Abhaya mudra (or mudra of No Fear). Represents protection, peace, benevolence, and dispelling of fear. Photo credit: Me (Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, circa 2007)
Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom. ~Marilyn Ferguson (author)
I’ve been afraid of the dark for as long as I can remember. Traumatized by childhood games and scary movies (which my parents forbade me to watch but, of course, I watched anyway), I was afraid to be in the dark by myself ever since. At night, as a child, I would pull the covers right up under my nose and tuck them under me, leaving no gap, as if, like a shield, this would protect me from whatever lay lurking under my bed or in the closet. Moving into adulthood didn’t change much of anything. I remember moving into my first apartment sans roommate. I couldn’t sleep the first few nights. And even when I got used to living alone, I still found myself looking over my shoulder in the dark.
If you’ve been reading the blog recently, you’ll know that I spent the first couple of months of 2013 in the jungle. In a hut. By myself. With no electricity (read: no night light). If you’ve never spent time in a jungle, I will tell you that jungle nights are an intense experience. You feel completely exposed to an energy that is all at once raw, powerful, and unfamiliar. And when you can’t see what’s out there, it can be a pretty frightening experience. And so, there I was, deep in the jungle, forcing myself to face one of many fears.
What is fear?
First things first, fear is normal. Anyone who says they are not afraid of anything is lying. Fear is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re human. So if you’re human, raise your hand. Ok good. We can move on now.
Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or is a threat. So by definition, fear is something you feel based on a BELIEF. Not a fact or a truth. A belief. What happens when your beliefs shift? Is it possible that your fear could disappear? Huzzah! Sounds easy. Well, it’s not.
We establish, through personal experiences, behavioural patterns that arise from fear and, consequently, perpetuate fear. These patterns block us from discovering other parts of ourselves. Fear holds us back. It holds us back from our fullest potential. When you’re afraid, you’re unable to move forward. But strangely, we often choose to hold on to fear rather than move past it. Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh observes that “people have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar”.
But if you want to push yourself out of the your comfort zone, you will, more than likely, have to face your fears. Face the unknown. Because when you step outside a place of familiarity (the Zone), it’s normal to experience fear. Fear occurs almost always in the mystery of the unknown. What is lurking in the darkness?
Author Frances Moore Lappé says, “I’ve come to believe fear usually means ‘go.’ It always means ‘listen closely.'” Fear acts as a little niggle in your side, a little voice in your ear telling you to move. Telling you to go. Are you listening closely? Fear is a sign that you are now being given a choice – to move fearlessly forward. Or to back away and turn around. What do you choose?
Being fearless: the process
In order to see through the darkness of fear, you must be willing to explore the unknown. According to Jack Canfield’s 21 Top Success Principles, you must “experience the fear and do it anyway.”
So, in the face of fear, what do you do?
- Look fear in the eye. Acknowledge that it’s there. Don’t ignore it. This is confrontation mode. Stand your ground. Don’t turn away. And don’t fight it. If you fight your fear, it will continue to haunt you.
- Understand your fear. Many fears are based on past conditioning. Where did it come from? When did it start? When you acknowledge the source of your fear, you are one step closer towards fearlessness.
- Harness and steer through your fear. You are the driver. Not your fear. Don’t let the fear take over. Steer it through the dark tunnel until you get to the light at the end. That’s right. There is light at the end of the fear tunnel.
- Let it go. Remember, fear is just an emotion. And if it’s not serving you, it’s time to wish it well and release it. You are not your fear. Let it go.
When you are looking directly at your fear, it can be …well… fearful. Here are some aids to help ease fear as you confront it head on:
- Breathe – Breathe deeply from the belly. Take long, slow breaths from the diaphragm. This will help you stay calm by slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and helping your body use oxygen more efficiently.
- Talk to yourself – Yes, talk to yourself. Tell yourself that there is no reason to be afraid. If there is a mantra or prayer that you know that is meant to dispel fear, then recite it. Out loud or to yourself. It doesn’t matter. If you keep telling yourself that you’re not afraid, sooner or later it will become true. I love the Litany Against Fear from the Dune novels. It’s used to focus the mind and find calm. The litany is as follows:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Fearlessness in action
I have a greater fear than the dark. A fear that resides in the pit of my stomach:
I’m afraid of being ridiculed. I’m afraid of being judged.
Fear of judgment stops me dead in my tracks. In the face of possible ridicule, I feel nauseous, and often paralyzed (with fear). This fear has been an obstacle in my life since childhood. More than physical darkness. It is my inner darkness. And has at times throughout my life stopped me from fully expressing myself. Have I let it go completely? Nope. Still working on it. But I know that it’s there. I have a pretty good sense of why it’s there. And with that knowledge, I’m able to move forward through my own dark tunnel toward the light of fearlessness.
As long as I can identify the fears that I have, I can deal with them. I can work towards moving past them, transcending them. Why do I this? Because fear doesn’t serve me if it stops me from following my path.
So, what am I doing to overcome my own fears? Well, aside from sleeping alone in a hut deep in the jungle for over a month, I created this blog. I created this blog in order to have a space where I could share insights and experiences that might be helpful to someone else. The content can be quite personal. The style of writing is definitely my own. With my heart of my sleeve, I put myself out there. Ready to be judged. And maybe even ridiculed. Facing my fear head on. Am I afraid? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes! Because it gives me the freedom to be me. And that’s all anyone of us can strive to be.
The hard truth
There is no easy way to face and overcome fear. There are many ways. But none are easy. And overcoming ALL fear? Well, that is a lifelong journey. Looking in the dark corners where our fears reside takes guts but when you look deep enough, you give yourself the opportunity to let go of fear and make space for a truer version of You. Sometimes you realize that what you feared wasn’t as bad as you thought it was. Sometimes it takes a long time to let it go. But whatever form the process takes for you, it’s all about learning about yourself. And often what you learn is that you are stronger than you realized. That you are indeed fearless.