There are many things to feel fearful about these days. While anger is hot and loud, fear is more subtle and pervasive. It also has many different disguises. On the one hand, fear is a natural response to physical danger, but on the other it can be self-created, such as the fear of failure, of the dark, of being different, or of being lonely. We fear love because we fear being rejected, fear being generous because we fear scarcity, fear sharing our thoughts in case we appear wrong or stupid, and we fear our own beauty so we become riddled with self-doubt and insecurity.
Self-generated fear is seen in its acronym: F.E.A.R. or False Evidence Appearing Real. It appears real even though it may have no real substance. It arises when the ego is threatened or undermined, making us cling to the known and familiar. Fear can make us wary of love and spontaneity by keeping us emotionally frozen, unable to move forward.
“Fear is natural. Your body spent hundreds of thousands of years perfecting it,” says psychologist Gay Hendricks. “It’s normal; it’s human. Breathe with it. Above all, don’t tempt the universe by shaking a fist at fear and saying that you won’t acknowledge its existence. That’s like shaking your fist at thunder and saying you’ll never listen to it again.”
Just for a moment, let your body take a position of feeling fearful. What is your posture? Most people hunch their shoulders forward, fold their arms across their chests, or assume a similarly contracted defensive pose that shields the heart. In this self-protective stance, the heart goes out of reach and it’s impossible to feel love or even friendliness.
Now, while your arms are folded firmly across your heart, try saying, with real meaning, “I love you”. Hard to do!
If fear is arising, we can use both mindfulness and the breath to stay receptive, breathing consciously into the heart area while naming the fear as fear. Watch what happens to the body as fear tries to take hold. As long as we can keep the body open and in a place of complete acceptance, it will be very hard for fear to establish itself.
Where fear closes the heart, love embraces it. So now try taking the posture of love. Watch how your body opens and expands, your arms reaching outward, inviting and accepting. Watch how your breathing gets deeper, fuller. Fear may still be there, but love can welcome and embrace it. Where fear shuts out love, love holds fear tenderly, like the sky that contains everything.
With your arms stretched wide, try saying, “I’m fearful” and really mean it. Hard to do!
“There’s a world of love and there’s a world of fear and very often that fear feels a lot more real and certainly more urgent than the feeling of love,” says musician Bruce Springsteen to David Hepworth in The “Q” Interview. “When that world of love comes rushing in, a world of fear comes with it. To open yourself up to love you’ve got to embrace the fear as well. It’s about walking through that world of fear so that you can live in a world of love.”
In other words, being fearless doesn’t mean stopping or denying or being without fear. Rather, fearlessness is fully feeling the fear, naming it, getting to know it, and then going beyond it. Fear may stop us from facing our demons and participating fully in life, but fearlessness gives us the courage to greet the unknown.
Fear comes—breathe and let go. Fear comes—breathe and reassure the mind that all is well. Fear comes—replace it with love.
As long as we deny fear, anger, jealousy, or any other emotion, we’re not accepting and embracing ourselves as we are. Whether a thought or a feeling is either positive or negative makes no difference, it is still an integral part of our being. To reject one part is to remain in denial of the whole.
“I was riddled with a kind of existential longing, fear and despair,” says publisher Tami Simon. “I wasn’t sure that I belonged on the planet, that I would ever have a place for myself, that I would find a way to fit in. I was desperate and totally freaked out.
“When I started meditating, it was the first time I felt any synchronization in my being, any rooting or anchoring. I felt a sense of incredible, unlimited joy and possibility. Suddenly I had a reason for my existence and in a sense, at that moment, my life was saved.”
Meditation encourages us to get to know fear so it’s no longer the enemy. We begin to see the benefits of fear, the unexpected insights and flashes of understanding that move us into a deeper awareness. No longer denying fear, judging it, or being frightened by it, we can let all these feelings come and go.
“Meditation calms us sufficiently to grasp the way our mind moves into rage, jealousy, violence, sadness, abandonment, fear, all the stuff that keeps coming up like marsh gas from within,” says author Andrew Harvey. “It helps ground us in the peace of our inner being so that we can embrace ourselves without being shattered. Instead, by better knowing ourselves, we are more noble, generous, and compassionate.”