We’re driving home from the school bus.
My son is eleven.
Suddenly, a grisly, hairy, huntsman spider dashes onto the dash.
They do that, spiders. Dash. Out of nowhere. Suddenly.
Son, who has a serious spider phobia, squeals, shrieks and squirms.
“Oh for heavens sake” I mutter, calm cool mum. “It’s only a spider”.
There's lots of them around here, it’s bushland. Of an evening they spread their hand-sized bodies on window or wall, fleuro green night-eyes glowing like sci-fi jewels.
Here we are, the car and the wriggling, squealing son.
The nonchalant mother.
As far as huntsmen go, it was quite a small one. I wasn’t too concerned.
All of a sudden the spider sprints over to my end of the dash.
It races down the upholstery towards the steering wheel ... crikey, soon its furry crawly body will be all over my hands!
I slam on the brakes, thud to a stop, jump out the door screaming “abandon ship!”
To this day, my grown son calls the story (amid his hilarity), ‘abandon ship’.
The story is a good example of the “flight” side of the autonomic nervous system. Flight to escape.
Flight as opposed to ‘fight’.
(Fight, for goodness sake, who’s about to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a ginormous spider!)
'Fight or Flight' go hand-in-hand in discussions of the stress response.
"Flight" in this instance was automatic, instantaneous. And appropriate. I didn’t have to think too much about it; it just happened.
But ‘flight’ is not always appropriate.
Thing is, in our post-stone age world, the knee-jerk 'flight' aspect of the nervous system is often ... err, stone age. Great for escaping spiders … but look how it carries over to humdrum situations, reaching into our body and keeping our system on high alert.
Less appropriate flight is when we're:
Flight is when we flit into a doorway to avoid the difficult person approaching down the street. It’s in action when kids gaze out the window to escape a boring school lesson.
It's when we can't concentrate.
It's physically compelling. Flight is not abstract. It reaches deep into our body, sparking electric sensations, confusion, restlessness.
Flight is escape. It’s the desperate, undeniable need to run away, abandon ship. Flee the spider. Leave the premises, whether that premises is an external place or somewhere in our heart and feelings.
LEARN TO NOTICE FLIGHT
We can learn to recognise the sensations of flight.
Start to notice how it feels in the body. How it trips the mind. Just noticing, as it's happening, gives you the power to intervene. To chose your response rather than be dumped in it.