First, Face It, Head-on


By “it,” I mean your loss: of traction, of your wallet, of a Loved One, of your reason for living, whatever. Remember Driver’s Ed, especially those of you from a cold climate? The most counter-intuitive thing to learn [and to convince yourself to do, in the actual situation], is to “steer into a skid.” [Also, pre-ABS, don’t stomp on the brake pedal, just “feather” it.] Yeah, yeah. You’re less likely to “fishtail,” or even “spin right round”; but, by definition, you’re heading in the wrong direction! “Just for a moment, until you regain a bit of forward motion again,” the instructor soothes. Turns out, the same paradigm applies when you’re flying a single-engine airplane and it stalls. Intuition shrieks, “Pull up!” but your instructor says, “Point the nose down, to pick up air speed [and let Bernoulli’s principle lift you up].”

Likewise, the first [and hardest] thing to do when something bad happens to you, is to face it, already. Boy, doesn’t limbic arousal mess wi’dat? Like making the whole thing play out in slow-motion, so that you can kid yourself, “This is just a dream sequence. I’ll wake up in a minute.” I did that when my purse was stolen in London in the ’70s [even though I had lost 3 wallets to pickpockets during my years in Manhattan]. As usual, that time distortion thing has some survival value, allowing you to postpone overwhelming panic [loss of blood flow to the hippocampus] long enough to complete your Flame Out Chart protocol. What’s that? Actual pilots of actual jet planes have a laminated list of steps to take, in case of an engine flame-out [since most jets make lousy gliders & Bernoulli’s principle cannot help them overcome gravity]. It’s written down, because some panic is likely to trickle through to the pilot’s amygdala in that situation [Right Stuff notwithstanding], causing Highly Inconvenient memory loss for “What’s the first thing to do? And the second?” The Naval aviator euphemism for that is “Having a bad day.”

So, assuming you’re not in charge of a disabled aircraft–but still, not everything’s going your way–if you can get yourself to face the bad news real time [not just after the fact], your trusty hippocampus will be able to help you through it: by remembering previously learned recovery protocols, or devising a new one on the spot.

When I faced the fact that my footing was gone for good on the black ice, and I had entered the slo-mo phase of my debacle, I remembered my acting school class [which Chevy Chase must have aced] in safe-but-convincing-stage-falls: “twist to the side, knee, hip, extend arm to protect head, boom.” That’s just how it went down, on the day.

As they say about airplane flights, “Any one you can walk away from, was a good one.”

More of this next time. Meanwhile, this is West Coast Penny, visiting the East Coast for the holidays. Can you tell whether she’s looking away, or facing you, head-on?

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Filed under Epictetus said..., limbic system

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