Beyond the campfire

Beyond the campfireThere is a boundary within which we feel safe and which beyond lurk the threats to our sense of security. Like a dog with an invisible fence, we are notified of this boundary by our emotions such as anxiety, fear and perhaps anger, but also feelings of excitement, interest and curiosity. The “comfort zone” varies tremendously from person to person. Some individuals feel comfortable wandering or even leaving the globe engaging in activities that would make the faint-hearted shudder. Others find it threatening to leave their bedroom — panic-bound with almost every move they make. How we manage this boundary is a crucial determinant of our lives.

This boundary is like the space between the warmth and safety of the campfire and the menacing dangers beyond its glow. We may prefer to cling closely to the intoxicating comfort and security the fire provides, but this draws the boundary even closer. If we never leave the campfire, we may find a life crowded with anxiety. Fear is a hardwired emotion that is activated to help us escape threat. We may find it extremely difficult to leave what feels secure when we feel afraid.  But fear will not just go away if we try to wait it out, there is no way for it to be permanently exiled — threat, danger and risk will always be “out there” somewhere.  The question is how close is the boundary? We can minimize fear’s influence over us, but this only happens “beyond the campfire.” We must be willing to leave the place where we feel safe in order to expand the territory where we will feel safe. To “move beyond” requires motivation, and to find this we will need to switch emotional states.

Wolf-Eyes04Anger is one possible option. Like fear, anger is a hardwired emotion, however unlike fear, which motivates us to escape threat, anger activates us to engage threat. It is also elicited when we feel our freedom has become too restrained, when we feel our safety zone has become claustrophobic or endangered. Even a rabbit will fight a predator when backed into a corner.  Anger motivates us to move out of safety and into risk. Anger enables us to drive the lurking danger farther away from the campfire.

There are also positive reasons to move beyond the campfire and into the riskiness of the boundary. Safety and security may be desirable, but there are some pleasurable feelings that cannot be found near the campfire. Many forms of entertainment involve some element of risk. Increased feelings of aliveness, novelty and excitement often arise only when the stakes are raised.

Leaving our comfort zone feels risky but pushing into the unknown is the only way to stretch our boundary and expand the territory where we can freely roam. It may also be the only way to connect to the full complement of human emotions and feel truly alive.


John R. Lucy, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice at Decatur Psychology, LLC.

Horse and Rider

Most of us would like our feelings to line up with our will. We want to “feel” like doing, what we “think” we want; short of that, we want more willpower to overcome the strong pull feeling exerts away from our goals. Experiencing inner wrangling and a lack of control over ourselves, we regularly see ourselves succumb to instant gratification — sabotaging our long-term intentions. This daily internal struggle blocks our efforts to direct our behavior in constructive ways. Our perceived “failures” can lead to a negative self-regard and a sense that we are powerless to change.

Internal strife suggests that we are not of one mind. We know this to be true, yet our inner executive resists the idea that his or her influence is not absolute. A true examination of our experience suggests that we are informed by many influences within us, which may or may not be moving in the same direction. They seem to glide in and out of the executive’s chair, and we often sense a fight in the board room as they scuffle for takeover. The mind is complicated, as is the brain, and whatever relationship these two have to one another, both have many components. To keep it simple, we have conscious aspects and subconscious aspects of mind. Our consciousness has the will, but our subconsciousness possesses the power.

Horse in ControlI think the metaphor of a horse and rider aptly symbolizes the subconscious and conscious mind. The rider has the will, but the horse provides the power. When a horse and rider are in sync with one another, they can accomplish amazing tasks. BuckingBroncoWhen not in sync, it gets ugly fast. What they are capable of achieving depends entirely upon the relationship that is forged between the two. This is a lifelong relationship, but the horse has the jump start.

The horse’s training begins immediately, but it is not the rider who early on wields the reins. The rider is slow to develop and is initially just along for the ride like a child on a pony ride. Training and support is dependent upon external sources, such as parents and other guardians. The horse has had significant training by the time it is even possible for the rider to exert any influence. Each horse and rider are unique: Some are bold, and some are timid; some have constructive training, and some do not. Along the way, they encounter circumstances that will interact with their training. The combinations are infinite and will shape their path through the terrain of life.

Yet, training and relationship building are ongoing — horses and riders can change. Improved relationships can be forged. We all need to become better horse whisperers, especially when there has been trauma or difficult circumstances. Our horse does not forget and will remember events unknown to its rider. Experiences can trigger a fight, flight or freeze reaction which the rider may not understand. Horses are powerful and cannot be forced. They need patience and compassion to build the trust and consistency, which will make them more responsive to their rider’s will.

It’s a lot like nuts and bolts – if the rider’s nuts, the horse bolts!  — Nicholas Evans


John R. Lucy, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice at Decatur Psychology, LLC.