Cowards Die Many Times Before Their Death….
GBSS students heard many of these sayings. In class we paid more attention to the discomfiture of the student to whom they were directed than to meanings and implications. Aging has taught us that there are always more deeper, more complex underpinnings, certainly to this one.
Thinking is one of the attributes of the human. But sometimes we become obsessed with thinking and it gets the better of us. We enter a mode of thinking almost exclusively on outcomes. Given the many possibilities of future outcomes, fear overcomes us, and fearful thinking becomes a habit. The human mind is self-protective and defensive. In dealing with actions and relationships, the mind, especially if under the control of the ego, sends a message (danger) to which the body responds with an emotion (fear), which then induces an action (defensive or protective). The underlying basis of the ego’s message is its ‘fear of death’. It seeks to protect itself by placing our minds and thinking in the comfort of past experiences, and in the hope of future anticipations. We are meant to control this mechanism, not to let it control us.
Shakespeare’s coward lives in fear, general or specific – fear of failure; fear of success (even that); fear of being hurt; fear of pain; fear of being dominated, etc.; and at each experience he ‘dies’ a little until…. Too much thinking makes it so. Golf provides the term “paralysis by analysis”. In my early University days, I sat in classes with an answer to a question, overthinking it (that may be wrong; I’ll look bad…), until someone else says the identical answer, and is correct. And each time I suffered a “little death”. I feared to be wrong sufficiently so at times as to remain silent and be safe. Now I tell young people that a good cover for fear is to preface statements with: “given the level of information available to me and my knowledge at this time, here is my answer”.
We cannot avoid thinking or the protective mechanism; these are part of our life system. But like everything else there is a time for reverting to the past and looking to the future. We can, however, try not to make living in the past or in anticipations of the future overcome or obsess our thinking by the practice of recognizing the message, the urge and the emotion (fear), and the location of the outcome (most probably in the future). Like top level athletes do, funnel thinking to what you need to do NOW, and focus on the situation of the moment. I have recognized in my early life unnecessary worry (obsessive thinking) about want, as well as realizations that there was always enough for then current purposes. As I grow older, I try to think more like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, to give priority to present moment situations.