Behind me I hear three young women. They are laughing, and I can hear that they do not feel joy. It is a mocking laugh, a superior laugh. A laugh of three young women who feel strong. Their pitch of voice is low, not like giggling girls, but more like us teenage boys, smoking and riding motorcycles on a corner, trying out their hatred of the world on passersby.
But these young women walk behind my back, where I can’t see them, but can feel and hear them. Their heavy boots sound different on the asphalt than my thin high heels. Duller. Stronger.
Their footsteps come closer. Fear tells me they will attack you. Reason tells me: Don’t turn around! Don’t show any reaction for now. Not until you know how you want to react. How are you here right now?
My attention is directed backwards, as if I have expanded senses there*. Can hear them, can feel them, how close they are. There are still 10 meters separating them from me.
Fear asks: What are you going to do? Are you going to strike? Body breathes. Shoes stride out, unchanged. Head counts the distances between the steps, so that the changed number of beats does not betray my condition. Numbness. Heightened alertness. My perception captures their presence.
They are within at least 8 meters. Loud laughter. “Look at that one go!” I don’t know what to do. Three-fold shrieking laughter behind me. I feel them getting bolder. Coming up faster. Getting louder. My steps remain steady, I tell myself. Don’t let anything show.
Calm, calm. Slow down. Decelerate. Breathe out out out. My body, my home, makes me feel my strength, despite the high heels. My muscles prepare for a fight. 1 against 3? My teeth clench tightly. Escape is no longer possible. Unclench my teeth, soften my belly. They are too close behind me. I don’t dare do that. I know I’m not running faster than these young women, even with sneakers. Powerlessness, fight, flight, freeze: all life-saving measures of our nervous system in the wild, are not an option for my highly alarmed body right now. How nice it would be to just pretend now that nothing is wrong. Disappear or become invisible: The dead stop reflex is an instinctive re-action of the body. Pretend not to hear. Avoidance is what we humans have made of it.
I perceive all this.
My brain, my friend and helper, searches in my depths for an image, a word, a power to cope with this threatening situation. What do these three want? My mind expands: I see, even if I don’t see it, how they push each other up. Hear their even more blatant, unmistakable words: “What ugly clothes she’s wearing. Think that looks good!” All three laugh together. They come closer and closer.
Inside me, something is quiet. Completely quiet. Out of this silence a memory emerges, from a workshop I had taken part in: we were asked to go downtown in Frankfurt during our lunch break and shout “boo” at simple passers-by there, without cause, without reason. How silly, I thought at the time, and of course I didn’t.
I can almost feel the breath of the One on the back of my neck. She might touch me in a moment as she reaches out her arm. I feel her behind me. Very close. Closer than the other two. Her provocations, her snide remarks about how I look, how I walk, how I move, how my clothes cling to my body, have reached a climax.
If I do nothing, they will have caught up with me in a moment. My digestion is at rest, my adrenaline and cortisol levels provide the focus I need. My whole body is in survival mode. Ears, muscles, tendons ready to act and react at lightning speed. I must respond now!
Breathe – be Aware (Interoception* / Proprioception* / Vestibular*) – Allow – Respond
With an unexpected movement, I turn rapidly on my heel.
“Boohh!” I blast my response to the leader. Once. Briefly. Intense. Powerfully, in a normal voice pitch, at eye level: my power has reached out and touched her. Her face that she brought so close to me. My determination, my presence penetrates her.
Her knees buckle away. Just like that. Without trembling before. They buckle. She is lying on the street. Not in a dream, and certainly not at the present moment, has she felt exactly what was happening in her body.
Stunned, I watch her flat on the street. Not once did I touch her. No physical contact. And yet, she is lying on the ground. Her two friends turn against her. The leader lies helpless, astonished on the street. Both friends gloat at the sight, laugh uproariously. They hold their bellies. They cannibalize the situation, pointing gleefully wagging fingers at the one lying on the ground.
No one helps her up. Not even me. I have already walked several meters. Faster now. She is so taken aback by the unexpected, uncontrolled re-action of her tense, adrenaline-flooded body that it takes her a long moment to collect herself.
I cheer inwardly and lap up the relief. The pressure, the anxiety inside me is gone. I laugh. Liberated. I shake all tension out of my body.
I turn around again. My path lies before me.
Do you know the reactions in your body when you feel fear and do you stay in the response, or do you fall into the reaction?
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Our 8 senses are:
Sight Hearing Touch Taste Smell Sense of balance Interoception & Proprioception.
Proprioception is the perception of the body in space. It is the use of the sense of position and movement of the joints to respond to stresses placed on the body by changes in posture and movement.
The vestibular system is responsible for the body’s sense of balance, movement, and spatial orientation.
Body states include the basic functions or physical states of the body, and interoception allows us to feel and be aware of the inside of our body, including organs and skin. It is crucial in sensing sensations such as pain, tickling, itching, body temperature, hunger, thirst, heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, pleasurable touch, nausea, headache, drowsiness, and the need to go to the bathroom.
ABAA, the ABAA process allows you to go from a reaction to a response.
Breathe – at least 3 times. Consciously. Keeping the exhale longer than the inhale! As if you were exhaling through a straw.
Be Aware of what is going on in your body.
Get in touch with 5 parts: Heart, Body, Mind, Essence and the space around you (environment).
Allow it all to happen. Just be with these sensations for a few moments. This is the step that too many of us skip.
After the collected assessment of your abilities, your physical state including breathing patterns, it’s time for another small pause. 3 – 5 seconds.
Then you can respond, rather than re-respond, in clarity and awareness.