Be the Bison

I’ve been teaching a course on Communication Skills. In the process I also took a course on teaching Communication Skills and was being mentored by a seasoned instructor.  It has been an extremely revealing experience and through the course for instructors, the experience with my mentor, and the process of actually delivering the course to my participants, I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve also learned some tactics for difficult conversations that, if I’d had a few years ago, may have changed the direction of my life.

One of the things that really struck me was the challenge to ‘Be the Bison.’

Have you ever noticed a group of cows standing together in the corner of a field?  Sometimes they’re so squished together it seems ridiculous.  I’ve wondered why this happened but never taken the time to figure it out.  What they’re doing is standing there, cowering in fear, trying to get away from something inevitable.  Even before a storm comes, they’ll gather together because they sense it. They’ll cower as far away from the storm as they think they can get (which, of course, doesn’t actually help them at all) and because they anticipate the storm and spend time fearing it, they end up experiencing the storm far longer than it even lasts.

This is how most of us are in our lives – be it with work, friends, family.  We know something uncomfortable, some storm, is going to happen or needs to happen and yet we essentially cower in a corner  – hoping it will go away. But it won’t just go away, and like the cows, we end up experiencing the stress of this problem far longer than necessary.  Maybe we stay up at night thinking about it, maybe we complain to our partner or friends but never actually face it and so we continually experience the stress and pain of this oncoming storm.

The Bison, however, experience the coming of a storm in a very different way. They also sense the storm but rather than cowering in fear, the Bison, knowing the storm is going to come no matter what, heads toward it.  Bison will march into the middle of a field, face the storm, get ready, and then walk right into it, because they know that if they’re standing up to the storm, walking toward it and not away, they’re going to be out of it quicker.  They get the feeling of fear over with. They not only make themselves ready for the inevitable, they invite it.

When I first heard this concept I definitely saw myself as a cow.  I could think of so many situations where I had some difficult conversation I should have had with someone and yet I put it off and put it off.  I stressed about it, I agonized over it, I talked to the people in my life about it until they became absolutely sick of the topic.  And that’s . . . well, it’s stupid, and pointless, and destructive.  It certainly didn’t solve any problems or help me get through a storm.  Really, in our lives that kind of behaviour tends to create more storms to deal with.

We need to be the bison and not cower away from the things that scare us or make us uncomfortable.  The storms of life will inevitably come, so why not face them?  And face them with strength, determination, and power.  Sure, it’ll feel uncomfortable at first, it may even be scary, but if we get comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable – that discomfort will begin to lessen.

This whole idea of being the bison can even apply to storms of our own making. Maybe we’ve determined there needs to be some change in our lives – a goal we’ve been wanting to conquer for a long time but just don’t take the steps needed, a habit or trait we know needs to be ripped out of our lives but we’re cowering in fear from the work that it will take and the emotional pain it may cause . . . maybe something we need to admit to or deal with, some scar from one of life’s previous storms.

So give it a try, BE THE BISON, and I will too.  If you happen to know me personally and see me cowering in a corner like a cow, I give you permission – give me a nudge and tell me to stand up straight, throw my shoulders back, and walk on out into the storm.

Image taken from Independent Lens “Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison”, Colorado Public Television.”

Conquering Giants

We all have our fears.  Those things that make us squirm or quiver, act in irrational ways, or that cripple us.  Some of those fears are very valid and understandable – the fear of death for example.  Even if that’s not a fear of yours you probably would never scoff at someone who harboured that fear. Some of those fears are so deep rooted and personal that we can’t even bring ourselves to speak them for fear even saying the words could make the fear a reality.  Some of the fears are more on the surface and are just straight and simple being scared of something, whether our logical mind says we should be or not.  No matter what fear we’re dealing with, trying to conquer that fear can feel like stepping up, grabbing our measly sling shot and preparing to slay a giant.

Some of my fears that fall under the last category are very pint size.  Earwigs and maggots.  These creatures disgust and worry me in ways that I recognize are not legitimate.  My biggest fear of them is that somehow they will crawl inside me. (I’m sure there’s some deep rooted, psychologically based explanation there but I have no desire to discover what that is).  As a moderate example of my fear, a few weeks ago I was staying at someone’s house, sleeping on a mat on the floor.  Just before turning out the light I saw an earwig crawling near my pillow.  I hurried to the bathroom, grabbed a tissue and killed the little bugger.  Lying down, however, I feared there may be more.  I probably lay there scared one of them would crawl inside for 3-4 hours.  Now I’ve never heard any accounts of earwigs crawling inside people’s ears or any other part of their body, but I’m still ridiculously paranoid about it.  (If you have heard of it, PLEASE do not tell me.)

Today I decided I had to deal with this type of giant – only on a much larger scale.  About four days ago I opened the compost container on my balcony to see dozens and dozens of maggots.  The past three days I’ve been semi-trying to ignore this (knowing I would have to deal with it eventually when the container was full) and passively dealing with it by spraying vinegar and then bleach on the terrors.  Despite my efforts, more and more kept appearing (I’m getting queasy just recalling this).  Today when I took off the lid there were dozens and dozens around the edges of the container.  They slid down the sides and dozens more dropped from the cover, which held even than the top and sides combined.   In shock and terror I dropped the cover and then, of course, had to pick it back up.

I went inside, washed my hands, and – shaken – tried to go about my day.  But then the creepy crawlies started.  I felt things crawling on me everywhere.  Now, logically, I knew there was NO chance one of them could have gotten to my feet and crawled up a leg without me noticing it.  I’d checked my hands and arms and none of them had made it there from the cover.  I started to relax and then I thought – but what about eggs? – what if they were so small I couldn’t see them. What if they hadn’t been washed off well enough and somehow . . . ok – I’m going to stop here.  If I tell the rest of this story and the lengths I went to in trying to satisfy myself that there was no chance maggot eggs would have the opportunity to hatch inside me and feast I’m sure more than one of you may suggest that some time in a mental health facility may be of benefit to me.  What can I say?  Irrational fears make us do irrational things!

After realizing how this fear had overtaken me and after some prompting and assurance from my long distance boyfriend (if he were here I would have had him deal with it four days ago) I decided I needed to take care of this myself and get rid of them once and for all.  I was stronger, I was smarter, and dammit how pathetic is it that I’m letting little relatively bugs have this much control over me!  And so about 45 minutes later, after much stress, much mental pep-talk, an overuse of plastic bags, an overuse of bleach (I know – very un-environmentally friendly), and about 5 hand washings the task was done.  Besides the bleach inhalation and a queasy stomach that lasted an hour or so I was none the worse for wear.

Now, this was a long story for what in all honesty, and to most people was a simple act to overcome a simple fear, but it wasn’t simple to me.  It really wasn’t.  And I feel ridiculous, yes for how big and hard this was for me but I also feel proud that I did something about. I went onto the battlefield, I slayed my giant, and I came out stronger.  I didn’t wait for my fella to take care of it when he gets back in two weeks (I asked, and he agreed).  And I’ve gleaned a lesson from this experience.  Throughout my life it’s inevitable that I’m going to face way more things that scare me.  Some will be fears on a similar scale to this and some will be much worse and even harder to overcome, but I’ve now got this experience to hold onto.  I made a decision, I set my teeth (figuratively), and maybe I’ll still be equally afraid about some squirmy bug crawling inside me in the future, but I know I won’t be nearly as afraid to do something about it when I have the opportunity.

Have you overcome any fears that, deep down, you know were irrational – is there a story there?  What lessons or advice do you have for helping others get past the fear in their lives – be it a maggots, the fear of death, or those things we cannot bring ourselves to speak?

* As a final note – from now on I’m keeping my compost in a paper bag in the freezer.