Fun facts for the day: Barracudas swim up to 36 mph, weigh up to 100 pounds, have incredible vision, and use their face full of sharp chompers to consume hundreds, nay, thousands of unsuspecting, sparkly fishies. These fierce predators hunt along the coastline, in tropical waters, where chubby, glittery, vampire-skinned tourists swim lazily along.
Did I just put a huge brake on your Polynesian vacay fantasizing?
Not to worry, my friend, your literal chances of being eaten by a barracuda are….wait for it…. none. Yes, yes, I know, you were scarred by Nemo’s mom being eaten by a barracuda, but according to the world-wide interwebs, Nemo’s dad just quickly shifted genders and became DadMom. So no worries.
Yes, I know, barracudas have those terrifying sets of endless teeth. Yep, they’ve evolved over 500 million years. Yep, Nancy Wilson of the rock band Heart compared ruthless record producers to this ugly fish. Just that predatory!
Truly, truly, dear one, if your nervous system is getting kicked up right now what with all the countless scary things out there in the world, including (insert drumbeat from mega rock hit Barracuda right here) predatory fish, I’m here to remind you, it’s just bath water.
Guess what else is badass, minus the endless teeth? The human brain and nervous system.
Guess what can crunch to oblivion any sparkly hope, blossoming resilience, and fragile self-compassion? Also your nervous system. Let me explain.
Our automatic survival brain; the ancient animal brain, is designed for survival. That is it’s sole function. It was not designed for the constant tech input and stress of living with 7 billion other humans. So, on high alert most of the time, these interconnected neural pathways cause overwhelm, triggering depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, constant irritation, feelings of “stuck-ness” and a host of chronic health conditions. What I didn’t realize, and maybe you either, is that we are reacting from our survival autonomic response most of the time, it drives our decisions, keeping us in patterned thinking. Causes us to second guess our creative impulses, make excuses, or get judgey and irritated. Or buy that cute outfit in three colors.
To this ancient part of our nervous system, patterns are survival, better to know the demon in the room, than wonder about possibilities outside. This drives our needs/addictive patterns, because even though we know that clinging to pleasure and avoiding pain isn’t sustainable, our nervous system clings to patterns. That is all it knows. Just a blind system.
Disclaimer, I am not a brain doctor, but I have played one on TV. JK! I do, however, have carried a pretty destructive pattern of beliefs, addictions, and mental suffering stretching way back, oh, about a half a century. Also, a pretty recent vow to fall deeply, madly in love with my blind barracuda mind.
How about you?
I wish we were in a coffee shop right now, you and I, so I could send you a little wave of positive ju-ju, a little compassionate care from my eyes to yours, feeling the interconnection of all our broken, bent, and bothered hearts. So, may these words find their way to softly blanket your gentle soul. Did you just breathe deep? I did.
Back to the Blind Barracuda. Mine’s name is Bernice, by the way.
The Buddha had a name for his predator mind too- he called this demon Mara, the Destroyer. Buddha wrote, to our dismay, that Mara was ever present— particularly the self-doubt demon face, to the end of his illustrious life. Mara is the personification of everything that prevents enlightenment. All the causes of suffering. The root of this Sanskrit word means to cause death, wielding the weapons of lust, doubt, rage, and fear. As if one demon dude wasn’t bad enough, Mara had five barracuda-ish daughters with names like: Aversion, Avarice, Delusion, Pride/Ego, and Fear. What a lovely bunch.
Mara might have joined the Hindu narratives centuries ago, but still sticks around. At EuroDisney, on the Indiana Jones ride, Mara attempts to kill all those that look into his eyes. To look into his eyes is to believe his lying words and be destroyed. But what happens when we engage and focus, with calm, so Mara will look at us? We say, as Buddha did, “I see you, Mara. Swim away.”
I wondered what a blind barracuda would be like, in its most likely very short life. Reactive, maybe? Angry? Enraged? Blaming everyone and everything including itself?
Leaping to conclusions, assuming the worst, catastrophizing at every turn, grasping at addictive paths on an endless hunger for soothing. And, metaphorically speaking, chomping on anything in its path; even innocent, chubby tourists. That is anyone in the barracuda mind path: Loved ones, partners, parents, children, school teachers, customer service reps, the guy that swerved into this lane.
What sounds like logic in our own heads is really dressed up fight/flight/freeze/fawn response. Couple that with memory and our stuffed down emotional shit, our unhealed trauma, and we have what drives our behavior and thinking 90% of our waking hours. Or maybe 99%. We feel stressed out. Need to lay on the couch and binge watch anything. Or maybe joke about breakfast wine. Heart or comment on a meme, pretending that might heal something. Acting on a need to complain on that neighborhood app about dog shit. Again. Getting riled up about what might happen. We all have tendencies toward addictive patterns, even healthy things, right? Anything I attach the word or feeling, “need” to, is probably Mara/Blind Barracuda Bernice mind.
So, I see you. I see you.
True rest from all this chaotic and destructive energy is breathing with focused intention, sleeping deeply. Breathing, with focus, Walking in nature. Eating healthy food and water mindfully. Snuggling with loved ones. Moving; maybe yoga, qi gong, swimming, dancing, running. Sounds simple, but takes effort.
I learned, to my dismay, that just buying an app doesn’t mean I am really healing.
Bummer. What I truly require, is not only to identify my patterns of suffering, I want to see their purpose, intention, and give gratitude. This is my mind, my patterns, and only I can do this deep work. You know, the work that isn’t in an app or on a screen.
So I practice, breath by breath. Step by step. Getting support as I go. And if all that lovely healthy stuff gets interrupted by another swarm of blind barracudas— hello, Monday—then what?
Do as the Buddha did. He didn’t say it was easy, he said we begin again, and we begin again, and again.
So there is hope! Buddha, and me too– you too! We can be experts on facing our destructive, blind patterns. We can all look with curiosity and compassion and said, “I see you, Mara.” Turns out, identifying forces of destruction in our nervous system without calling up a narrative is powerful.
Not only that, but it is the first step to love. Yes, I said it, we all need love, even our blind barracuda mind. When I learned that these patterns aren’t me, just automatic ancient but blind response systems, then I began to wonder about my own inner essence; my true self, beyond my patterns– the part that can say, with curiosity and calm, “I see you, Mara.”
Then with breathing, really feeling the breath, getting in touch with my body experience, I experience healing. I build resilience, focus, calm, breath by breath.
No phone app needed, just the mind, resting on the breath, on the feelings in our limbs and in our hearts.
Then, identifying what lies beneath; that desire we share, to live, to thrive, to feel, to love; all this embodies healing, opens our eyes, peels away the teeth and scales and we see our true natures. We see that we are loveable, that we can love, even the icky stuff. We can look up, look around with gratitude and friendliness. Then, we know: the barracuda is just a fish, and the terrifying sea; just bath water, and we are all together, swimming, swimming, making our way home.