I find the denial of human impact on climate change to be an interesting example at how we recognize and respond to threat as a humans.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we have selected for traits that allow for immediate survival: quickly perceiving the whites of enemies' eyes and teeth, toxic or rancid smells, or running from tigers. We developed the ability to quickly change our physiology to survive and/or pass on our genes. All in the name of getting out of dodge in the short-term...
However, in this evolutionarily new industrialized and globalized world in which most of us are not threatened physically, we are mired in an illusion in which we still behave as if our immediate life is in danger from innocuous threats. The mind has been re-appropriated to engage defensive behavior about rather inconsequential dangers and ignoring the scary thing down the road.
Slow threats are some of the worst for our population to deal with. Pollution and global warming, debt, poor nutrition, and chronic pain are all examples of our evolutionary preoccupation with mental stressors right in front our face.
We are literally embodying the frog in the boiling water — throw it into boiling water and it will jump out. Turn the heat up slowly and the frog will die — the threat is too slow.
Our brains get hijacked and biased toward the immediate problem when under stress.
So if you are enacting a stress response because you can't keep up with laundry, or your taxes, or your commute to work — all stressors my clients routinely list and all of which are completely man-made — how could you possibly be concerned about a slow, intangible warming of the planet? (Though it is quite tangible if you look for it and are actually out in nature).
If I am bounding from one daily stressor to the next, how could I possibly care about the environment, or nutrition, or your body on a deep level? Probably just easier to ignore it until it, too, becomes a daily stressor.
So in order to build an awareness for future threats that will eventually become quite immediate, such as global warming*, we have to completely reframe our perception of the current moment.
1) We must eradicate, or at least reduce, the daily stress - almost all of which is constructed by humans and unique to humans. And most are just straight-up silly when you really think about it.
A few questions I have to keep asking myself and my clients when I feel the daily stress creep in:
Is it real? Am I actually in danger?
2) Connect with your body. What does stress feel like in your body? Does it hurt - and if so where? If you move a different way does it change? How secure do you feel in this moment in your body?
Take 3 slow breaths feeling them fully. Is it still stressful?
3) Understand the connections. Everything matters and if we can start to feel that on a physical level we will start making better choices.
Because it is only when we live in the present moment without stress can we pay attention to the things that really matter, like protecting this planet.
* For more on stress and the nervous system check out these articles: