid” or “I am angry”.
Note the key association of “I am”.
Our entire sense of being, our “I am”-ness, is now enmeshed with the emotion. I am fear.
Not “I feel fear” or not “my body is in a state of fear” but rather “I am fear”.
There’s a magic trick I can do where I take a playing card and toss it away from me. With a gentle flick of my wrist, the card is gone.
Any observer watching me perform this trick sees the card in my hand and then watches me throw the card off to the side. But the card magically disappears. It’s not off to the side where I threw it, nor is it any longer in my hand.
It can be very unsettling for an onlooker since clearly the card must be somewhere. But it’s nowhere to be found.
And then, just as miraculously, I clap my hands the card re-appears back in my fingers.
Of course, no miracle happened. It’s all sleight of hand.
Magicians are masters at sleight of hand. It works by getting observers to put their attention on one thing while the performer does something hidden. Like making a playing card vanish.
But once we know we’re being fooled, it is very easy to catch the deception. Right?
I loved studying calculus in high-school and throughout college. I even had a chance to use it for several computer systems I helped design.
One of the most fascinating terms used in calculus is infinity, depicted with this symbol: ∞
Infinity is not just a really, really large number. It’s larger than any number. No matter what number you can say or write out, infinity will be larger.
But even though I had done thousands of equations that included ∞, I never appreciated how big it really was.
Until the day my head nearly exploded.
The way that many trainers prevent baby elephants from running away is by tying a small rope around one of their legs and securing the other end around a post.
The calves try very hard to break away, but the rope is secure and eventually the elephants give up their attempts at escape.
Of course, this would never work for adult elephants, which weigh on average about 13,000 lbs (compared to 200 lbs for a baby). The adults would easily snap the rope and break free.
But they don’t.
Adult elephants are restrained with the same small rope as the calves. And it works.
It works because the elephants have been conditioned to believe that they can’t break free.
“This rope prevented my movement in the past, even though I tried really hard to get away. No sense in exerting all that effort again – it won’t work,” might be the gist of the elephant’s thoughts.
Of course, from our perspective of wisdom and superior intelligence, we know the elephants are foolishly buying into self-imposed limits.
There’s an old story about a martial arts student who wanted to become a master. He was earnest in his desire and willing to put in the practice.
He approached a renowned instructor and said to him, “Teacher, I am ready to commit my life to practicing martial arts. How long will it take me to master it?”
The teacher responded, “Ten years.”
“But I want to master it faster than that. I’ll work very hard and never miss a practice” said the impatient student.
“In that case,” replied the wise teacher, “20 years.”
In that parable lies the true nature of happiness. The more we seek for it, the more elusive it becomes.