oilrig fire

How fear paralyses and how it doesn't

I recently watched the film Deepwater Horizon. What I saw was a brilliant teaching about how the human mind deals with fear. 

For me the film was not about the mistakes that could have been avoided, but about how so many people survived a tragedy because their normal thinking got out of the way and the very best of themselves came out in a very dangerous situation.  

In the film, I saw some people paralysed or blinded by fear (understandably) and some manage to keep a clear head and see what needed to be done to save lives. What was the difference? 

The context was the same. The danger was the same for everyone, fire, flying debris, danger everywhere. All probably experienced fear. Some experienced it, paid attention to it and were paralyzed by it, others experienced it, paid attention to it, and acted. Fear is not a paralyzing emotion, fear is an alert, an alarm call, a call to action.  It’s our relationship to the fear that can be the problem.  

When you see fear for what it is, that alarm call, that call to action then you have a different relationship to it. You can see more clearly and are more likely to act accordingly. In the Deepwater Horizon event that action saved many lives. 

A calm clear mind can be contagious. When a person with a calm clear mind came across someone paralysed by fear, they are able to help them in the moment. They stayed calm which enabled the other person to access their calm state.  

Wisdom shows up differently. 3 times the main character faced people who were paralysed by fear. And 3 times his calm clear mind enabled wisdom to surface in a way that helped the other person. Each time the wisdom, ie the action taken, was different. 

Scenario one: he looked straight into the person’s eyes and spoke in a way that calmed him down. Scenario two: he distracted one person’s attention so that others could free his leg which was stuck. Scenario three: he asked a very odd question for the context. The question confused and distracted her mind. He then threw her off the rig into the sea, saving her life. Wisdom showed up from a calm clear mind. 

Wisdom isn’t worried or concerned for self. It shows up in the best interest of humanity. One man could see the burning crane about to crash down onto a large group of people. Without a second thought, he climbed up to the control booth and moved the crane. He faced certain death and saved the lives of many people.  

Levels of consciousness shifted and changed. The way I look at it, consciousness relates to how clearly we see our own thinking in the moment, this changes the effect of the thinking. As the level of consciousness shifted and changed for one individual the response to it changed. As the disaster unfolded one woman kept her head, she kept the rig in the right place. She made the Mayday call when no one else did. Later her level of consciousness dropped and she became paralysed by the fear. Her relationship with the fear had changed and as a result her perspective shrunk. She was no longer able to see with clarity or act.  

In the film, there are examples of people whose attention to the fear clouded their judgement. When we get into the fearful thinking and it feels like it has taken hold of us, we can’t see clearly, our perspective shrinks, we can’t act or we make bad decisions.

Fear is not the problem. Fear is a natural reaction to a dangerous situation. Fear is an alarm call, a wake up call, an alert, a call to action, a call to pay attention to something. When we see it for what it is, then we can see clearly, we have perspective, wisdom can surface. 

Fear can feel the same, whether it’s a life threatening disaster, or normal day to day activities. Misunderstanding the feeling, that’s the real problem.  

Every day there are examples of people who feel fear. Some unwittingly get paralysed by it, others experience the fear, but still act. People fear speaking in front of a group, meeting with a difficult person, making a report that contains bad news, making a sales call, dealing with a performance issue, going for a new job, handing in their notice. 

I remember the first time I spoke in front of a large group of people. I thought the fear had engulfed me. Sweat ran into my eyes and my hands shook. Both contrived to stop be being able to read my notes. Yet somehow I got through it.

My 18 year old niece did a bungee jump. I watched the video. The fear was palpable. I could see it on her face, her whole body shook. What she was about to do was very dangerous. She jumped despite all of this. Some jump, others are taken over by the fear and change their minds (sensibly I might think!) 

Fear is a natural and human thing to experience. It is not something to fear in and of itself. If you see it as your inbuilt alarm call, you are more likely to pay attention to what the fear is warning you about, and not get gripped by the fear itself.  


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