Fear of Future Pain

In talking with a friend about her partner’s jealousy, I could not help but to reflect on my own. I found that some of my feelings of jealousy arise from fear of future pain. I would feel immense pain if my wife left me and jealousy is part of my brain warning me against that scenario.

I had what appeared to be meningitis about twenty years ago; the diagnosis was uncertain. I felt deep fatigue for about three weeks, two of which I spent in the hospital. During that period, I had four or five episodes in which half of my body would go numb. It was scary.
Feeling the numbness coming made me very anxious, particularly because the doctors were not sure about the diagnosis.

In one of those episodes, the numbness was so intense that moving my arm started to get difficult. Panic set in. Then I lost my speech.

Paradoxically, the intensity of this episode brought a gift. Along with my speech, I lost any trace of anxiety; fear disappeared instantly.

Jill Bolte-Taylor reports feeling inner peace when she had a stroke that affected the left side of her brain, which is the part that controls speech and the right side of our body. Her TED talk is one of the most watched ever.

I didn’t find the relationship between Jill’s experience and mine until recently, when I heard Phil Stutz and Barry Michels describing in their podcast a mental tool called Dissolving Thoughts that reduces anxiety by training your mind to pause speech activity and temporarily ignore concepts (Coming Alive Podcast, Episode 12, minute 28). It’s not easy to master, but I’ve found the results astounding.

What I think is that the same part of our brain responsible for speech is also responsible for most of our anxiety. It’s a voice that constantly tells us all the ways in which our life can go wrong–all the kinds of pain we may suffer in the future.

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Mark Twain

Our left brain is expert in drawing a straight line from the present into a terrifying future. The thing is that life never happens linearly and most of our left brain predictions never come true. Anxiety, jealousy and their relatives waste our energy without any benefit.

Communication and anticipating the consequences of our decisions are indispensable functions of our left brain. But, like with everything else, there must be a balance. Left unchecked, that part of the left brain will shrink our world with the fear of future pain.

Human life is about expansion—expanding our circle of influence, expanding our abilities. It is our job to fight the impulses of the lizard brain, the legacy of our animal past, so that our evolution and the evolution of our society are not held back by imaginary demons.

2 Replies to “Fear of Future Pain”

  1. Francisco,
    Your post had me thinking about what humans will be able to accomplish in the future when (hopefully) training the mind in this way will be part of our general curriculum. Or maybe it’ll all be too “woo woo” for everyone to really latch on to as a whole. Do you feel like life has been markedly different since you had this experience of losing your fear? Or did you eventually return to the status quo?
    Thank you for the podcast link – this process kind of sounds too weird to be true, but I’m excited to try it. What kind of benefits have you seen from it?

    Reply

  2. This is fascinating—I’m curious to know how you do that practice. In the meditation practice I do, this is a result that you get from years of practice, but there isn’t a specific practice you do to reduce verbal/conceptual thoughts—they just stop happening all the time on their own, and just come up when needed. The effect seems to be similar.

    Another thing that I’ve found helps people that’s relatively easy to ask is just being present: noticing and releasing thoughts that come that are about the past or future. When you decide that you’re going to just be here now, a lot of the things that cause anxiety just disappear. Do you think that your experience of nonverbal/nonconceptual consciousness in your practice is related to this?

    Reply

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