On fear : befriending and working with it

The following insights on making friends with fear are taken from Chapter 7 of Miriam Greenspan’s wonderful book Healing Through the Dark Emotions : TheWisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair.

Befriending fear in a fear negating culture is essential if we want to use this emotion wisely. To do this, we have to be aware of our negative, limiting beliefs about fear, and to reconstruct and affirm a new set of beliefs.

We cannot be warriors of vulnerability, if we think fear is a shameful, debilitating emotion… Think of fear, not as a weakness, but as information, a signal of unsafety, a usable energy, a way of knowing… What fear tells us is that we are human. We are vulnerable. You are interconnected with others in the fabric of life. You can let yourself feel fear, breathe through it, and use its energy. You don’t have to let fear become panic by avoiding it. You can feel it and let it be, and doing so can open the gates to joy.

These affirming statements about fear may seem dubious. Honouring fear and treating it like a legitimate emotion can be uncomfortable, and feel ‘wrong’. Affirming the value of fear requires a kind of revolution within, to transform the fear negating culture we have internalised.

Try this : Write a list of fear affirming statements and pin them on your bedroom or bathroom mirror or some other place you look often. Changing what you believe about what you feel is one of the most impotant ways to shift an old emotional pattern. Psychologists call this “reframing” and its one of the important skills in the alchemy of the dark emotions.

The following questions might help you frame your fear affirmations.

What fears have you faced? What did you gain from facing them?

If your answer to that question is “none’, ask yourself Why not? What got in the way of facing your fears?

Think of a time when you felt paralysed by fear. What kept you from moving through it? What, if anything, helped?

Think of a time when you acted in spite of fear or acted with fear. What happened?

What did you learn?

What fear(s) are you holding in now? What fears are you avoiding? Aht do you think would happen if you let yourself feel them.

Following this, try the following sentence completions:

If fear didn’t scare me, I would use it to……

The resources and strenghth I now have to face my fears creatively are…

When I view fear as a teacher, I learn…..

Something productive I can do with my fear is…..

Changing your shaming beliefs about fear creates an opening, a place in the heart where fear can live without wrecking your self esteem and composure. The open heart can befriend fear and is ready for alchemy.

Getting it touch with fear in your body and soothing it is the next step….hang in and use mindfulness of what it feels like and stay with the discomfort without acting it out (unless you are in real danger) Consciously experience it and talk to it in a soothing way and to find out what it has to say..

The third step is to find the context of fear.. Say you have a fear of heights, in that situation you question exactly what it is you are afraid of : falling and dying, being out of control, fear of uncertainty. Try to find the peace inside that fear, if you cannot control the time of your death what can you control?… fear of death may underline much of our anxiety.. The antidote is to recognise it is inevitable but not always likely… what might it mean to live well, with a fear of death? And if the fear is in response to a real threat what can you do to minimise the threat, what action can you take or changes can you make? What is one simple thing you could do to make things a little better?

The fourth step : mindfullness of fear is related to feeling it in the body….and relates to tolerating fear as a part of life while using a meditation practice to be with it and breathe it in, instead of push it away or avoid it.. taking fear into our heart we may even find a part of us so scared just in need of some love and kind words. Tonglen, a spiritual practice shared by Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron asks us to breathe in fear and breathe out joy. This practice gives an antidote to the ‘spiritual bypass’ of many New Age practices and involves alchemising the dark and primal. If we avoid painful feelings we only end up creating more pain and suffering.. When we react or lash out, out of fear things never improve, we just get trapped in a further cycle of suffering.

The fifth step is related to taking action in the context of fear. Finding out the things that fear or upset us may promote us to take positive action to make a change.

The sixthe step involves the path of surrender, it comes after looking fear in the face and seeing it for what it is.. Prayer may be a part of the path of surrender, this is the practice of handing over what seems too much for us to a higher power or place of faith. Here are some helpful prayers.

May I accept my fear. May my fear guide me to do the right thing.

Help me when I am afraid, not to be afraid of my fear. Help me allow it to move me to an action in service of life.

When all else fails find some comic diversion.. taking a break from fear to laugh and experience joy provides an antidote to the suffocation and heaviness of spirit fear can bring about in our lives…..