Community Green: Fire as teacher

Editor’s note: We think this opinion piece nicely summarizes the fear that many of us are experiencing with the threat of wildfire this summer and is worth a read.

By Pamela Noel

Special to Plumas News

I hear the sirens.  I wonder if it is fire, an accident, a call to a robbery … or again, fire.  I seem to be preoccupied with fire these days—fearing it, trying to avoid it, and running from it when it comes close and the smoke becomes increasingly present. Obviously fire is a legitimate concern, as the last few years have taught us.  But, I am asking myself, how much fear is too much?  How can I work with my own fear response so that it doesn’t wear me out; so that I can relax in spite of this annual potential threat?

A friend recently suggested that, instead of putting so much energy and anxiety thinking about the potential for fire in our communities, treat it instead, as my teacher.  He then suggested that I treat any unpleasant occurance that is anxiety provoking as possible “interpersonal treasure”, becoming curious about what I may learn.  With this thought in mind, I also wonder how many hours I spend distracting myself from all the experiences I find unpleasant? In the service of distraction I tend to watch the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, reach out to call my children (when I really have nothing to say), or dive into my own “rabbit hole”, that only increases my anxiety.

So what if I took my friend’s advice?  What can my anxiety about fire teach me?  What if I turned the fear of fire (or anything else), upside down to see what was underneath it all? When I do this, I sit with the anxiety, observing the feeling that arises.  And what that is, is usually a voice inside that says “I am not safe”.  From where does this originate?

Various images come back to me, harkening back to past experiences I have had, where I did not feel safe. Back then, the fear may have been justified.  It served a purpose to get me out of danger of some sort.  When I feel this lack of safety now, (and there’s no obvious threat), what can I do with that sensation now?  I can continue to sit, letting those feelings surface.  At some point I can then ask myself if I am safe now.  Am I secure now?  Am I out of danger now?  And I can start to replace those feelings of insecurity and anxiety with more “up to date” feelings of safety and relaxation.

Almost all of us have traumas we have experienced in our lives…events that we carry, capable of triggering feelings that no longer reflect the original threat.  Some of these traumas may require outside counseling or guidance to work with. But many of the rabbit holes we habitually travel down, result in deepening the anxiety or fear groove unnecessarily.  The groove becomes more embedded when we continue the ruminating.

To release this tendency, we first need the awareness that we are going down our own variety of “rabbit hole”.  Using our imagination we can continue to deepen that groove, or we can use our minds to put this issue on a shelf, telling it we will get back to it later.  Next we can choose to replace this obsessive thinking with a more pleasant and satisfying scenario—soaking in  the more positive experience—be it a calm beach with gentle warm breezes, the lapping of water on a stream bed, or other soothing vision.

Trauma seems to be a part of the human experience.  Fear and threat will not disappear anytime soon. Sirens will continue to ask for my attention.  However, the one aspect each of us can work with, is our own mind. I will continue to be alert this fire season.  And, I’ll also spend time by the creek, in the lake, in my hammock, focusing on all the goodness summer here has to offer.