If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I grew up fatherless in a housing project on welfare. Here’s how that place looks today: Rockview Housing Project. What you’ll mostly notice is … there are no signs of life; mainly broken asphalt and a random assortment of dead or dying trees. The place was so toxic, the City of New Haven decided the best course of action was to tear down all the buildings and start over. That wise decision came about 60 years too late, in my honest, but possibly biased opinion.
Nevertheless, like everywhere else on Planet Earth, housing projects are learning environments. Living in one, you learn many things, some true, others not. One thing you learn is that while there are plenty of natural resources, they are insufficient to be turned into enough money for everyone in the world to have a lot. That may be theoretically untrue – especially in an information economy – but it is clearly a current planetary reality. Another planetary reality thing you learn in a housing project is that more often than you might wish, your world and the people in it aren’t 100% safe to be physically exposed to or psychologically vulnerable around. You need to pay close attention right from the womb. Not only to the dangerous people – the drunks and the bullies and the thieves – but to the copperheads and rattlesnakes, the lamprey eels, the poisonous spiders, the coyotes and feral cats as well.
All these adverse early beginnings got thrown into the mix and ultimately surfaced in my brain later as something neuroscientists like to call Dread Risk. Using my own early experiences to generalize about a future world filled with high probabilities for personal misfortune is itself an unfortunate perspective. My graduate school colleague Brooke Brown had a much more graphically compelling take on such a perspective though – she identified it as part and parcel of her Inner Bag Lady.
I am proof positive that men can have Inner Bag Ladies, just like women. Men can fear ending up hungry and homeless as well as any woman. In fact, I’ve been both three times in my life. It was life – friends and family and kind and caring strangers in the world – who helped pull me through and helped get me back on my feet each time.
Inner Bag Lady’s Lament
As a consequence of such history, I’ve learned some reasonably successfully ways to navigate Dread Risk and not continue ending up as my Inner Bag Lady’s bitch (at least not for very long). Here are seven among a limitless universe of possibilities:
1. Like the universe, the brain is extraordinarily complex, making it very difficult to predict with absolute certainty the painful tragedies that your left language hemisphere is more than happy to advise you could fall from the sky at any moment. Something actually good (especially in the form of loving, caring people) could even emerge out of that complexity, so … don’t believe what you think when it hurts.
2. There’s nothing that mitigates Dread like physical exercise. 50%-80% of the neurons in the brain are contained in “the little brain,” the cerebellum. What’s one of its primary functions? Smooth sensory motor function. Nature wouldn’t devote all that neural real estate, together with all the neurons in the motor cortex at my crown chakra, for me to sit on my ass and dream up dreadful futures all day long, now would it?
3. You can borrow my Main Mantra and put it to regular good use: “In THIS moment, everything’s all right.” Which is interesting when I consider that even when I recently almost cut my finger off (described here), or another time when I broadsided a Chevy Nomad station wagon on my motorcycle at 40 miles an hour, everything was still all right. In fact, better than all right, since a ton of autonomic nervous system operations went into emergency mode without me having to do much of anything. Like they do every day.
4. You can often negotiate with your Inner Bag Lady in many of the same ways I’ve learned to Embrace My Dictator Within. Feel free to borrow any of these perspectives that might help.
5. Scheduling time with trusted friends for a Walk-n-Talk often helps. But they have to be good friends, more than a little well-practiced in this subject – one that I’ve written way too many books on.
6. You can consult with a professional for help using any of these identified neurosomatic healing modalities.
7. Finally, you can make skillful use of essential elements often necessary to fully integrate an overwhelming experience as identified by my friend, neurologist Bob Scaer in his new book from Norton – 8 Keys to Body-Brain Balance: attune with a safe and trusted person; engage in healing ritual; deliberately engage in empowering activities; experiment with sensory modalities that stimulate both cerebral hemispheres; engage in motor acts of completion – “triumphant actions”; repair ruptured perceptual boundaries.
There you go. It’s obviously far from an exhaustive list. Feel free to devise your own creative negotiation strategies. Who knows, one day you might just happily invite your Inner Bag Lady home for a Holiday brunch.