The Winding Path

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August 2011: Curiosity Part 2

Posted on Aug 15, 2011

August 2011: Curiosity Part 2

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.
~ James Stephens

This thing about curiosity and fear came home for me while travelling recently. I have a love-hate relationship with bears. I admire and greatly respect these marvelous creatures; but I am terrified of them. Even though I have been arming myself with information to counter the baseless fears —and they are baseless, for I personally have never had a negative encounter with a bear—I am still prone to anxiety and panic attacks when I even suspect I might be in the vicinity of a member of the Ursus family.

Somehow I have bought into the belief that bears are dangerous and ‘out to get me’ when really they couldn’t care less about my existence—except for certain circumstances that make total sense—like interfering with their food source (i.e. trails along berry patches), or getting into their personal space, or too close to their offspring. People aren’t so different. We don’t do so well either when people or animals mess with our food, our personal space, or our dependants (be they children or pets).

In one of those twists of paradox, communication break-downs among people are common and expected. For some reason, we have higher expectations of inter-special communication and greatly resent when the animal kingdom impinges upon people-dom. We think drastic measures have to be taken to get our point across—even though some basic prevention—i.e. communication about boundaries—would have done the trick.

Bears are quite clear about boundary crossings. They send messages that are often misunderstood as aggression, when really, it’s about ‘get out of my space.’ Usually because we missed the subtler signs. People are no different. We miss the signs all the time. Or we are not very clear and let things get out of hand until ‘somebody blows.’

So even though I have gleaned plenty of useful, practical knowledge about safe bear-people interactions, the fear persists. To use the curious approach to address my fear, it then begs the question: Where did this irrational fear come from? Even more importantly, what does this fear say about me? Do I want to keep believing that about myself? Or do I want to start thinking in terms of empowering myself to handle tense situations rather than elicit the flight response—for running is not always the best option.

To be curious, gives me time to think things through rather than spiral out of control. And with bears, there is time to think—particularly when I stop to listen to what they are communicating in their language. In this case, knowledge is power. I can use that knowledge to defuse the threat. For often there is no threat—just an imaginative mind on overdrive.

So being curious about my fear of bears, is really about getting curious about myself. And being patient with myself as I unlearn the old beliefs and relearn new coping skills. I won’t get it ‘just right’ with my next bear encounter—but I will get better—building on each experience until one day I will ask myself, What bear phobia? Experience has taught me that much already.

What fear might you tackle next with curiosity? Bears may not be on your horizon, but how about public speaking? Or crowded rooms? Or a sensitive discussion that needs to happen? How might getting curious about your anxiety help you to move forward?

What beliefs are lurking in your closet that could use some exposure—or airing out—with a healthy dose of curiosity?

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