I was terrified, and I knew today would be the day. I had heard about this ritual for weeks, secretly hoping it was just a joke and wouldn’t really happen.
But it wasn’t a joke, and it did happen.
I was 13 years old, and had just started high-school. Rumors had been swirling that on a certain day, freshmen could be ordered by the upperclassmen to crawl on their hands-and-knees in the cafeteria during lunch – an inglorious ritual known as Freshman Crawl Day.
The moment had arrived.
Lunch was the 5th period of the schedule for me, and as it drew closer, my stomach was in knots. Would today be the day of my shame and humiliation?
During each of the first four classes, I could hardly concentrate. I felt nauseous, my palms were sweaty, and my knees were shaking. Fourth period ended, and I anxiously walked to the cafeteria. I mechanically stood in line to get lunch, even though I had zero appetite. My tray was loaded with the usual assortment of high-school gruel and a half-pint of milk. And off to the lunch tables I strode in panic.
What is it about fear that is so debilitating yet addictively solicitous? Why are fear thoughts so hard to dismiss?
From a biological perspective, the brain’s amygdala and hippocampus are quite effective at processing potentially threatening stimuli and quickly initiating a fear response. But these responses actually occur without thinking.
Assessment and action planning (e.g. What should I do?) don’t ensue until the cortex engages and rational thoughts are considered. And it is our thoughts that cling to fear.
All too often we contemplate negative what if scenarios – the imagined horrific outcome of some future occurrence. Whether those thoughts are conscious or repressed, they will manifest as fear.
Every thought you have makes up some segment of the world you see … it brings either peace or war; either love or fear. (W-pI.23.1; W-pI.16.3)
When you are afraid of anything, you are acknowledging its power to hurt you. (T-2.II.1)
From an ego perspective, fear proves not only that I exist, but that my very existence can be threatened. And the only way to undo fear is to choose a different thought system.
It is with your thoughts, then, that we must work, if your perception of the world is to be changed. (W-pI.23.1)
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll dig into the nature of fear, and how we can practice overcoming its horrifying embrace. And I’ll share what transpired in the cafeteria on that fateful day. I look forward to seeing you then.