I have a confession to make. I am super afraid of rattlesnakes. Living in Southern California, it makes sense. They’re everywhere around here. But I’m also afraid of scary looking spiders, fire, the IRS, nuclear war, global warming, the boogeyman. Ok, I’m kidding about the boogeyman. Kind of.   

But let’s focus on the rattlesnakes for a moment. In her latest book, Diana, Herself, Dr. Martha Beck uses a rattlesnake as a symbol for fear which, as fate would have it, really works for me. In fact, “Rattlesnake brain” has become my new favorite way to refer to the amygdala, that reptilian part of our brain responsible for detecting and responding to threats. 

Stop for a moment, and imagine that you have, deep in your brain, a tiny rattlesnake, one whose sole purpose is to alert you to potential danger. (Don’t freak out, it’s just a metaphorical snake, I promise.)

Now, imagine that when the snake in your brain is asleep, everything is hunky-dory. No fear. 

However, when your snake wakes up and starts shaking its rattle, it’s alerting you that there is something to pay attention to. 

It’s important to know that the snake is not bad. It is actually very, very, very helpful. It’s what keeps us from walking down a dark alley late at night, or helps us to swerve to avoid a car suddenly veering into our lane. When our snake wakes up to a very real and present threat, it enables us to respond appropriately. However, sometimes, in it’s attempt to keep us safe, it also rattles at perceived threats. 

It’s an important distinction, the difference between real and perceived threats. Real threats present immediate danger in the physical world. Perceived threats represent imagined danger in the world of our minds

In this way, it’s important to understand that the snake can be misguided. As humans, we have wonderfully powerful imaginations, which enable us to envision all sorts of exciting, and sometimes terrifying, scenarios. And this is where the potential for trouble comes in. 

Your Rattlesnake brain, left to its own devices, can keep you from taking action that you REALLY want to take. For example, the time you didn’t go for that job you really wanted because you were afraid you wouldn’t get it, or when you didn’t sign up for that dance class because you were afraid you’d look silly. 

Luckily, your brain is also highly intelligent and capable of discerning real threats from perceived ones, once you know what you’re looking for. 

To distinguish the real threat from the perceived threat, ask yourself “What do I really want?” If what you want aligns with what your snake is saying, then it’s a real threat. Go with the snake on this one. 

However, if the snake is pulling you in the opposite direction from what you want, it’s a perceived threat. In that case, your very next step is to apply SILK.  

SILK stands for Stillness, Integrity, and Loving Kindness. It’s a 3-step technique for calming any snake-y fears. These steps were taught to me by Martha Beck (I can’t take credit for the process, but I am pleased and honored to pass it along to you.)  The steps of SILK have to be followed in this order.

1) Stillness: 

  • Leave your snake (your fear) where it is. Don’t try to change or remove it, just allow it. 

  • Notice the symptoms of fear – where is it showing up in your body?

  • Watch the snake calmly, but don’t do anything. Just allow it to be afraid. Notice how it behaves. 

  • In your mind, begin to calm the fear by singing something soothing to it. (Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years is my personal fave, but go with what works for you.) 

2) Integrity:

  • Here, integrity simply means being in the present moment, and accepting that the only honest thing is what is happening RIGHT NOW. 

  • Notice that there is NOTHING in this exact moment to be afraid of. 

  • Only THIS moment is real (the rest is future or past, which are projections of the mind). 

  • You can also say to yourself “The things I’m afraid of cannot hurt me, right in this moment.”

3) Loving Kindness:

  • Give yourself loving kindness by repeating one of the following loving kindness meditations. Keep repeating it over and over until you feel calm.

  • “May you be well. May you be safe. May you live in joy and peace.” or

  • “Be well, my dear one. Be safe, my love. Live in joy and peace, sweet friend.”

That’s it, the simple process to free yourself from fear. Once you’re free from fear, you’re free to decide what you want to do next. 

Invitation: Try calming your snake using the SILK method several times per day. Let me know how it goes.