I read that you’re born with only two innate fears; heights, and loud noises. Every other fear we carry with us is learned. It made me think about how adaptive our brain is. Once we learn to trust our environment, we unlearn, or put away those fears. As we understand that loud noises do not always lead to danger, we become less afraid; we adapt to our environment. I saw an interview with a boy who lived in a war-torn country. He had become so accustomed to loud noises, that as a shell went off nearby, he didn’t even flinch even though the camera crew did. The boy had learned to discern which shells represented immediate danger and which could be ignored. As we learn to crawl and walk, we learn to trust our coordination and our fear of falling slips to the further recesses of our mind unless it is reactivated later. While these fears are being unlearned we learn new, necessary fears to keep us safe.
So what happens, when we’re adults? Do we ever learn to master our fears? No, our amazing brains continue to develop; adding and subtracting what we should and shouldn’t be afraid of. Pain is a great teacher. As an evolved species, we don’t have to learn from pain, we can learn by other means, observation for example. Our parents can tell us to stay away from something hot, better still we can see the cause and effect of what happens when someone else, say a little brother, doesn’t heed that advice. But the best, most immediate and permanent lesson comes from experience, when you touch that hot stove and come away burned, you never want to touch it again.
Can we continue to take advantage of our adaptive brains? Does all pain come with a lesson? I think it does. Do we learn from those lessons? That depends. I guess the uber-evolved, the masters do, but depending on your level of evolution, you may be choosing to keep getting the same lessons over and over again.
If I stub my toe on the same brick every night, it doesn’t take me long to figure out I should move the brick, or at least step around it. But what happens when the brick is a certain type of person I keep seeing in my life? Or worse, what happens when I’m the brick?
I can learn to avoid certain types of people, but it’s better to learn to work with the types of people I tend to avoid.
Still it’s tough to avoid the obstacle, when the obstacle is me.
I think I’ve grown to master most of what comes my way in my external environment, but somehow manage to ignore the brick walls inside my head. When it comes to internal obstacles, I’ve learned from experience, observation, and also imagined behavior.
I imagine, I will say something stupid when asked to speak. I imagine I will fail before I’ve tried. I imagine the risk is greater than the reward. So is it possible, to imagine new endings to my stories? Can I learn to step around the bricks I’ve placed in my head or better still, get rid of them altogether? I don’t know, but I imagine, it’s worth a try.
- Kerry Parry