Do you remember freeze tag, or the cooler version, freeze dance? It was a staple in our repertoire of games growing up! I can still feel the sensation of trying to hold my body completely still, willing myself to stay in whatever position I was in when the word "freeze" was announced, hoping against hope that I wouldn't slip up and make any motion whatsoever. The stakes were high; you were "out" if you were caught moving in even the tiniest way. Most of you have heard of "fight or flight."
It's how our ancient brains are programmed to respond to a threat such as an attack by a tiger.
Freeze is the third automatic response to overwhelming danger, whether real or perceived.
The brain turns on the freeze response when fighting or fleeing seem impossible.
Effective self-preservation is one of the positive consequences of the freeze response. In the natural world, animals sometimes play dead so brilliantly that their predators give up and leave before the animal playing dead pops back up and runs off free. A phenomenon often occurs during a bull fight when the bull retreats into a spot in the ring, and "freezes". This place of refuge is called the querencia, and is considered a place of stillness and safety where the bull goes to draw strength. But freezing can also be a way of avoiding or dreading something, and then, our bodies stiffen and our minds become numb, detached or disassociated.
Freeze can be paralyzing or a saving grace.
We have all experienced moments in our lives when our fear, exhaustion, overwhelm, shock or disappointment gets the better of us and we find ourselves unable to keep going, resorting to some sort of a freeze response. How do we thaw? We can look again at our animal friends. After a gazelle freezes in response to a lion attack and the lion wanders off, something magical happens. Once the threat is gone, the brake gradually eases off and the gazelle begins to shake and shudder. All the adrenaline and cortisol that had built up, resulting in the freeze response, get purged and the gazelle returns to herself. For me, the song Jump by the Pointer Sisters had a "thawing" effect on me. If I was frozen in my own self-doubt or self-pity and heard that song on the radio, I would automatically jump up and dance with abandon until I returned to myself. The poet Rumi must have whispered in my ear his famous words "dance until you shatter yourself." Taylor Swift sings about how when she is barraged with negative comments from all sides, she needs to "shake it off, shake it off" so that she can unfreeze herself and move on. Engaging the body is the surest way of breaking out of the freeze cycle. The best thing to do is to pat your legs, stomp your feet, wave your arms, laugh if you can. Walk, run, do yoga, surf. Movement sends a message to the brain that you are safe. Joe Biden shook himself out of the freeze response when he jogged, instead of walked, out to the podium to give his acceptance speech last week. I could feel him breaking out of the stuck position he had been in all week, finally able to reclaim his power. Many of us have felt frozen these last months- worried, fearful, anxious, angry. Remember the bull is his strongest, most powerful self when he emerges from his querencia. In her poem Shake with Joy, Mary Oliver writes:
We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have these two housed as they are in the same body.
We freeze from fear, from sadness, from loss. And then we thaw and experience joy and rebirth. It's time to thaw out, to jump, jog, shake it off. We need you to get back to you. Be your most powerful, effective, loving and strong self. You've played dead long enough. The predator is gone. Shake, shudder and run gracefully into your life. Because, as Joseph Campbell says "the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." Be her. With love and light,