One day a few weeks ago, I sat writing at the cafe. This was before the lock-down started, where suddenly we weren’t supposed to go out and do things like visit cafes. However, “shit was already going down”: news stories were erupting, the world was bubbling with talk, and I knew that things were going to shift. As I sat there, I noticed a tense, unpleasant knot in my stomach. In fact, I had probably had this feeling for a couple of weeks, but this was the first time I stopped to really pay attention to it. I decided to write down what that feeling would say if it could speak.
That’s how I got my introduction to my own personal Chicken Little, a mental doom-and-gloom factory inside my brain that was doing its best to disturb my peace and calm with its certainty of impending calamity.
If you know the Chicken Little tale, it’s about a little chicken that is constantly screaming that the sky is falling, the sky is falling! I thought it was funny when I read it as a child, but over the years, I also took the meaning: it is important not to let paranoia or pessimism get the better of you, especially before you have the facts of the situation. Because usually, the sky isn’t actually falling!
Another word for this is “catastrophizing,” a cognitive distortion in which the brain assumes that the very worst-cast scenario is about to happen. As I sat there writing out the negativity my head that day, I realized that was exactly what my brain was doing. For example:
<All is fucked! We are in trouble! This is going to suck so badly. It just gonna be awful>
Rather than trying to ignore this voice any more, which I had been done for several weeks, I started to dialog with it. I found it was stuck on negativity. I continued penning its litany of fearful thoughts:
<This is going to suck so badly. It is just gonna be awful.>
<This is so depressing. I hate it.>
I kept writing these thoughts down, meanwhile reaching for something that felt better. However, the voice was persistent. Eventually, I asked it:
Why are you so sure that all is lost? Why are you so convinced, so stubbornly clinging to your negativity?
The voice responded, <You would be too. All has turned to shit. And if it hasn’t, it will 🙁 >
As gloomy as this probably seems, by continuing to write out these thoughts, eventually, I started feel a little better. In fact, I started to have a little fun with it, as it clicked that my brain was pulling a number on me: Chicken Little was in the house!
So I wrote:
I am open to hearing more from the Disaster Voice–hereby dubbed “Chicken Little!” Bak! Bakka bak!
Here is the dialogue, slightly edited for simplicity, that followed:
CL: <Fine. you go ahead and make fun of me. It makes no difference. When disaster strikes, we’ll see who’s ready?>
Me: Ready for what? Ready for being pessimistic, resigned, fearful, and cowardly? How is that a victory?
CL: <You can be all flippant if you want. Sure, maybe I am negative. Maybe there is no real benefit from being this way–maybe I am just sad and worried… maybe I think negativity is a way to protect against disappointment>
Me: Okay, that makes sense. Thank you for your honesty. Behind the wall of resignation–the Doom-and-Gloom Wall!–behind that, I get that you are just trying to protect me from pain!
CL: <Okay, you are right about me. I am the wall out to protect you… can you blame me? All the triggers are there! It looks like we are headed for a crisis that will lead to great disappointment and pain!>
Me: Well, sure, things appear more uncertain than usual. Okay, maybe they appear a lot uncertain. Yet still:
- How does being pessimistic help?
- How does being convinced that the worst is about to happen help? It hasn’t happened!
- How is a past-based, fear-based emotional reflex the correct response? How do you know it is?
- Wouldn’t a reaction of openness, of courage, a determination to remain calm, clear and collected be a better reaction?
- How do you expect me to be at my best, so I can respond intelligently to life, when you are screaming at the top of your lungs that the sky is falling? All it does is upset and distract me!
- I get that you are scared. Yet what is the value of a continuous mental maelstrom of negativity? How is that the answer?
CL: <You have good questions. I can only say that it is not my job to hold up a mirror of infinite possibility and encourage you to take leaps of faith. I am here to keep you safe. And obviously, these conditions pose uncertainty to that objective. And yes, like an alarm, I am set off. I am here merely to raise the voice of safety!>
Me: I understand that. Thank you for doing your job so well! Yet a little more balance would be nice. you are so convinced of danger and calamity that it is quite distracting and upsetting. I’m not sure it is helpful. Your obsession seems to yield only contraction and fear! That is not future thinking! That is not joy! That is not freedom! I wish to be under the influence of my Inner Being! That is where I am headed.
So you just go ahead and continue your alarm bells. I will continue thinking and remaining open to the insights and clarity of my Source 🙂