September 7,1964 marked an important event in society. This is the date Lyndon Johnson ran the "Daisy" commercial. In the commercial a little girl is pulling off the petals of a daisy, counting how many there are. A man's voice comes in getting louder, drowning out the girl's, counting ten, nine, eight,... As the countdown ends the screen shows an atomic explosion. Lyndon Johnson's voice enters saying, "These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God's children can live or go in the dark, we must either love each other or we must die." The "Daisy" commercial is commonly referred to as the first fear-based political ad in the United States.
It seems like the presence of fear in society has grown since this date. I find this topic imperative to explore as we continue to see political ads from both sides trying to distort images and produce fear in the heart of voters. This isn't about politics its about our society's continued increase of fear. So what does this have to do with spirituality? Fear creates unease and misperceptions which ultimately turn into divisions among people. These walls shut people out from genuinely engaging in diverse relationships. Churches need to unite people in love and peace by breaking down the barriers between us. Let's explore the perception of fear in society, how it affects us, and how fear can impact our spirituality.
Fear in Our Brain
Much of the power of fear comes from our perceived notion of what might happen. Now I am no brain expert but will try to explain our brains response when perceiving fear. When we perceive threats our brains have two roads in which they can take, a low road and a high road. The low road is short and messy. Thalamus receives the signal and sends the message straight to the Amygdala (part that detects fear) because of a potential serious threat. The Amygdala triggers our body by telling the hypothalamus to push more blood to our body and to turn up our adrenaline glands. This is when fight, flight, or freeze take place. The high road is a longer pathway. The thalamus perceives a threat and alerts the Pre-Frontal Cortex (Interprets meaning). The Pre-Frontal Cortex sends it to the Hippocampus (memory center) which measures it to past threats. The Hippocampus shares the information with the amygdala. The Amygdala than alerts the Hypothalamus on whether it is a threat or not. A threat would heighten your senses for a fight, flight, or freeze response. Both of these processes take place in a matter of seconds.
We know that trauma can actually change the wiring in our brains. Click here to read more. The reason for this is neuroplasticity which means our brain can make new neural connections and adjust to various situations we are exposed to both positive and negative. This is why people are able to learn new things despite injuries or diseases. Research indicates the use of meditative practices actually changes our wiring to make us less reactive. If you want more information about neuroplasticity and rewiring your brain click on this article written by JR Thorpe.
I think it's helpful to know how fear works in our brain because we are all triggered differently by the experiences we have been in. If you are like me, you might have fallen into a pattern of listening to the fears around you. This perpetual problem may not be helpful for our long term physical and spiritual health. That's why we have a need to make new neural connections instead of listening to our fearful thoughts.
Perceptions of Fear in Society
Every night the news presents a world of havoc with terrible acts happening in our communities. How else are we to think if we are surrounded by messages instilling fear in us? The perception of safety in society among people has continued to decrease since the 1960's. However Professor Steven Pinker wrote a book in 2016 called "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined." In his book he identifies how we are actually living in the safest time in history. His research shows how homicides, violence towards women, and violence towards children are all declining. Check out an article written by Eric Dietrich on Psychology Today which gives a good synopsis of Professor Pinker's findings. I do want to state there are very real safety concerns in our world and some live in worse situations than others. However most of us allow the messages and perception of fear to distort our views. So if our perception of the outside world is faulty what does that mean about our self-perceptions? How can you let go of your fears to live in the beauty of the day? How can you move past your fear to actively explore this world and diversify your relationships.
Fear and Our Spiritual Lives
So what does all this mean for our spiritual lives? If we are living in fear than we are being "emotionally highjacked" throughout our day with thoughts and feelings of a need for safety. If this is happening than we are missing the opportunity to be present in the moment. Spiritually I believe we are called to face our fears. Facing our fears opens us to a new level of understanding, a spiritual awakening about ourselves and our God. Instead of worrying we sit with a loving awareness of who we are and who we were made to be. It's a powerful decision when we say we will not be held captive to the fear in us or around us. It builds our self worth reinforcing we have value. Fear however does not just go away, its a natural part of who we are. So overcoming it takes time and a continued choice to sit in loving awareness. Sometimes it also means developing skills such as grounding techniques, meditation, etc. to get us through the worst moments.
So what is your fear? How has it impacted your spiritual journey? What would it take for you to begin overcoming it? What steps do you need to take?
"Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you" Isaiah 41:10
I would love to hear more of your thoughts. Please comment as you feel led. This week write down your fears and identify one you will work at overcoming.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.