“It’s only fear, it’s only fear that keeps you locked in here.”
Songwriter Alexi Murdoch
Q: Make fear my friend? Why would I want to do that?
A: Because it’s the only way to be at peace with it.
Be at peace with fear? That might sound impossible, but I can guarantee that learning to be at peace with fear will completely transform your life. I’m not saying you’ll never feel fear again, as it is a natural part of the human experience. In fact, you will even discover that fear has something to offer you. When you do experience fear, however, you will know how to be with it so it doesn’t run your life. Until we know fear intimately, until we allow ourselves to welcome it in as a friend, fear is in control of our lives. And when we can relax with fear, it truly becomes our ally rather than our adversary.
“What You Resist Persists”
Speaking of adversary, many of the strategies we frequently use to deal with fear view it as an opposing force that needs to be reckoned with. We try to overcome it, push through it, fight it, conquer it, avoid it, cope with it, and manage it. Whew! Sounds like a lot of work. What is common to these strategies is resistance: we move against our experience of fear in an effort to eradicate or control it. Even gentle strategies, such as deep breathing and calming self-talk, although useful at times, create resistance through their intent to get rid of the fear. No matter how accomplished we are at using any of these strategies, the fear will undoubtedly rise up again, requiring more of our precious energy. As the saying goes, “what you resist persists.”
Moving with Fear
A clue to an alternative, freeing way to address fear comes from the martial art of aikido. The philosophy behind aikido is to blend with the motion of the attacker rather than opposing him head-on. We already know how to oppose fear head-on, but how to blend with the motion of it?
For some reason I have never quite understood, people find fear scary. All that’s needed is a subtle sign of fear, and our bodies and minds go into hyperdrive to try to eliminate it as if fear is an unwanted intruder, an enemy poised to destroy us. The only way to find out if this is actually true is to stop running and turn around to meet fear.
Avoiding or suppressing our inner experiences that are actually here perpetuates anxiety, separation, and dis-ease. It’s like taking an apple pie and throwing out one slice because we don’t want it to be there. Fear, like all of our experiences, is a tap on the shoulder that says, “Can I come in, please?” Why welcome it in as an old friend? To quote the Everest climber George Mallory, “Because it’s there.” When we know our experiences intimately, they cease having the power to control us. We are integrated and relaxed, and we can, finally, put down our vigilance and weapons of defense and separation.
The Process of Welcoming Experience
If I have piqued your interest, and you are willing to begin to sincerely know fear, turn your attention inside. It starts with a very simple greeting: “Hello, fear.” The meeting comes from a place of openness, curiosity, and not knowing. After all, this may be the first time you are actually welcoming the friend that may have been your companion for a very long time. Realize that as much as you may have strategized in the past, you don’t really know what fear is like.
In addition, tenderness is required. Fear may have been the excluded one, the friend who has been ignored, left out in the cold. It takes warm and loving attention for the ice to melt, for the fear to come out of hiding and be seen for what it is, which is actually much less scary than anything you might imagine.
As you begin with, “Hello, fear,” see how your body feels. You might notice tension, vibration, or fluttering. Resist the urge to avoid, and simply stay with the sensations, allowing them to be present without doing anything to them. Don’t freak out. All that’s happening is that you are feeling some physical changes in your body. Simply let them happen, and stay with it.
Notice your thoughts. As you are witnessing them, you will see that they don’t define who you are. The witness of the thoughts is kind and receptive, so you can just allow the thoughts to be. It doesn’t matter what they are saying, just allow them to come and go.
In welcoming fear (or any other experience), you are open, available, and non-judging. Spiritual teacher Jean Klein says, “You are in a state of listening.” There is no doing, strategizing, or manipulating, no wishing for the experience to stop, not limiting it in any way – simply a kind and loving noticing of what is true in the moment. This is a radical way of being with a seemingly difficult feeling and ends the suffering, resistance, and efforting.
As you are with the experience of fear, you may become aware of a story about it, as in, “I’m afraid of…” The true medicine of directly meeting fear is devoid of the story – it’s meeting the fear itself without any content. Experiment with letting the thoughts about it float away, and pay attention to what is actually appearing.
Now, let’s go a little deeper by asking the fear questions. Here are some suggestions:
- Why are you here? What are you trying to tell me or do for me?
Hint: You may find that fear is trying to protect or motivate you.
- How do you look at the world? What do you expect from people and situations?
Hint: You may find caution, suspiciousness, doubt, or mistrust.
- Anything else you would like to tell me?
Hint: Simply be open.
Take some time to let what you’ve learned sink in. Let your heart open to honor that fear is present for a reason and has been influencing and controlling you based on its world view. You are doing something so amazing – you are allowing a rejected part of you to come out of the shadows to be seen and heard. It is no longer relegated to your unconsciousness where it irritates and pressures you. It is invited in warmly as a valid and true arising.
For a guided audio process to help you explore fear, click here.
The Mystery of Not Knowing
What happens at this point is part of the mystery. When we end the inner war and put down our arms by embracing fear, we are in a place we’ve never been before. Make the space for clarity to come to you in the space of not knowing, and continue listening. If the spark to make some changes appears, have the courage to follow it, as this is your natural life path, not one based on fear and limitation.
This last point I cannot stress enough, and that is to always open your heart to meet fear fully. Just as good health requires a lifestyle of attention to diet and exercise, being at ease with fear requires an ongoing willingness to meet it directly. If you are welcoming your experience so it will go away, it probably won’t, as you are still resisting. But if you are receptive to whatever arises, as it is, you will find it does not matter if fear is present or not. Life is so rich. Every experience that arises is a friend, a gift, an invitation to break down your inner boundaries. Allow everything in always, and you will discover the peace beyond peace.
I’d love to hear your questions and insights. What role has fear played in your life? What have you learned from it?