You’re in the forest, minding your own business, when out of nowhere a tiger jumps onto your path. (In retrospect, maybe you shouldn’t have had your AirPods in.)
What happens next?
Most likely, your brain makes an instant calculation of how to increase the likelihood of survival. Do you run? Scale a tree? Throw it a Clif Bar—or the whole box? Your wiring kicks in, and (in this version of the story) you survive.
What (probably) does not happen?
Your brain does not engage in sophisticated machinations: “What is the average running speed of a tiger? How many meters away is it currently? What is the terrain and slope that could impact this situation? When was the last time I actually went running?”
Nor does it try to intellectualize the situation: “What a fascinating opportunity to engage with a Panthera tigris tigris.”
This is by design: the part of the brain that is engaged to keep us safe (the part we sometimes call our reptilian brain) focuses on survival and when this mechanism is activated, our ability to be logical (one responsibility of the prefrontal cortex) flies out the window.
When we are in a state of overwhelm, of feeling under threat, of being pushed to our limits—as many of us are these days—our brains are in this heightened state and therefore we may find it difficult to plan, to be rational, to engage in higher processing.
We cannot simultaneously focus on survival and engage in sophisticated, rational thought. If there’s a tiger, we need to react.
Alas, for many of us, lately the world has seemed to be filled with tigers.
But maybe we just need some SASS.
No, I am not suggesting antagonizing the tiger (or any of our other threats). But it is possible to move out of “react” mode and into “response” mode, and one tool that I like to apply is SASS:
Senses: what am I feeling right now? Check in with yourself. I will often say my emotion out loud, “I am angry/insulted/anxious…” I also get back into my body by sitting or laying down or sometimes dropping into child’s pose. (See more about embodiment practices in ‘Try It!’ below.)
Actual: is there an actual threat to my physical or emotional safety or am I defaulting to my reptilian brain because of a perceived threat?
Stop: in order to engage the rational brain, we need to stop what we’re doing and give time for the prefrontal cortex to engage. Taking a moment to breathe with intention is a part of this step.
Start: once you’ve begun to think rationally, then you can choose how to respond, start to create safety and move forward.
Who would have thought that one way to deal with tigers is SASS?
This is a tried and true method to bring yourself back into the present moment and connect with your senses. While there are a ton of embodiment practices—tools that help us to reconnect with our bodies to bring our minds back “online”—this one is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Just take a moment and notice:
FIVE things you can see
FOUR things you can feel/touch
THREE things you hear
TWO things you can smell
ONE thing you can taste
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