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Body Politics: The Source Of McCain's Odd Body Language, And The Gift It Brings

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Never mind that when John McCain smiles, it looks about as warm and inviting as a moonlit New England country graveyard.

Never mind that he exhibits more twitches, tics and jaw-clenches than the night shift at a meth lab.

Never mind that he's started having prison-camp flashbacks such as addressing the citizens of a rally as "My fellow prisoners."

A long campaign and economic uncertainty can stress out anyone, whether he's a 72-year-old presidential candidate or just some average retirement-age guy who's trying to keep nine houses and a dozen cars running in tough economic times.

However, when he came out with his recent macho swagger about fear, we felt it was time to intervene. Specifically, he gave a prescription for fear that is dangerous. It's a method of dealing with fear that will drive you nuts if it doesn't kill you first. If you missed the actual quote, he said, "I know what fear feels like...I know what hopelessness feels like. I felt those things once before. I WILL NEVER LET THEM IN AGAIN..."

Straight-Talk Expresso
We feel compassion for him and the circumstances that brought him to make the fateful choice to seal out his emotions. It's a serious problem for him health-wise, but when he seeks to inflict it on the rest of us, it's time to set him straight. Here's a shot of straight-talk expresso for John McCain: When you won't let yourself to feel your natural, organic feeling of fear, you get out of touch with reality. If you won't acknowledge the existence of fear, you can't tell the difference between what you're really scared about and what you think you're scared about. You don't have a clue about what's going on inside you. You don't know whether there's a real threat out there or just something your mind is making up. You think life is dangerous, but the reality is just the opposite: you're dangerous to life.

Being driven by fear forces McCain/Palin to run a campaign based on fear. Their goal is not to convince people that they have a better plan for the future, but to make people scared to vote for the other guy.

There are a lot of things people are scared about right now:
•They're scared about losing their homes.
•They're scared about losing their jobs.
•They're scared the Republicans are going to steal the election. In fact, we've heard several people say that they're praying for a landslide, because otherwise the Republicans will find some way to steal it. If you think that's slightly paranoid, you're probably not a Democrat.

McCain/Palin want us to forget about our real fears and focus on something unreal. McCain/Palin want us to be scared about what they want us to be scared about. They have an advantage, because the things they want us to be scared about are a lot more fun than the things we're really scared about:
•McCain/Palin want us to be scared that Obama is "the other,"
not like us, not a real American.
•They want us to be scared that Obama might secretly worship another god.
•They want us to be scared that Obama pals around with terrorists and gets his spiritual counsel from an America-hating minister.

It's more fun to be scared about those things because it gives you the opportunity to blame somebody else for the fear. When you point the finger at someone else, it relieves the pressure inside you. If we're scared about those things, maybe we'll forget about what we're really scared about. McCain/Palin are saying: it's a jungle out there, folks, and let's make sure we keep it that way.

As budding psychotherapists 35 years ago, we were taught the essentials of how to help our clients deal with fear. The key principle can be stated simply: what you resist, persists. If you hold fear at arm's length, if you seal it out of your awareness, you sentence yourself to living every moment in a prison of fear. The more you try to seal it out, the more it pervades your life. The stonewall barrier McCain has proudly built to keep out his fear makes him a prisoner inside his own arrogance. His stubborn unwillingness to let in the normal human emotion of fear makes him propelled by it. In the Pink Floyd phrase, he's "blown on the steel breeze."

This much we can tell you from working up-close with more than twenty thousand people: The only real solution to fear is to let yourself acknowledge it and feel it until it dissipates. Fear is natural. Your body spent hundreds of thousands of years perfecting it. It's there to tell you important things like these:
There's a potential threat--pay attention.
There's a problem I don't have a solution to--look for one quick!

When you're scared, look to see if there's a real threat. Figure out what the problem is and get creative about solving it. Get good at distinguishing between real threats and imaginary threats we make up in our minds. Don't use the McCain Prescription for fear, by shutting it out of your awareness. For the sake of his health and for the safety of the rest of us, he should take counsel from another war hero, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf: "Any man who doesn't cry scares me a little." That's a piece of useful wisdom, and it points to why John McCain scares a lot of people.

If we could counsel John McCain at this moment in history, when he has squandered much of the honor and good will Americans used to grant him, we'd embrace him, look him in the eye and say this:
"Go ahead and let yourself feel scared. It's normal, it's human and it helps you connect with the rest of us. When you feel scared, let yourself feel it. Breathe with it. Dance with it. Above all, don't tempt the universe by shaking a fist at fear and saying that you will not acknowledge its existence. Doing that puts you on a collision course with the forces of nature, like shaking your fist at thunder and saying you're never going to listen to it again. Instead, let your fear in. Speak about it to the ones you love. If you're out in public, speak about it to them, too. Ultimately, love is the best cure for fear. If you really want to have a great relationship with yourself and other people, love your fear just as it is, and watch the miracles that unfold as a result."

What happens when you let yourself feel your fear is that it opens up a direct connection to your creativity. The more you're willing to open up and embrace your fear, the more creativity flows through you. We would never have believed that remarkable fact until we experienced the truth of it ourselves and saw it work its magic on many other people.

An Integrity Problem
Being cut off from fear or any emotion puts you out of integrity with yourself. As one our mentors, Jack Downing, M.D., put it, "Integrity glitches cause body twitches." The source of John McCain's odd display of twitches, jaw-clenches and chilly grins is a fault-line gap of integrity at the center of himself, a place where he has cut himself off from fear and the rest of us. He wants to become a super hero, The Man Without Fear. That's not a bad idea for a cartoon, but in real life it would be a disaster. In real life, we need real heroes, people who are willing to acknowledge fear and look within it, to the gift it brings.

The gift fear brings is the opportunity to love it and thereby grow our capacity for love and creativity. Sometimes our fears get so great that love is the only thing that will put those fears to rest. We all need to become experts at dealing with fear right now. We need to let ourselves feel our fears in a spirit of loving acceptance, so that our willingness to embrace our fears opens the floodgates of creativity that we will need to solve the problems we all face.

There's a lot of fear in the air right now to deal with. To make matters worse, the McCain/Palin campaign is working overtime to increase the amount of fear in our lives. McCain/Palin's handlers know that the more scared they can make people, the more easily people can be manipulated into voting against their own interests and good judgment.

John McCain has been roundly criticized of late for sowing seeds of fear and hate. It's going to be hard to talk him out of that tactic, though, because it got George W. Bush elected twice. We don't know yet if McCain will change tactics again and try to convince us that the pit bulls he's unleashed are actually nice puppy dogs. We should be skeptical of this tactic, though, because as the old saying goes, you can take the lipstick off a pit bull, but it's still a hockey mom underneath, or something like that.