Fight or Flight

Have you ever been overwhelmed with life, particularly when life confronts you with two seemingly impossible choices?

Every decision, every choice, brings loss.  When we decide on one thing, it means we give up something else.  But usually the good in what we choose outweighs the bad of what we don’t choose.  Those choices require us to thoughtfully think through the options, but they are fairly easy to make.

But what about when the loss in both choices feels overwhelming, when the good in one choice doesn’t necessarily outweigh the bad in the other choice, when both choices bring deep loss.  What then?

The Bhagavad Gita poignantly describes just such a scenario in its opening chapter.

Prince Arjuna is on the battlefield, preparing to go to war against both family and friends.  The war is just —  it is to defend his older brother’s rightful claim to the ancient throne of the Kurus —  but when Prince Arjuna finds himself between these two armies, he falls into deep despair:

O Krishna, I see my own relations here anxious to fight and my limbs grow weak… I am unable to stand; my mind seems to be whirling… Overwhelmed by sorrow, Arjuna spoke these words. And casting away his bow and his arrows, he sat down in his chariot in the middle of the battlefield.

Faced with what feels like two unbearable choices, Arjuna collapses in despair in the middle of the two armies, unable to move. And it is only with the help of Sri Krishna, Arjuna’s very special chariot driver, that Arjuna moves from despair to understanding and action.

An ancient story perhaps but one that resonates with me, particularly at this time in my life. I understand Arjuna’s despair, his inability to choose and subsequent collapse, because I too have been standing between two armies — two very painful choices — for over two years now.

Yes, over two years!  Both choices felt unbearable to me, so I simply collapsed on the battlefield. No Sri Krishna to help me or so I thought…

Sri Krishna represents that inner voice of guidance that we all have but aren’t always able to follow.  Our inner conflicts, our attachments, our need to feel secure in our decisions (i.e, this will turn out like I need it to turn out, right?) all keep us at times from following our inner guidance.  And if we do collapse on the battlefield and don’t have Sri Krishna to help us, how to free ourselves?

1. Listen

Start with listening deeply to yourself and to the events and voices around you.  Not the voices that tell you what to do but the voices that speak eternal wisdom.

I’ll share a recent example with you that inspired this blog post and gave me the strength to make this major life decision that has kept my paralyzed for two years.

When I was leaving for my yoga teacher training class yesterday, I decided to take one of my unlined sketch pads. I like writing on unlined paper and had forgotten about having this small sketch pad. I took it on a “hunch”, not knowing that I would find a journal entry written August 18, 2008.

That journal entry set the tone for the day and enabled me to hear the messages that were sent my way as the day progressed.  I wrote another journal entry yesterday in response to the earlier one and it was all about this inner struggle, how I feel like I’m fighting for air and yet also feel like I’m getting ready to fly.  I also spoke of the fear of making this decision and how I felt trapped between the two decisions.

** Note the themes:Fight, flight, feeling trapped and immobilized. **

Now fast forward a few hours and I’m sitting in my yoga class.  And what does my yoga teacher, Yael Ziv, begin to talk about?  About Arjuna collapsing between the two armies and having a major panic attack!  My ears perked up, as I painfully realized and acknowledged that I’ve been trapped in a prolonged panic attack!

2. Be honest and compassionate with yourself

Seriously, it wasn’t pleasant to admit that I had literally been in a panic attack for over two years, that I had been unable to make a critical life decision.  It’s one thing to read of Arjuna collapsing between the two armies; it’s another to admit that you yourself have been in a prolonged state of collapse!  But without that honest admission, I doubt I would have been able to hear the other messages sent my way.

Like when I got home last night, I saw that I had a message from Havilah, a dear friend and fellow yogini. Here’s what she wrote:

When I was waking up this morning, I had an interesting visual of a blog post. It was like it was yours and it was called “Fight or Flight” – and the idea was you were writing about the decision between staying and fighting for what you have, or leaving.

**  Again similar themes of fight, flight, and making a decision. **

3. Accept your limitations

Fight or flight — it always seemed to me that fight was the only real option, that flight was running away from something. But I now understood that sometimes flight can be the most noble thing a person can do — accepting limitations rather than continuing to fight — when clearly you are being directed otherwise.

4. Fight and Flight

I was still struggling with my decision, still collapsed between the two armies, but I was listening intently.  And I woke during the night with the image of a hang glider and this thought: not “flight” as in tuck your tail and run but “flight” as in FLY, being carried on the wings of the wind . Letting go to something bigger and trusting the wind to carry me!

I now see that the path requires both Fight (effort and movement) and Flight (being carried on the wings of our inner wisdom). And once we learn to trust that inner wisdom and guidance, we can move with grace and dignity through the battle fields of our lives.

It took every message sent my way yesterday for me to understand all the different aspects of my dilemma and to move forward out of the panic attack and into the flow of life again.

But it all began with listening, really listening, to the voices both within and without.

Are you listening?  Am I listening? Have we collapsed in the battlefield or are we bravely and humbly following our inner guidance?

6 thoughts on “Fight or Flight”

  1. Somehow you managed to capture this experience into words so poignantly. Talk about a gift.

    There’s a song by Edie Brickell with one of my favorite lines —

    The song is called “What Would You Do”, and the line says:

    “What would you do, if you were me, when it’s suicide to stay, and murder to leave.”

    In that one simple line, she took what can is a huge complex life experience and simplified it into total clarity. That’s how I felt when I read your post.

    You can hear the song here:

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I can relate to the feelings you are having and have often used the term “fight or flight” to myself. I never thought of flight as anything BUT being carried by God during that part of the path. I feel I am still in flight right now for the most part. I can relate to the feelings of Arjuna in a way. I felt I had been fighting against the one I loved for the last three years and he had been fighting against me, and ultimately against himself. At the time it became “fight or flight”, the fight for me was over. I was not willing anymore to try and attempt to being him closer to me. I would like to email you the poem I wrote for Creative Writing class. I think you may understand a little of what I am talking about. Great post. I can relate. I am glad you’ve seen clearly and moved forward out of the panic attack! Now you can see the light and I am sure the road you are on feels right for you.

  3. Karli, please send me the poem you wrote. I would love to read it!

    There are times in life where we reach a cross road with outside relationships, but we also come to cross roads with ourselves. If we’ve lived out of harmony with our inner gut wisdom and intuition, we create lives that don’t resonate as “true.” And at some point we must come to terms with what is real and what isn’t.

    Whether inner or outer, this place challenges us to rise above our fears and insecurities and trust something BIGGER than ourselves to guide and support us. That’s the FLIGHT part.

    Seems we are both flying now 🙂

  4. Kel your blog made me cry as i am sitting at work reading it… what a journey you have been on. And, as always, it amazes me how you and Karli are so much alike. Very well written — I could literally visualize the scene as I was reading. Thank you

  5. Even though you’ve shared some of your journey with me, the reality of the pain you have suffered through in making this decision did not fully come to light until I read this. Very well written, as only you could accomplish, and so thankful you are flying now.

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