Fight, Flight, Freeze or Grow? David Whyte on Run!

I like the work of the British poet David Whyte, especially his book The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul at Work. Here is another piece on a key issue in conflict: when to run away:

RUN AWAY

is what most human beings would like to do a great deal of the time. It is the flight part of the fight or flight deeply in our bodies and our past, it is our protection, an evolutionary momentum and a biological memory deep in the human body that allowed our ancestors to survive to another day and bequeath to us, generations later, this day.

To want to run away is an essence of being human, it transforms any staying through the transfigurations of choice. To think about fleeing from circumstances, from a marriage, a relationship or from a work is part of the conversation itself and helps us understand the true distilled nature of our own reluctance. Strangely, we are perhaps most fully incarnated as humans, when part of us does not want to be here, or doesn’t know how to be here. Presence is only fully understood and realized through fully understanding our reluctance to show up. To understand the part of us that wants nothing to do with the full necessities of work, of relationship of doing what is necessary, is to learn humility, to cultivate self-compassion and to sharpen that sense of humor essential to a merciful perspective of both a self and another.

Wanting to run is necessary; actual running can save our lives at crucial times, but it can also be extremely dangerous and unwise, especially in the presence of animals that are bigger faster and more agile than we are; especially when the very act of running triggers an aggressive predatory response, or when running exiles us from the very circumstances that were about to mature and cultivate our character. In the wild, the best response to dangerous circumstances is often not to run but to assume a profoundly attentive identity, to pay attention to what seems to threaten and in that attention, not to assume the identity of the victim.

We decide not to run not only because there are many who would be left behind who cannot run as fast as we can, but also because in turning to the source of the fear we have the possibility of finding a different way forward, a larger good, through circumstances, rather than away from them in some supposedly safe area where threats no longer occur. We know intuitively that most of the time, we should not run, we should stay and look for a different way forward, despite the evolutionary necessity. Rarely is it good to run, but we are wiser, more present, more mature, more understanding when, we realize we can never flee from the need to run away.

©2015 David Whyte
‘RUN AWAY’ From CONSOLATIONS:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

MANY RIVERS PRESS
http://www.davidwhyte.com/consolations.html

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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