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Mindful : April 2016
at the day ahead. Is the Open Door policy one we can use personally? Or should we adopt a Closed Border approach? More and more, in these chal- lenging times, we’re asked to face these options. If we are human, we are capable of fear, and we will all know fear at some time. Of course, it’s not just humans who feel fear. Animals, too, experience this primal emotion. In Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin writes: “The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotion- ally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals I think it’s worse than pain.” Fear is something ancient and ingrained. It has its helpful place as a survival mechanism in nature, triggering awareness of a threat and triggering responses such as flight, freeze, or fight. In the study of the human brain, the amyg- dala has often been considered the “fear center,” and it is definitely involved in our responses to fear. But recent research suggests that the amygdala is not the all-powerful Czar of Fear. As neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux writes in Psychology Today: Be suspicious of any statement that says a brain area is a center responsible for some function. The notion of functions being products of brain areas or centers is left over from the days when most evidence about brain function was based on the effects of brain lesions localized to specific areas. Today, we think of functions as products of systems rather than of areas. Neurons in areas contribute because they are part of a system. The amygdala, for example, contrib- utes to threat detection because it is part of a threat detection system. LeDoux points to the complexity and the interconnectedness of our experience of fear, which is not just a question of how the brain functions but also is reflected in our psycho- logical experience of fear. The complex nature of fear may be why one-shot solutions are not always effective and why we need broader and more inclusive approaches. Sometimes there does seem to be a simple solution to our fear. If someone abuses you, you might think that if you stop the abuse, you should be able to stop the fear associated with it. But does that work? The best we could say is “Sort of.” You may not have to fear being actu- ally abused by a particular person again, but it’s likely you will still imagine or relive the abuse and that you may be very anxious about the pos- sibility of being abused by someone else. → There is no single “fear center” in the brain. Various parts of the brain contribute to a complex “threat detection system.” Perhaps our responses to fear need to be just as nuanced. Life is frightening. That thought came over me the morning after the mass killings in Paris last November. On the night of the attacks, I emailed a friend there, asking if he was okay. He wrote back the next morning: “Everything is fine...but what a shock!” What a shock indeed. Events like this evoke many responses: sadness, fear, anger, hoping it won’t happen to me, worrying about whether friends and family are all right, wondering how to help. It also highlights the necessity to work with our own fear, from the little niggling fears we have to the biggest challenges we face in life. Where do we find courage? Where do we find solutions? It seems there are no sweeping answers that magically calm our fear and anxiety. However, some hints may be close at hand. For inter- twined with fear, we discover fearlessness. This was highlighted by the response of citi- zens in Paris on Twitter, immediately following the attacks: People using the hashtag “Porte Ouverte”—Door Open—to offer shelter to those affected by the bombs and shootings, who needed a place to spend the night, who could not get home, who needed a refuge from the terror. Come here, our door is open to you. That mes- sage of fearlessness and human solidarity is one we can celebrate in these frightening times. More mundanely, how can we connect an event like the Paris attacks to the everyday fear we feel?—the fears we encounter when shopping for a bathing suit, taking a flight, or just looking 60 mindful April 2016 emotions