“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.”
Note: As a companion to this post, you may want to listen to the guided audio meditation, Befriending Fear.
Fear. We might as well get used to it, even learn to love it. Fear is a natural part of being human, a normal emotion. The more we know about fear the better, because knowledge is king. When we turn to face it, to become familiar with it and stop running away, fear loses its power over us. Do you want to control yourself, or do you want to be a victim to fear? It’s as simple as that.
In the comments to a recent post, Wisdom Conquers Fear, reader Marie (thanks, Marie!) posed a provocative question. She writes,
“I wonder if you could say a few more words about when and how to actually listen to and heed the messages of a particular fear, how to work with the wisdom behind a fear and when instead it is best not to let a fear constrain you. When do I throw caution to the wind and go for it and trust it will work out vs. modulating my action based on the concerns of a fear?”
What I love about this question is that it suggests there is something to be learned from fear. And there is. But let’s start at the beginning.
A Brief Primer on Fear
The capacity to feel afraid is built into our DNA. We are wired for survival, and when that survival is threatened, the brain goes on alert and the nervous system is aroused. This is known as the fight or flight reaction. We humans add an interpretation to this physiological response and the context it arises in, labeling it as fear. So this is what fear is: physical symptoms and a label formulated in the mind.
Feeling threatened and going into fight or flight makes perfect sense if you are a gazelle being chased by a cheetah. But what if you are afraid of being left by your lover or missing a deadline? You might react by trying to think your way out of the situation, but the fundamental physiological reaction and tendency toward fight or flight is no different than that of the gazelle’s.
Yet we all know we are greater than our animalistic nature. We are blessed with the capability to dream, to long for a fulfilling life and to be fulfilled. We can have access to an inner knowing. We are creative and intelligent. We savor awe, wonder, and delight.
These experiences are beyond survival. They are in the realm of expansiveness and actualization. Whereas survival is limited to the physical body, these transcendent experiences are limitless and eternal. We might call them spiritual.
Fear is Your Friend
So here is the conundrum. We are in a physical body that feels fear, yet we want so much more than the fear affords us. We are afraid of not surviving, yet we yearn to thrive beyond measure.
If we ignore the yearning and give in to fear, we end up in despair and disillusionment, thinking there must be more to life. We are right – there is! And if we ignore fear, it still controls us.
If fear is present but we want to express our full potential, there is only one solution: to know fear. Only then can we choose our heart’s desire rather than survival, boundlessness rather than contraction.
Not that there is anything wrong with survival, which is why fear has some valuable things to teach us. Once we see that fear is no longer the mysterious monster we think it is [see How (and Why) to Make Fear Your Friend], the gifts it offers us come to light.
Fear Counteracts Impulsivity
As we have now established, the motive of fear is survival. In its pure form (think terror), fear is paralyzing. It prohibits us from moving forward by impelling the mind to project every possible negative outcome, even though we can’t know what is going to happen until it happens.
Once we relax in the face of fear, we have the option of seeing its value. When we feel afraid, we can press pause and take a breath. Then we realize that fear reminds us to stop, to exercise caution, to look before we leap, to consider alternatives.
Sometimes jumping in is the right thing to do, but by harnessing the power of fear, you can do so with the thoughtfulness and wisdom of a sage.
Is It Fear or Excitement?
What we call fear is a certain physiological reaction – racing heart, bodily tension, sweating, upset stomach – along with a mental and situational interpretation of fear. Experiment with taking away the label of fear. There is a physical response of arousal, but is it fear? You might be surprised. Maybe it is excitement, enthusiasm, or passion.
Look prior to your thoughts that automatically label the emotion of fear. You might discover an overlooked gem that is here to support you.
Fear Inspires Love
If we trace fear back to its source, we will undoubtedly discover a place inside ourselves that feels unloved. Many fears run unconsciously because, at some time during childhood, we didn’t get the love and tenderness we needed when we were afraid or hurting.
The medicine for emotional pain is love. Bring your awareness into your own heart and find the infinite capacity for love. Then let it wash over that young fearful one who lives inside you. Feel it like an endless cascade, over and over.
So many benefits here. You give love, you receive love, you heal. And once the fear is no longer separate from the glorious whole of you, you can mindfully choose the best course of action.
Even though fear is a normal part of the human experience, it doesn’t have to limit or confuse you. Stop, pause, take a breath. Know the physical and mental aspects of fear. Let it slow you down, but not constrain you. See the quality of the energy it brings you. Love it. You have created the space for your luminous self to radiate.
How have you worked with fear? If you’re still afraid of fear, let’s talk. I’d love to hear…