Ok, I’ll admit right from the start, this title is a bit ambitious. The truth is, learning to live comfortably with your fear and life’s inherent uncertainty takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight and it will probably take more than the three steps I’m going to outline. Fear is such a BIG topic that entire books have been written about it and entire weeklong seminars devoted to its origins and elimination. And I wholeheartedly recommend you seek ongoing help if fear has you in its grip. But today I’m going to touch on a few simple things that have been especially helpful for me in handling fear:
1. Embrace it.
Here’s the thing: fear is a natural emotion and a biological neessity. It’s designed to protect us in situations of mortal danger- fight or flight anyone? Problem is, it does too good of a job sometimes. A situation arises where, perhaps, it’s not our life that’s being threatened but our comfort zone- our stale modes of operating, outdated beliefs, and unhealthy (but all too familiar) tendencies. And we’re scared to step out there, to do something different. Biologically speaking, fear is a pretty straight-forward emotion: a stimulus appears, adrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream, and physical sensations such as quickened breathing, a rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure occur. If we’re lucky, we don’t act from this place but we all experience it.
Form is born out of an evolutionary adaption to keep us safe. Problem is, a physical threat and an emotional threat feel the same—we may know on an intellectual level that giving a speech or starting a new job won’t kill us but it can certainly seem that way in the moment. And so we stay hidden—safe and small in our own elaborately crafted cocoons because we fear our own fear. And this is where the problem lies- not with fear itself (its a perfectly natural, universal emotion) but in our unwillingness to feel it, look at it, and then let it go.
We become both identified with and unconscious of it at once, fusing ourselves with the emotion or the wound, and all wisdom and revelation is lost. If we can stop a moment, resist judgment and recognize fear and its many offspring for what it is- a powerful indication that we’re growing and venturing into new territory, we can begin to see fear as a gift. Or at the very least recognize that it will pass. Fear, perhaps more than any other emotion, can appear so real and fixed, particularly when we don’t give it our loving attention. Fear only becomes crippling and all consuming when it’s suppressed and then obsessively acted out. Detachment promises the peace we seek. What we resist persists and what we look at dissipates. Give your fear your loving attention, ask for the lesson and then apply it. Talking it out and helping someone else out of their fear is usually a good idea here too. It will get you out of your own ego-based thinking and into a fresh, positive state of being. I’ve found it far better to make decisions from this place rather than my fearful, questioning mind. Service work+heartfelt exchange=a happy heart.
“The fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.”
2. Get grounded in your body
Fear is born in our bodies before it makes its way to our mind, where it can become stuck if we don’t learn to get back to the body. The post powerful way I’ve found to do this is through breath and mantra based meditation. I’ve said it before and I will probably say it another thousand times because I believe in it so very much: a regular meditation practice will change your life. I’ve heard it said that it’s not so much what we gain from meditation but what we lose that matters—obsession, fear/anxiety, self-doubt, and eventually all forms of ego-based behavior. I’ve only regularly meditated for a few months now and I can assure you, it’s true. Mediation works. Of course, where there is meditation, there should by prayer. A physical prayer ritual is especially powerful in dealing with fear—getting on your knees, assuming child’s pose, spending time in a beloved sacred spot—it all centers you in the physical world and that world is, of course, supported by spirit. Prayer + meditation: it’s like pie and ice cream: they complement one another perfectly. Besides, if I’m going to talk I need to be prepared to listen; it doesn’t work otherwise.
A bunch of scientists and I have also found regular exercise helpful in dealing with difficult emotions like stress and its parent, fear. Running, yoga, long walks, whatever your flavor, do it and do it consistently. I’ll be honest- this has been an especially difficult habit for me to implement. I still prefer exerting my mind more than my body but I also know I want to be more than a talking head, as Eve Ensler so eloquently puts it, so I now do a few small things. I lift weights a few times a week, fit in a few yoga stretches daily and I take regular walks in the park with our dog. This last one is my favorite. It’s 30-45 minutes of my day and it provides numerous benefits—it gets me moving, the dog moving, (moving bodies=happy bodies) and connects us both with nature. And beautiful mother earth is nothing more than our collective bodies, so why not commune with her on a regular basis?
There are countless other ways to get in touch with your body too, from kundalini yoga/meditation and Thai Chi to somatic therapy and tantric sex. Find what works for you and you’ll be amazed with the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits you reap—promise!
“Fear is excitement without the breath.”
3. Find comfort in the unknown
This one might seem counterintuitive at first, but let me explain. It’s natural to have fear of the future or unknown. In fact, it’s probably the most pervasive fear there is. But anxiety is born out of the mind and nothing more than a reflection of ego’s desire to run the show. Fear is ego’s favorite trick.
In the realm of spirit, living in the unknown is the ultimate freedom, a dance in the field of pure potentiality. Think about it- if we don’t know what the future holds, it means its ours for the taking, or the making! It can be anything we want it to be. Whether you recognize it or not, you are a powerful co-creator in your own life and the more you embrace the wisdom of insecurity, the more options you have before you. There is magic in the unknown. But at some point, we stopped believing in magic, and stopped believing we were worth the journey into surprising destiny. We got scared and stuck.
But now’s the time to open up to life again, to say “I don’t know what the future holds but I’m excited to find out!” Embrace not knowing and the answers will come. Ironically, the less we try to figure it all out, the more that is revealed. As Danielle LaPorte says, a beginners mind is an open mind. It’s here that we can receive the message and take empowered creative action.
It’s my firm belief that everything, every single seeming misstep and failure and oh-my-god moment is actually the best possible thing that could happen to us: it’s divinely conspired (or co-inspired) to bring us to our highest selves. To lead us back home. Bring us back to faith. Looking at life this way, what is there to be afraid of? Even the stuff that’s incredibly painful, especially that stuff, will benefit us on the level of spirit. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt or that our mind won’t try to deceive us, but when we’re in touch with creator, we will know that it’s all a blessing. And coming from this space, fear absolutely diminishes. Only our ever loving awareness remains.
“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”
P.S. I have to tell on myself a bit now. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it in light of this topic. This week was supposed to be the first week I included video footage along with my written post—my first vlog! Well actually it was supposed to be last week but got postponed for other convenient reasons. Naturally, I’m in some fear right now- not simply of the inclusion of myself live and in color, but of my ability to navigate the loads of change and uncertainty in my neck of the woods right now. I guess I was afraid of adding fuel to the fire. But I also know my soul won’t let me get away with that—indecision, inaction and perfectionistic procrastination— for too long. Plus, now that I’m talking about it, the fear won’t stick around. I’m choosing to hold myself accountable to all of you! Expect to see some new and exciting video segments soon! In the meantime, tell me in the comments below how you handle fear- what works, what doesn’t or anything else this topic has stirred up in you. I would love to hear from you- it’s where I learn best 🙂