Orienting: Know News Is Good News


Love In The Time of Corona - Orienting: Know News Is Good News by Shannon O'Neill

“Love In The Time Of Corona” is written to orient people to the wisdom of nature, so that we can adapt to a World that is rapidly changing. It’s important to remember in these uncertain times of social distancing, COVID-19, and anxiety, that we are Nature too. If we can reconnect to our evolutionary memory and observe our animal relations, we have all we need to survive.

As a trauma therapist for 25 years, I have had the honor and privilege of helping people navigate through remarkable threat and loss. What has often brought them solace has been to see the natural world and the stunning genius of how animals live and love in incredible peril.

For animal’s, every day is life or death, yet they are not rendered inept to handle this reality.

Even though our mammalian relatives also experience anxiety, they know how to use this state as a tool for survival. Evolution has favored the anxious. Our earliest progenitors were twitchy rodents. From them, we inherited the old mammalian brain, otherwise known as the limbic system.

However, being a sort of “newer model,” we have a neo cortex known as the new mammalian brain. This is the part of the human brain that can work for or against our adaptation to acute stress. Either it can be utilized to shift into a more downregulated, “at ease” state or it can be used to whip ourselves up into a frenzy.

It is all a matter of on what we put our mental focus and where we turn to orient. Mammals are designed to “watch what is new,” in order to continually update to adapt to the current situation. They do this with each other by synching limbic systems-all eyes on-affording them the ability to stay in their bodies, their bonds with each other, and in the now. They are vigilant, yet also calm and alert. The field-tested evolutionary know-how of vigilance lies in that an activated amygdala leads to the visual and association cortexes lighting up. In lay terms, pattern recognition is turned on and played like a movie in our brain. This ability can afford us the capacity to connect the dots and avoid further exposure to threat or respond when it is present. Where this can backfire for humans is that our social structures isolates us from each other. Well before we were quarantined, we’ve been domesticated into disconnection from ourselves and each other. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes describes this as “instinct injury.”

The only animals that develop PTSD or Complex PTSD are domesticated animals and humans.

Acute stress events do not lead inevitably to trauma. It is the lack of support from other pack members that results in the development of PTSD. This support is Nature’s wisdom to orient to objective reality and to do that together.

Here is our crisis point and crossroads of opportunity as a species:

We are not orienting accurately to threat with our pack. Our primary method of employing the orienting response is to turn to media and news. This has become increasingly Op-Ed in both its media and medium. Unfortunately, these information distributors are rarely responsibly orienting us to a comprehensive data stream. Editorial liberties and opinions as facts is the new “reality.” Pure journalism, committed to bringing just the facts hardly even exists anymore. Although it is healthy to have feelings and care about morality, we are in dangerous territory to turn to the media or news to point us in the right direction. These days the talking heads expose us to extremes of either gas-lighting, hysteria, or both at once!

Downplayed and/or sensationalized information, results in the orienting response malfunctioning.

Without all eyes on the lookout, this ancient neurological system can backfire, causing hypervigilance: paranoia, “connect-the-dot-itis”, and hysteria or disorientation: medicating, numbing, and denial.

When, where, how, and to what you bring your mental focus is vital at this time. Know your news: Slow down and ask questions of the information and of yourself. Orienting is an open and curious state in tandem with others. It is “at ease” like a soldier that is relaxed and ready. This is knowing the news and finding safety in your inside and outside systems-your nervous system and the nervous systems of others that have earned your trust. This calm and alert state is a millions-of-years-old-field-tested tool to keep living and keep loving. Know News Is Good News.

Next In Series: All Alone: Collective and Personal Grief