Let’s Live A Normal Life

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Elder Care, Homestudy, Psychology

By Mary, O’Brien, M.D.

There is increasing confusion about mask policies in our country.  This is understandable.  The U.S. is a large country with federal, state, and local governance.  Complexities are bound to develop.  A brief, straightforward review may be helpful.

Clinical experience over the past 18 months has shown that SARS-Cov2 is a virus that will be, in all likelihood, an endemic respiratory virus for years to come, much like the flu.  There will be multiple variants, and vaccines will be adjusted as necessary to reduce morbidity and mortality.

Capricious policies, protocols, and mandates will not protect people or eliminate this problem.  If edicts and executive orders solved problems, we wouldn’t have any problems left.

So what makes sense at this point?  The same things that have always made sense:

  1. Protect the vulnerable.  We know who they are:  the elderly and those with significant underlying conditions.
  2. Offer vaccines appropriately.  The principle of patient autonomy, a crucial component of medical ethics, must not be abandoned.  Forcing any medical procedure on people is a very serious breach of ethics.  Natural immunity after infection is potent and important, and it must be acknowledged.
  3. Expand and facilitate early treatments.  We have failed too often on this one.  Telling infected people to stay home until they can scarcely breathe has been disastrous.  Early use of inhaled steroids and monoclonal antibodies can prevent severe illness and death.  They should not be delayed or restricted for the sake of financial maneuvering, power grabs, or bureaucratic scheming.
  4. Focus on facts, accurate statistics, common sense, and perspective.  A mask-less two-year-old on a commercial jet with a sophisticated HEPA filtration system is not a threat to anyone.  Hysterical neurotic adults are tormenting toddlers to assuage their own paranoia.
  • Consider the current COVID survival statistics from Stanford University:
    • Ages 0-19 years:  99.9973%  survival
    • Ages 20-29 years: 99.986%   survival
    • Ages 30-39 years: 99.96%    survival
    • Ages 40-49 years: 99.18%    survival

5. Stay home if you don’t feel well.  This has always been sound advice.

      So far, medical research has demonstrated that every lockdown, school closing, and mask mandate around the world has failed to stop COVID.  It’s time to face the research, drop the double standards, and get a grip.  It’s time to live a normal life.

A Thin Crust Over A Volcano

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

We are in dangerous territory.  Disrespect for law, order, ethics, life, property, and the rights of others is at an all-time high.  In many of our cities, more people are suffering from violent crime than from COVID.

Shoplifting in California is utterly out of control.  Thugs fill garbage bags full of merchandise, ranging from toiletries to designer handbags and brazenly walk out of stores.  Employees and security guards have been told not to confront the thieves. It’s too dangerous, and no one will be arrested or prosecuted in most cases.  In San Francisco, Walgreens has closed 17 stores as a result of unbridled shoplifting.  The people who suffer the most are the old, the weak, and the poor.

 Violent crime in New York City is skyrocketing. Homicides, assaults, robbery, and rape are the worst they have been in decades. Recently, a 61-year-old disabled lady with a walker was brutally attacked by four people, including a vicious woman who beat the victim repeatedly with a saucepan.  They stole the victim’s purse with $22.00 and even took her walker.  Similar violence has been perpetrated on young mothers, tourists, children, and women walking to church.  The oldest victim was 101 years old.

What is causing this descent into madness?  Several factors are obvious:

  • Criminal behavior is being tolerated by many local authorities.  No-cash bail policies amount to arrest and release.  In many cases, no arrest is made at all. Coddling criminals is neither kind nor compassionate.  It is not wise, prudent, or just.  The first and most important duty of government officials at any level is to keep their citizens safe.  Societies typically experience the behaviors they tolerate.  Tolerate crime and violence, and you’ll get plenty of it.
  • Police presence, numbers, power, and authority have been systematically weakened over the past year.  This is not an accident.  Chaos, confusion, crime, and corruption have been used by malevolent people throughout history.  It is a stepping stone to the subjugation of society.
  • Growing up fatherless is now the norm in many urban areas.  Misguided policies over the past 60 years have done profound damage to the integrity of the American family.  When children and teens have no structure, discipline, or role model at home, they will emulate what they see on the streets.
  • Moral decay and the abandonment of genuine virtue are taking a terrible toll on our culture.  The decline of the American family parallels the removal of any reference to God, faith, prayer, traditional values from public schools, or public life in general. Gang members are not losing sleep over the thought of “Thou shalt not kill.”

   It’s been said that civilization is a thin crust over a volcano.  The thin crust is cracking.  How much more are we willing to tolerate?

Einstein Was Right!

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Uncategorized

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  Albert Einstein said that many years ago.  He was referring to physics, but his wisdom could easily apply to any situation, including COVID-19 vaccines.

Increasing numbers of people in business, politics, education and, of course, the media, are trying to force COVID-19 vaccines on everyone.  “Vaccination or termination” has become the new threat to employees and students.  Most people, regardless of their lofty achievements in other areas, are not well-versed in the fine points of immunology.  Sadly, however, some of them are convinced that they know what’s best for everyone.

Nearly everything in medicine carries potential risk and reward.  Both possibilities must always be considered.  Every prescription we write and every procedure we do has some potential to cause harm.  Every patient is unique.  Every individual has a combination of genetic factors, past illnesses, medications, and allergies.  Also each patient has metabolic, endocrine, hematologic, rheumatologic, neurologic, and cardio-pulmonary conditions that may need to be considered.  For example, patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and other autoimmune disorders produce antibodies that attack their own tissues, hence the need to suppress — with potent drugs such as TNF (tumor necrosis factor) inhibitors — certain parameters of immune function.  Giving such a patient a vaccine, which stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, can be unwise.  This is usually most problematic with live virus vaccines such as those for varicella, measles, and mumps, and rubella.  The COVID-19 vaccines are messenger RNA-based.  They do not contain live virus.

Pregnant women with COVID-19 illness are at increased risk for serious disease and mortality.  According to the Food and Drug Administration, data on the COVID-19 vaccines are “insufficient to inform vaccine-associated risk in pregnancy”.  Translation:  we don’t know enough yet to be dogmatic about these decisions.

All of COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States (Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) are safe, effective, and appropriate for the vast majority of people.  But good medical practice is not about the vast majority of people.  Medical decisions are based on the conditions, needs, and details of the individual patient.  Politicians, corporate chief executives, school board members, and media types have no business making (or forcing) medical decisions on other people.

Einstein was right.  Oversimplifying anything is a bad idea.  So is judging others without knowing all the details.

Correct Answers

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Quick.  Looking back on your life, who was your favorite teacher or coach?  Was it the one who let you get away with anything?  Was it the one who set standards so low you tripped over them?  Was it the person who gave you a gold star for repetitive breathing?  The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “no.”  Most of us would agree that our favorite teacher or coach was the one who inspired us to give our best and achieve more than we thought we could.

Recently, many of us were stunned when state education officials in Virginia proposed eliminating any advanced or accelerated math classes prior to the 11th grade.  They opined that such classes were “unfair” or “intimidating” to less gifted students.  Somehow they reasoned that slowing down the smarter students would make sense.  We already went through this in the 1970s.  Educational giants back then introduced the “New Math” and declared that spelling and grammar didn’t “count.”  Creativity was king.  More recently, the “woke” crowd has informed us that correct answers don’t even matter when it comes to math.  “Process” matters.  In order for our future generation to compete at the highest level, both precision and creativity matter; we need both to succeed. 

We need advanced math to send astronauts to the moon and to the international space station.  We need math to calculate a safe antibiotic dose for critically-ill patients with deteriorating renal function.  Correct answers matter.

Perspective, Humanity and Common Sense

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Elder Care, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s been a year now.  Several hundred thousand frail, elderly people have died in hospitals and nursing homes alone, confused — and no doubt — feeling abandoned.  Tens of thousands of people have lost their businesses and livelihoods.  Children and teens deprived of normal schooling, sports, and other activities are suffering from anxiety, depression, insecurity, and loneliness.  Poor and disadvantaged children and those with learning disabilities are falling behind rapidly.  Online absenteeism is staggering, and grades are sinking.  The frustration and loneliness are excruciating for millions of innocents.

Politicians and bureaucrats are not lonely, however.  Their lives have not been destroyed.  If they want to dine out, work, socialize, or travel they do.  After all, they’re special.  They are enlightened elites.  We have heard the elites preach “science” to us for over a year.  The question is which science?

Medicine involves many sciences — chemistry, biology, mathematics, physics, statistics, genetics, physiology, pathology, epidemiology, and microbiology.  And that’s only a partial list.  Medicine, however, is also an art.  Sadly, over the past year, too many people have forgotten that.  Individual nurses, doctors, and other professionals have worked heroically to save lives and to be kind — under impossible circumstances — to patients.  But bureaucrats and politicians, with rare exceptions, cannot fathom the art of caring for seriously ill or dying patients — deprived of even a loved one — to hold their hand.  Once they taste control over others, they will not relinquish it willingly.

Human beings are social creatures.  We need contact, communication, and — perish the thought — touch.  Throughout human history exile, isolation, or solitary confinement has been considered painfully harsh punishment.  Yet this is precisely what has been inflicted on young children, the frail elderly, and millions of people in-between — all in the name of “science.”

The point of medicine is to relieve pain and suffering, it is not to control behavior.  Elderly people giving up hope and dying alone, and young people committing suicide were entirely predictable.  Some of us warned about an epidemic of anxiety, depression, addiction, abuse, and suicide a year ago.  These concerns were largely dismissed.  Histrionic media types and “officials” had millions of people convinced that COVID was a veritable death sentence for everyone. 

In reality, 99.7 percent of people who test positive for COVID survive.  Children are not vectors for this illness.  This virus attaches to human cells via angiotensin, converting enzyme receptors in the nasal mucosa and respiratory passages.  Children have very low levels of these receptors.  This is not difficult “science.”

Across the country we are seeing dramatic declines in case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths.  In all likelihood, millions more people have antibodies to COVID than we realize.  They were simply never sick enough to be tested.  Millions more have been and are being vaccinated.  When 80 percent or so of the population has antibodies (either from infection or vaccination), we will have herd immunity.  There is no need to compromise the physical, social, psychological, and academic well-being of children and teens for one more day.  There is no need to refuse grandparents a hug.  We are rapidly losing any sense of perspective, humanity, or common sense.  We have developed a penchant for panic.  But panic is not policy.  Paranoia is not policy.  We must never again permit the self-serving notions of so few to dictate the misery and destruction of so many.

On Leadership, Science, and Happiness

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It’s safe to say we’ll all be happy to see this year come to an end.  Fifty years from now people will still be studying the pandemic of 2020, catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, riots, a controversial election, and the Nashville bombing.  We have reasons to be exhausted.

Despite all these dreadful events, or perhaps because of them, there is much to be learned.  It could easily fill a book, but for now, a few thoughts will suffice:

On Leadership

  • The people who are trying to frighten you are trying to control you.  Ignore them. Good leaders inspire confidence and optimism, not despair.
  • There is never a place for panic in leadership. There is never a place for panic in public policy.
  • Good leaders actually do what they ask others to do. They do not exempt themselves from difficult, inconvenient, or unpleasant tasks.
  • True leaders respect others.  They do not harbor disdain for others.
  • Tyrants (false leaders) often succeed because cowardice is so common.  Show some spine when bullies arise, and remember, no politician or bureaucrat has missed a paycheck in 2020.
  • When in the course of human events, it becomes clear that what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to change what you’re doing — especially in a crisis.

On Science

  • Genuine science requires brutal honesty, discipline, openness, acceptance of uncertainty, and humility.  Real science always has been and always will be a work in progress.  When people scream, “Follow the science,” all too often they mean, “Do as I say.”
  • The main point of science is to help us overcome problems and adapt to difficult circumstances. Creative people in every domain have learned to adapt to massive challenges over the years. The Year 2020 was no exception.  In a crisis people need practical advice and suggestions, not domination and suppression.

On Happiness

  • Most of us still have much for which to be grateful, and there is no happiness without gratitude. Take nothing for granted. Many of us now miss things as simple as family, friends, hugs, and handshakes.
  • There are plenty of unkind people in the world. Don’t be one of them.  Kindness and happiness go hand in hand.
  • Don’t believe anyone who insists our darkest days lie ahead.  Such people do not understand the wonders of the human spirit.  It is never time to give up, despair, or cower in a corner.

Fear not.  We’ve learned a great deal in 2020, and we will build on that knowledge.  Be focused.  Be engaged.  Stay informed (not indoctrinated).  No matter what happens in 2021, do not relinquish your right to engage in independent thought and speech.  The future depends on it.

Happy New Year to All.

Exactly What We Need

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

The holidays have gotten off to an odd start.  Thanksgiving was different, to say the least.  Most family gatherings were small and lots of people were alone.  Now the focus has shifted to shopping and decorating. At least it’s a pleasant distraction.

Hanukkah begins on December 10th and Advent started this week.  Who knows what will happen by Christmas.  Given the depressing and stressful nature of this entire year, it might be uplifting to embrace some time-tested traditions of a spiritual nature. For centuries the Christmas tradition of Advent was a time of fasting, prayer, and alms giving.  Many of us were taught to “give up” something like candy or soda as a spiritual discipline in preparation for Christmas.  Nothing wrong with that, especially since many of us have gained a few pounds during the pandemic.  But giving up candy doesn’t help someone feel better.  And right now, nearly everyone needs a little something to feel better.  So here’s an old idea that might help us all feel uplifted.

Cut 25 strips of paper and write an activity for the day on each one.  Fold the strips of paper and place them in a jar or bowl.  Each morning, pick one, and commit to performing the activity.  By Christmas, you will be a better person (and a happier one) for the ripple effect you will have set in motion.

Here are some examples:

  • Send a Christmas card with a personal note of gratitude and encouragement to an active service member or veteran.
  • Leave a little treat (not homemade this year) on the doorstep of a neighbor you haven’t met.
  • Stop by your church or synagogue for a few minutes of quiet prayer or reflection.
  • Give up fancy coffee drinks or alcohol for a month and donate the money you save to a shelter.
  • Offer to do a grocery store run for an elderly neighbor.
  • Say something pleasant or kind to someone you don’t like, perhaps a grumpy patient.
  • Send a small floral arrangement anonymously to someone in a nursing home.
  • Order take out or delivery and give an unexpectedly generous tip.
  • Apologize to someone you may have hurt or offended. It may be more difficult than giving up candy.
  • Place a treat in the mailbox for your mail carrier just because.
  • Try to get through the entire day without criticizing anyone.  There’s some spiritual discipline!

You can make up your own list. It’s well worth the effort.  The next four weeks will pass regardless of our actions.  This year the true spirit of Advent could be exactly what we need.

homestudy

The Greatest Enemies of Freedom

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Pain, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Election Day.  Veteran’s Day.  Pearl Harbor Day.  Do these days have anything in common?  They do — more than most of us might think.  The catastrophic attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, shocked the nation into unprecedented action.  Millions of people who had ignored the war in Europe and Asia could no longer remain unaware or uninvolved.  Massive numbers of people rushed to enlist or pitch in on the home front to defend freedom itself.  People willingly sacrificed everything from gasoline, to meat and sugar, to fabrics and metals for the sake of the war effort.  Discipline and sacrifice were a given.

Veteran’s Day (originally called Armistice Day) honors the end of World War I. Few of us can even begin to fathom the anguish, misery, and suffering endured by the troops in Europe.  The horrors of trench warfare, malnutrition, hideous infectious disease, nerve gas, and deprivation of every sort took a terrible toll.  Nearly half of U.S. troops who died succumbed to complications of the Spanish Flu.  A hundred years ago, there were no antiviral drugs and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial pneumonia or meningitis.  Curiously, President Wilson never even gave a speech about the flu pandemic.

In World War I and World War II, the hardships of sacrifices endured by so many millions of people were intense.  But how does that relate to Election Day 2020?  It’s not that strange or complex.  The two greatest enemies of freedom are apathy and cowardice.  It’s been that way for thousands of years.  We are in a time of great conflict and uncertainty.  Angry, jealous, controlling people are everywhere.  Remember, if someone is trying to frighten you, he or she is trying to control you.  Don’t be intimidated.  Don’t be demoralized.  Observe, think, and vote.  Apathy and cowardice have dreadful consequences.

This Too Shall Pass

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Raging wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, riots, arson, violence, lockdowns, pandemic fears, economic upheaval, and political turmoil.  If you’re not stressed out at this point you may be in a medically-induced coma.

Nearly everyone is dealing with some degree of anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain, tension, irritability, frustration, and/or depression.  There are some constructive strategies we all know and have even advised patients to follow.  But we’re in “Physician, heal thyself” mode these days, so here are a few reminders:

  • Avoid people who are chronically angry and, if possible, don’t be one of them.
  •  Don’t obsess about things you cannot control, including the behavior of other people.
  • Re-invent some aspect of yourself — invest in a new hobby or resurrect an old one that used to give you joy.
  • Freshen up your work space or home. A pleasant, cheerful, clean, de-cluttered environment can really boost morale.
  • Move more.  Sitting at a computer or in front of a TV for hours on end is not healthy physically or emotionally
  • Take a good look at yourself and your appearance.  It may be time to kick it up a notch, if only for your own mental health.
  • Limit your exposure to negative, nasty, snide, snarky people on TV — that means 95% of the “news.”
  • Let yourself have 30 minutes of total silence every day.  It might feel like withdrawal if you’re addicted to noise and devices.
  • Make an effort to compliment someone — about anything.  It may turn around your entire day and theirs.
  • Go out of your way to be kind to a patient, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or — this is shocking — relative.  Acts of kindness boost levels of endorphins, serotonin, and Immunoglobulin A in everyone involved.
  • Get your minimum daily dose of uplifting inspirational reading, prayer, and meditation.  Human beings are more than bodies.
  • Don’t be difficult.  Being pleasant and cooperative is a gift to the people around you.  As we read in the Book of Proverbs, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

Cheer up.  Do some good for others.  This too shall pass.

Deconstructing Anxiety: Finding the True Source of Fear for Profound Healing

Posted Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Pain, Psychology

By Todd E. Pressman, Ph.D.

Fear and fulfillment. These are the prime movers of our life, the two great forces that drive the human experience.

Fear is a constant companion. It whispers in our ears of lurking dangers and impending catastrophes. Fulfillment is our high purpose, that which calls us from our most secret places and compels us to discover a freedom and wholeness far beyond what we had thought possible.

These two forces engage in a constant battle. If we forgo our fulfillment and succumb to fear, we are never fully satisfied. But, fear warns us, if we venture forth, we risk the unknown; we are sure to encounter all sorts of perils and should, instead, “play it safe”.

A STRANGE PHENOMENON

Our solution, as a humanity, is to try to satisfy both drives. This results in a strange phenomenon: we convince ourselves that fear is the best strategy for finding and securing fulfillment. We have an impulse for fulfillment—a desire to connect with someone or an urge for creative expression—and immediately consult our fear to negotiate the terms. Fear becomes our provocateur, rooting out from dark corners anything that might signal danger. It becomes our warning device for taking the actions that will protect our fulfillment.

Unfortunately, the strategy backfires; it is impossible to be fulfilled while we are in fear. Not only does fear keep our attention on danger, but we know we can never truly prevent all potential threats. Our response to this is to dig in more deeply, devoting ourselves to an even greater control over danger. We fool ourselves into believing we are working toward the day when we will finally achieve the safety we seek, free to get about the business of fulfillment.  Of course, that day never comes. As the Chinese proverb states, “We are always preparing to live.”

This is the human drama that has been playing out in every culture of every age. Our first and greatest drive is for fulfillment—we know this experience whenever we watch a child filled with the joy of being—and we will not be satisfied until we reach it. Our soul rattles its cage not just for relief from anxiety but to actively create our good.

But the seduction of fear is powerful. We can’t really afford to dwell in the joy of the moment, it tells us. We must keep our eye on looming dangers or the possibility of a sneak attack. So we make the decision to take care of fear first, somehow hoping to get things under control in a complete and permanent way.

When we look around at our current state of affairs, the tragic effects of this strategy are all too evident. Security is the overwhelming goal for most of us, with fulfillment often postponed to the point of being forgotten. It has us live in ever-more-constricted ways, squeezing our once expansive, exuberant selves into a very narrow psychic territory.

We learn to delay gratification, taking care of responsibilities and handling problems, before we can get around to what makes life really worthwhile. There seems to be always one more thing to handle, and then one more and one more. Again and again we tolerate the frustration of postponing our fulfillment until we become rigidified in a posture of waiting. When this goes on long enough, we can indeed forget our original goal.

The great irony of our approach to fulfillment, using fear as our guide, is that it is precisely the approach that will keep us from it. Over a lifetime of such practice, we see our opportunity for fulfillment slipping by. We become stunned by how hard life can be, how much we’ve lost, how far we have fallen from the dreams and high expectations of our early ideals. Because we have sought to get control over a fulfillment that never comes, the futility of the effort catches up with us and we find either that we never did have control or that it wasn’t truly fulfilling after all.

WHAT’S MISSING?

What makes fear so compelling? Why have we become so entrenched in its strategy to secure fulfillment, even when we see that it isn’t working and can make us miserable? If we consider clinical anxiety as simply an exaggerated form of the fear we all struggle with*, the problem can truly be said to be epidemic, the need universal.  How does anxiety co-opt the brain to become so maddeningly fixed and unyielding? What are we missing in our understanding?

The problem, I propose, is that we have not yet fully deconstructed anxiety. We have not yet achieved a successful analysis of precisely how it works—the exact mechanisms that create it, maintain it, give it its power, and make it so intractable. Our paradigms have been incomplete. We need a comprehensive model for understanding and working with the fear at the root of our difficulties, a Rosetta Stone for cracking its code.

Such a model would not only unravel the mystery of anxiety but would illuminate its secret gift. For, as we have said in a previous article**, finding fear’s cure reveals the path to transcending suffering in general, providing a map to deep fulfillment, healthy relationships, and a more functional world.

And why has this been so elusive? Why are we only sometimes successful in our treatments for anxiety? Simply put, whenever a therapeutic intervention fails to produce the desired results, it is because it has not yet fully deconstructed fear in these ways. Fear’s trickery depends upon its ability to convince us not to look at it deeply.  In clinical language, we say fear is hallmarked by avoidance behaviors. We seem to be reflexively wired to respond to fear with these avoidance behaviors.

THE FEAR OF LOOKING AT FEAR

Since the beginnings of psychotherapy, we have understood the importance of reversing this avoidance response, whether through insight into the unconscious, cognitive transformations, various types of exposure therapy, etc. Yet this wiring is powerful, our defenses are resistant, and we still have not explored the nature of fear in a complete enough way. Even if we think we are intimately familiar with it, many of the fast and fleeting thoughts behind the scenes will slip by unexamined. In truth, this is because we are subtly afraid to look at them and discover all they have to teach us. We don’t want to look at them because we know they will require a complete paradigmatic shift in our understanding of who we are and how we deal with life.

We have become so invested in our fear-based ways of negotiating the world that we will not easily give them up. Most of us resist looking at fear as much as possible. But even those who pursue a deeper exploration of the psyche can get lost in its meandering catacombs, missing the ways in which fear is distorting their compass. The fear of looking at fear is the first obstacle to overcome in our search for freedom and fulfillment. It is the source of our human predicament and that which preserves it as well.

Our existing strategies for dealing with fear fall short of real change in direct proportion to the extent that they do not look at and deconstruct the fear fully.  We need an approach that reliably digs up the fear at the bedrock of our suffering with insight into what gives rise to the suffering in the first place.

Those who have sought out this answer, intrepid explorers of consciousness, have demonstrated enormous courage to bring back maps of the terrain they traveled. Freud at one point thought he was going crazy as he conducted his own self-analysis. Jung had to acknowledge his “shadow” in order to deal with it effectively. The Buddha determined he would sit under the Bodhi tree until he either reached enlightenment or died trying. Their courage, and that of others, has paved a way for the rest of us, showing that we must look at and examine fear, digging it up fully, if we are to become free. The hero’s journey, the dark night of the soul, and the death-rebirth archetype all describe the same path: we must confront and move through fear all the way in order to find our higher good.

Facing fear fully, in safe and manageable ways but wholly without reservation, then, becomes the key to finding the true source of suffering and opening a path to freedom. And resolving the fear of facing fear is the first essential step in this process.  We must be willing to follow fear to its most subterranean hideout. But when finally there, standing resolutely in the face of that from which we have been running our entire life, we may at last come to know our true “enemy,” shake hands with it, and even befriend it. With this, we reveal the gift it held, discovering what it was calling for all along and satisfying its need in a new and more fulfilling way.

In traveling this path, we will come to see that the whole of humanity has been engaged in an endless cycle of fear built upon a faulty strategy for securing fulfillment. But seeing the problem clearly like this makes transformation possible.  No longer are we merely a figure caught in a play. When we take hold of the fear that has been directing from behind the scenes, we can rewrite the script in more fulfilling ways. Finding the anxiety at the root of things gives us a sort of X-ray vision where we see through our automatic assumptions about life and reveal the truth they were hiding. Like discovering the “man behind the curtain” in The Wizard of Oz, we lose our fear when we understand its source.

Our task, then, is to fully deconstruct anxiety, learning how to navigate through the subterfuges of fear and, ultimately, how to design a life lived from free choice. Rather than being twisted and distorted by the ways of fear, such a life reaches for a transcendent truth, one that has the potential for resolving suffering at its source and restoring us to our original fulfillment.

In future blog posts, we will begin to lay out exactly how the Deconstructing Anxiety model takes up this task.

————————————————————————-
*In these blog posts, the word “fear” is considered as synonymous with “anxiety”, as per the Buddhist concept that the anxiety created by anticipating a future event has the same effect in the mind as the fear experienced by an imminent threat.

**See Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment
_______________________________________________________________________

This is an edited excerpt adapted from Todd Pressman’s Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment (2019), published with permission from Rowman and Littlefield Publishing.  All rights reserved.

Copyright 2020 by Todd Pressman