Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Growling At a Bear

We've all got fears. Some of them are more irrational than others (such as my desire to run when birds get too close to me) but anyone who says they're not scared of anything is a liar. In addition to my omithophobia (fear of wing-flappers) I also have the really inconvenient fear of riding a bike and no, not just "in the city" because it's perfectly normal to be afraid to ride a bike in New York City. I'm scared of sitting down on that little seat and having both my feet up in the air at the same time, even in an empty parking lot. I know it sounds silly but I'm kind of terrified to have neither foot on the ground and yet still be moving. I'm sure that says something super deep about my psyche but I haven't had time to google it yet. 

Anyway, last week my sister, her husband and my two little nieces went on a 10 day vacation to various places in Montana, where my brother-in-law grew up. The little girls love the outdoors and wildlife so they were in heaven: wading in freezing cold streams, digging in enormous expansive patches of land with scenic backgrounds, and having a plethora of animals to spot and identify. You know how the little ones love to show off what they know. Hey, I know what that thing over there is! It's a BIRD. Guys, A BIRD! A BIRD! 
The actual bear, photographed from the window of my sister's Prius

Suddenly as they are driving along they spot a baby bear at the edge of the woods, not all that far away from their Prius carrying precious cargo. You would think two toddlers would be scared to see a bear up that close, even if it is a baby like them. I know I would be scared out of my mind and probably floor the gas pedal right into a tree or something irrational like that. On the contrary however, my youngest niece, 5 months shy of her second birthday decided to growl. She saw a bear outside the window and GROWLED AT IT!

Of course this is ridiculously cute but also extremely remarkable on a psychological level. Why wouldn't she growl at this bear? Since birth, we've been shoving books in her face with pictures of animals and encouraging her to tell us what they say. When you see a puppy you bark, when you see a cat you meow, and when you see a daggone bear you growl! All this time she's been waiting to put her what-the-bear-says knowledge to practical use and this was her chance! Finally, a bear! No one ever taught her, "The bear says grrr but they are also violent and might eat you, so if you see one in real life don't grr back. Just run." For all she knows, the bear in the woods is a friendly furry animal like the two fifty pound dogs she grew up snuggling with. Why be afraid of something you've never met before? 

Though some fears are inherent, in general, we must be taught to be afraid and unfortunately most of us have learned how to be scaredy cats since birth. Save for a rainy day! Wear sunscreen! Use hand sanitizer! Don't go on the subway after dark! These admonitions are useful and probably don't damage our psyche too badly, but what about some of our other deep-seated and unconscious fears? The fear of standing out and being ridiculed. The fear of rocking the boat. The fear of not living up to other people's expectations. The fear of being alone. The fear of losing it all. The fear of death. 

I'm starting to believe that we have to unlearn some of our fears if we're ever going to experience life fully and truly live our bliss. I am a lover of safety. I am a lover of security and sameness. I have said on many occasions that I hate surprises (especially unexpected changes of plans) and all that just needs to end. This fear of the unknown and fear of letting things unfold naturally has created almost all of the suffering I have experienced in life. When actual bad things happen in to me they don't create nearly as many ripples as the incessant and overpowering desire to stay in the safeness of sameness. You can't predict what's going to happen to you ever, even if you keep all the "variables" the same and invite little margin for error. You might be right 9 times out of 10 but 1 time you're going to be wrong as hell and you have no clue which time it's going to be. That, I know for sure. 

I am naturally a fearful and prudent person but that behavior pattern set me up for failure and kept me from experiencing much of the sporadic and random beauty of life along the way. Most things I worried about never actually happened but one great big thing happened that I never imagined in a million years. So who really knows? And why should we try? Maybe we all just need to have a little more courage and go out there and growl at some bears.