"A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once." - Shakespeare
Dread has been the trigger of much of my suffering throughout my life. From a very young age, I would dread going to school, dread sports practices, and dread family gatherings. I would pretty much dread anything that was coming up in the next month.
I can't explain why I dreaded things so much. Most likely, it was due to some experiences I had in my very early formative years, which I do not recall. In any case, doing this year after year for several decades is a sure way to instill a habit.
Luckily for me, as I've undertaken this journey of personal growth, I've been working to disentangle this habit.
In my attempts to unravel decades of learned behavior, there is one thing I've come to know about dread which helps me return to the present moment; dread is almost always worse than the event being dreaded.
That is, the time leading up to the event, and all the anxiety and psychological discomfort that comes with it, is almost always worse, and longer-lasting, than the actual event.
While this may not be true in every single scenario, it certainly is true for most. Recognizing this pattern has been a strong motivator for me to work to escape the dread cycle.
One thing I especially dread is giving presentations. No matter how well prepared I am, or what I'm speaking about, I rarely look forward to giving a presentation. And it doesn't matter whether it's to an audience of 3 or 300. I've done both, and I've dreaded every single one of them.
Yet despite all the dread, something interesting always ends up happening. I walk away from the presentation with an uplifting feeling of energy and a newfound sense of aliveness. Call it relief. Call it accomplishment. Call it what you want. All I know is that I end up genuinely feeling good after giving presentations.
How interesting it is that my body kicks into dread mode - which for me is largely a fear response - only to perform something that makes me feel good in the end.
Clearly, my mind doesn't know what it's talking about, which is exactly why I've learned to pay less and less attention to it.
The same goes for dreading the loss of a loved one. In times like these, when fear is at an all-time high, anxiety is causing a lot more harm to our global population than the virus itself.
People are anticipating the death of family and friends - a very unsettling reality. I catch myself doing it too. However, it's important that we notice this pattern in ourselves. While we don't need to impose judgement, we have the right to return to the present moment without letting our fears guide our actions.
Dread is just another form of fear of the future that guides our actions in the present. It doesn't serve us. Looking back, it never served me. In fact, it was always unfounded, because everything I dreaded ended up working out for the best.
Now when I dread the future, while it's still very uncomfortable, I'm able to remind myself that the actual event will only last a fraction of the time I'll spend leading up to the event.
With the tools I have at my disposal and the responsibility to protect my inner environment, why would I make myself miserable in the meantime?
Live with substance!