An excerpt from The Paper Tiger Syndrome: How to Liberate Yourself from the Illusion of Fear.
Your Original Blueprint is the part of you that knows abundance is your natural state. It’s the inner voice, which says, I am full. I am satiated. I am content. I am peaceful. I don’t need anything or anyone else to feel complete. There’s a richness inside of me that’s not about what I have. It’s about an embodiment of who I am. I’m not trapped by deficit thinking. I don’t look at what isn’t. I look at what is. I choose to be grateful for what I have, rather than dwelling on what I think I’m missing. I am in full acceptance and appreciation of whatever comes my way, and I will meet these moments with deep gratitude.
This is more than a change in mindset. It’s about developing a body that feels fully alive and present and inhabiting it. If you’re really in your body, you’re less likely to allow yourself to become depleted or sick. You’re more likely to welcome things that support your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This method of self-development enables you to personify the sacred plan that you created for your soul before you incarnated on this planet. And the nervous system is the mechanism that can get you there—it is both what presents paper tigers and what liberates you from them.
As we’ve learned, the nervous system drives your automatic reactions to fear. It’s also the same mechanism that, when properly regulated, puts you back in touch with your Original Blueprint. Imagine one path that diverges into two separate roads. The branch of the road that bends toward fear can only lead to further suffering. But the other branch, which bends toward mindfulness and self-regulation, leads you to the gateway of your Original Blueprint. The idea of a physical path to spiritual liberation is wonderful because it demystifies the process, rather than presenting it as something elusive or nebulous. Of course, the brain has a critical part to play, but in this journey, you’ll begin with the body.
Most people aren’t conscious of the crucial role that their nervous system plays in their day-to-day functioning. I didn’t become aware of it until I began studying the field of somatics (soma is the Greek word for “body”). Essentially, somatic therapy takes the view that the mind, emotions, and sensations within the body are interconnected. When we rely heavily on our mind to the exclusion of our physical intelligence we are locked out of the gateway. That split is then reinforced by the traumas of life, which cause us to feel unsafe in our bodies. But healing that fracture supports the embodiment of our authentic, integrated self.
The autonomic nervous system is designed to instantly sense any threats to our physical safety. Fortunately, our nervous system remains as efficient as it was in primitive times, when it sensed real unequivocal danger lurking in the tall grasses. Today, if someone is coming at you with a gun or there’s an avalanche or a devastating earthquake, your body will respond the same way it would have to an attacking saber-toothed tiger. And you want your body to do that. If your body lost the ability to react quickly to legitimate threats, you wouldn’t last long in this world.
But most of the time, the modern world doesn’t present the types of threats that we were hardwired to guard against from our primitive days. Saber-toothed tigers don’t stalk us anymore. Today, we lead lives that offer us ample protection from the natural world.
Of course, real physical threats still can happen at any time and it’s an ugly truth that different categories of people can face different levels of safety in our world. Acknowledging this is a fundamental first step because, as the author James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Bias based on race, class, gender, and a host of other labels can profoundly affect how safe we feel and are in the world. Black men in the United States, for example, are two to three times more likely to die in police interactions or be imprisoned than their White male counterparts. Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes overlooked by their doctors. Outside the U.S. in war-torn parts of the world like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria, your chances of survival drop 30 percent, on average, due to the catastrophic impact of weapons and war. In the U.S. and abroad, people have very different understandings of what it means to feel secure and protected in their environment.
The rest of us who live with the privilege of going about our days in relative safety still face stressful deadlines, pressure to achieve, challenges with spouses or children, financial concerns, and more. While these things can be stressful, none of them should be setting off survival-level alarm bells in the nervous system.
Yet, they do. And depending on your environment, upbringing, and coping skills, your nervous system may be misfiring a lot more often than you think.
These misfires can create exaggerated, prolonged, and even chronic, stress reactions in the body. Chronic stress happens daily. Even the technology we rely on, which supposedly exists to make our lives easier, can undermine us by intensifying feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness more than ever before.
Nearly two-thirds of all Americans, for example, are suffering from an underlying health condition often brought on by stress, poor diet, or lack of access to good health care. In many other countries, these numbers are also rising.
All of these issues legitimately affect an individual’s quality of life. So, it makes sense that the body’s reaction to the onslaught of perceived threats would have a detrimental effect on physical and mental well-being. Perceived threats trigger the exact same physiological response as actual threats, activating a fight, flight or freeze reaction. It’s the constant stimulating of these stress responses that can lock some people (and others, not) in a chronic state of stress, not the actual events that people experience. We all react differently—some more intensely than others.
Once you begin the process of regulating your nervous system, you’ll notice a gradual change in your physical and emotional well-being. You’ll feel increasingly safe, spacious, and resilient. You will have more capacity to metabolize stress, and to give and receive love—all without the constant presence of a false threat response. It may sound too good to be true, but time and again, I’ve seen people’s lives completely change when they learn to do this work.
Rebecca A. Ward is a marriage and family therapist and author of The Paper Tiger Syndrome: How to Liberate Yourself from the Illusion of Fear.
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