I read the bestseller, “Love Is Letting Go Of Fear” when it first came out, way back in 1979. Its strength is in the clear and direct way it’s written, and one chapter title stayed with me: “I am never upset for the reason I think.”
I’m not going to pretend that I’m always on board with this idea. When I’m upset I feel sure I know exactly why – but I find that simply being curious about it has always paid off. It can, for example, change “How dare they!” into “Maybe there’s some misunderstanding here”.
This is simply about not always accepting your first, automatic thoughts and feelings as necessarily being the most sound, trustworthy and accurate. This can be a transformational habit to acquire.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
A number of years ago, an earthquake gave me a lesson about this. In England an earthquake is a very unusual event, at least on a scale you’d ever notice. But this one rattled houses for a couple of seconds, waking many of us in the East Midlands in the middle of the night.
Everybody was talking about it the next day, and what fascinated me were the immediate explanations everyone had come up with for this very peculiar noise and shuddering vibration.
One woman decided her husband was doing some home improvement drilling downstairs – even though he was asleep next to her. A friend assumed the army was on a training exercise, driving huge tanks down the road outside – even though she lives nowhere near an army base. Someone I spoke to in a shop thought somebody upstairs had fallen out of bed – even though she knew there was no one sleeping upstairs.
My thought was that the plumbing was breaking apart, and then I immediately went back to sleep.
Everybody needed to give it a meaning, because this is an immediate, automatic and inevitable survival strategy built into our brains. If we hear a noise in the dark, or see something we can’t quite identify, our attention is held and we try to explain it. Is it safe or harmful? Can I approach or should I run? Even if there’s clearly no threat at all, an explanation helps us to make sense of the world, and understanding it could make it a bit more predictable and reliable.
However, you might have noticed that the explanations given to the earthquake were spectacularly wrong. As ‘earthquake’ was the very last thing to come to our minds, in the absence of the accurate meaning, flights of fancy took over.