Fear is usually at the bottom of unresolved questions. Fear prevents us from recognizing our path in life, from following what brings us joy. Fear prevents us from responding consciously, from participating in life as a whole being. An example of a daily dose of fear is various news and daily reports. The extraordinary pace and escalation of bad news and the factors of the so-called the covid crisis keeps most people in a constant state of stress/fear/contraction.
The enemy is fear. We think it’s hate, but it’s fear.”
- Mahatma Gandhi When we are afraid, we cannot think from a place of calmness and clarity. That’s when we tend to catastrophize, get stuck in certain thoughts and escalate adrenaline (by blaming, self-criticism, attacking) as a non-renewable source of fuel. We cannot use our prefrontal cortex to solve problems nor do we see clearly. We cannot access our limbic brains to connect or give and receive an essential human nutrient: attention. We land in the reptilian world in our brainstem with an automatic “fight, flight, freeze” stress reaction. Fear changes our relationships When we get scared, our brain separates us from other people. Others look alien then. Your scared self or the ego can treat other people as objects and obstacles because you do not feel a heart connection with them or even recognize them as fellow human beings. Over time, fear can turn into contempt and even justify violence. Us against them. Fear fuels propaganda, labelling, intimidation, exclusion, avoidance. Fear is the engine of war. Fear puts us on an adrenaline roller coaster of a big rush, a big fall, more fear, more adrenaline, bigger highs and lows. What does fear do to your body? Fear is different from anger or sadness. It does not disappear like sadness when, for example, we cry Fear continues to swirl and accumulate unless we fully face it and make friends with the feelings. Muscles are tense. Blood is diverted from caring for the organs. The adrenal system secretes more stress hormones like cortisol, feeding you fear rather than vitality. Breathing is shallow. Brain function suffers, as does the immune system. You stop digesting food efficiently. Disconnect from your deeper body intelligence. What to do when fear arises? Although most of us are deeply conditioned by fear, we have largely avoided directly exploring its nature. Since we are not aware of its operation, it is often the unconscious driving force of our lives. When fear arises, whether it is fear of pain, fear of certain emotions, or fear of death, the meditative practice of listening and loving awareness invites us to explore and understand that fear. How does it feel? What are the sensations in the body? Where are they located? Are there images, pictures in your mind? We can look closely to see the experience we call fear, to understand its true nature. When we do this, we see that fear is also a fleeting conditioned experience. Start simple. When fear arises, gently name it and experience what it does to the breath, the body, how it affects the heart. Notice how long it takes. Pay attention to the pictures. Pay attention to the feelings and ideas that accompany him, the scary stories that he tells. Fear is often an expectation of the future, a fantasy, often unfounded. As Mark Twain remarked, “My life has been full of terrible accidents – most of them never happened.” Of course, when we work with a fearful mind, we will become fearful at first. But if at some point we open our heart to the fearful mind and gently call it “fear” and experience its energy as it moves through us, the whole feeling of fear will shift and eventually become a recognition: “Oh, fear, here you are again. I know you. How interesting that you came.” Make friends with your fear. From this foundation of loving awareness and acceptance, we can decide how to consciously act. Sometimes it is wise to withdraw from a situation, and sometimes we move forward despite the fear. We become more willing to take risks because our energy is not so tied to resisting the very feeling of fear. Let’s learn that it’s okay to feel fear. By practicing mindfulness and certain MBSR meditation techniques, we can gradually, with patience and courage, learn to trust how to stay centered, grounded, and kindly sense the contraction and subtle shaking of our body without running away. We learn to respond instead of reacting automatically. We learn to feel the flood of strong emotions—fear, sadness, or rage—and allow them to slowly release with mindfulness. We learn to see with distance the endless mind stories that repeat themselves over and over again, and with awareness and compassion let them go, quiet the mind and come back to the present.
Making friends with fear becomes a door to freedom, an invitation to a fuller life with trust and love. You become present in your life and can access your inner resources and your brain that is tuned in and not turned off. You see others as equals and partners in your life. You can connect with your inner wisdom and creativity. You can connect with others to collaborate rather than compete. You can co-create a new future for you, your family and your community. Make the shift from fear into the flow of your deeper connection with life, your creativity and your unique contribution.