In Robert Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, he explains that zebras experience episodic stress when, say, there is a lion afoot. Humans, on the other hand, anticipate the lion, plan for the lion, rehearse what they will do when they see the lion- resulting in chronic stress and often health issues. It has been determined that anticipatory fear and fear have the same effect on the body. When we spend hours on end preparing for the lion, we’re in the same situation as if we were actually running from one.
Which brings me to today. Only in retrospect, can I appreciate how anxious I’ve been the past week. I had one week off of work before moving to Oakland and I spent it stressing over whether I would find a place to live. I cavorted with lions. I had a hard time sleeping, I was in a perpetual state of distraction all because I simply did not want to sit with the fear of unknowing. What would happen if I let go? What if I just accepted that I had no control over this and I would have to let come what was going to come? No. Too scary. Instead I busy myself with the task of avoiding being eaten.
When I find myself short of breath or experiencing a rising tightness in my chest, I now remind myself, often out loud, “There are no lions”. We believe the worry is helping us anticipate, but really, I think it’s just hindering our ability to be open, let things happen. I know objectively that I’ll find a place. I know that my heart won’t always feel broken and somewhere down the road I can imagine a happy life with someone, in a job I love and in a space that isn’t my brother’s guestroom. I know this. But it’s elusive. I guess that’s the work. Recognizing that I could just as easily imagine the lions and my statistically favorable death or beautiful, wide open savannah in the middle of a safe far off world.