“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
Last week I talked about living a meaningful life. I encouraged you to think about what’s important and to write an obituary. The topic of death can invoke a lot of fear so it’s not unusual to encounter resistance if you haven’t spent time considering your own mortality. I promised to discuss fear in a little more depth this week.
Here’s a little neuroscience first. (I’m a neuroscience geek. What can I say? It fascinates me!) Fear is defined as a negative emotion that provokes anxiety. Fear can be useful when it protects us from a dangerous situation. Fear is a survival mechanism and operates from the “lizard” part of our brain, the amygdala. This ancient part of our brain helped us to survive in pre-historic times. It’s the part that gets fed by our current culture of fear. It obscures reason and intensifies emotions.
But, as Mark Twain so aptly put it, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” We generate fear in our own minds. Fear is a roadblock to personal and spiritual growth. The frontal lobes help us apply logic to our fears and transform them. We are capable of mentally creating a different kind of energy that creates peace of mind. “Neuro-imaging shows that regular mindfulness meditation can make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress!” ~ScienceDaily (Jan. 21, 2011)
Although the fear of dying is very common, there are many more fears that create barriers to moving forward. There’s the fear of living, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of judgment, fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, the fear of fear!
What is your most prevalent fear?
I was a fearful child. I was slow and uncoordinated and I was late developing physically. I never felt like I could trust my body. The teasing from my peers caused me to feel a lot of shame, embarrassment and consequently more fear. As I got older I became reckless and acted out against those feelings in really unhealthy ways. In retrospect I am appalled at some of my behaviors but eventually I started to figure things out.
I confronted deep-seated fears when I studied martial arts for five years. Having children generated a new batch of fears about their vulnerability and safety and my own. I didn’t want anyone else to raise my babies! I’ve developed a healthy skill set for handling fear but I won’t say that I don’t experience fear on a fairly regular basis. Fear doesn’t overwhelm me like it used to before or stop me from trying new things.
Ultimately it was the willingness to let go of fear that moved me to explore what was going on, to soften the edges, and to open the door to releasing fear. You may wonder how this is possible.
- Untangle the threads. Identify and acknowledge the fear. Write down your fears and your thoughts about them.
- Sit with the fear for a while. Dialogue with it, draw it, dance it, or sing it. Ask fear what it wants you to know.
- Ask for help from trusted friends, a therapist or from your Higher Power.
- Generate faith that a power greater than yourself can help you.
- Practice gratitude to create serenity and peace of mind.
- Create serenity through meditation, journaling or physical exercise.
- Return to the breath.
- Return to now.
- Create equanimity through practice.
Equanimity is a state of stability or composure arising from a deep awareness and acceptance of the present moment. It emerges from wisdom and understanding. Generate compassion for yourself and your feelings and you create freedom from fear.
The nature of mind is open, expansive and loving. Find a way that works for you to create a less fearful state of mind. Stand in the sun and let the light fill you. Stand in the dark and embrace it. Be aware of natural energy as it ebbs and flows; pay attention to the lunar cycles, the tides, and the seasons. All of life grows and ultimately dissolves.
Generate a radiant warmth inside of you that is full of love, forgiveness, harmony and truth. Then, fear will not be able to reside within you.
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