It seems that we are living in a time of pervasive fear. What are you afraid of? Destructive leaders in the world? Economic upheaval? War? Disease? Crises brought on by our neglected planet? Are you living in a trance of fear? Worrying and anticipating only take us away from the precious moments of life. When we give in to fear we cease to truly live. Love, creativity are missed when thoughts and strong emotions take over and obscure beauty and goodness in the world. If you bring compassion and mindfulness to the experience of fear, you will dissolve the spell you are under.
We expend a huge portion of our energy dealing with fear and anxiety. But our fears are not just the product of global events. Often times, we live with an everyday reality that is tinged with personal and cultural concern. Our fears go to our very core. Fear motivates how we act and react. It affects how we stand and talk and can make life dark and narrow. It is the root of all conflict, underlying much of our sorrow. Fear blocks intimacy and love. But more than anything, it disconnects us from loving kindness that is our true nature. It reinforces the sense of separateness. Healing and peace can’t co-exist with fear.
Early on in life we learn to be afraid of anything that can cause pain. In a healthy sense, this is a good way to ensure survival and create the conditions necessary for safety and well-being. Buddha says that useful fear prepares us to take skillful action and reduce harm. But he also warns of the “fear that makes us see a cobra where a piece of rope has cast a shadow”. Fear can easily slip into anxiety. While fear is a signal that we are about to face imminent danger, alerting our body and nervous system of a threat, anxiety by contrast is response to a future hazard or inner conflict. Anxiety is a feeling of dread that something unwanted may be coming, but when and how is unknowable and beyond one’s control.
A central component of spiritual life is recognizing that practice is not about ensuring that we feel secure or comfortable. It’s not that we won’t feel these things when we practice, but rather it’s that we are bound to sometimes feel insecure and uncomfortable when we are exploring and working with emotions and unhealed pain. Our fundamental security develops out of the willingness to stay with and truly experience our fears. Isn’t it ironic that the path to feeling secure comes from residing in the fear of insecurity itself.
Feelings of uncertainty can also manifest as fear of helplessness which can surface as the fear of losing control or being controlled. Fear of chaos or the unfamiliar may give rise to rage which can give us a temporary feeling of control and even power. We all dread the powerlessness of losing control. Yet real freedom lies in recognizing the futility of expecting our lives to be within our control. Instead, we can learn the willingness to feel and say yes to the experience of helplessness.
When we understand fear, it loses its power. Yoga offers us the opportunity to examine fear and practice courage. Fear can be a vehicle for transformation when we take conscious steps to learn from it. If you try to insulate yourself from fear, you will only make yourself more susceptible to it. We are not immune from loss, change and pain. If we think we are, it is a form of magical thinking which is part of the ego. What is most deeply you, cannot be lost. If we recognize thoughts and feelings as just what they are, movements of emotional energy, nothing more, we can dissolve them. Watch your repetitive thought patterns surface and dissipate. Face your fears with courage and curiosity. Invite what may be hidden from view, sources of discontent and confusion. Sit beside it and be with your misapprehension. By giving it some space and you can disarm it. What is this needing? Maybe it requires kindness. Discover loving awareness that is your true nature. When living and loving fully, you will awaken. This is the essence of healing. Fear only reinforces the sense of separateness and takes us out of the place where peace and healing are possible.
Fear is a natural reaction to things that we don’t understand. It reminds us that we are human and vulnerable. To work with fear, we have to welcome it in, treat it kindly and begin to have a relationship with it. This will make space for fear to relax. Bear witness to fear and notice how it manifests itself. On a physical level muscles begin to tense and we feel the armor of the body harden in defense. Breathe with your fear, bringing awareness to self. Safely hold it at a safe distance. Offer up some compassion to the sensations. Let go of the resistance to fear and let it be as it needs to be. Feel the shift as you soften, creating the possibility for more openness, freedom and joy.
Here are some ways in which we can work with fear. Say, “I am not my fear, I am the awareness that knows fear.” Sitting in a comfortable position with the eyes closed or with a gentle gaze, breathe slowly in and out. Focus on bodily sensations of breathing. Notice as your breath expands and contracts in the abdomen. A storyline may appear to give rise to your fear. Breathe into and relax areas around the fear. Make space for fear, allowing it to grow, even though it is uncomfortable. Recognize the impulse to avoid it. Investigate how sensations change and nurture the anxiety. Become aware of the activity in your mind. Is it calm or agitated? Is it focused or scattered? Bring a sense of clarity to and ease to whatever you see. Attend to emotions and begin to transform them into useful energies that express our needs and guide us through life. Feel the breath as alive, flowing energy and sensation throughout your entire body. Sense how all the energies of the body are moving smoothly and harmoniously. Life presents us with a constant stream of circumstances that threaten to cause anxiety and fear. We can learn to send positive energy through our bodies and move along with a calm mind free from fear.
Yoga practice can be a wonderful tool in the process of alleviating fears. With asana or posture exercise, breathing techniques and meditation, we can begin to understand our insecurities. Bringing insight and wisdom into our lives is the beginning of transformation. It is a continual journey of awakening. The path is fraught with many obstacles and road blocks, but we are fearless in the face of it all. Bring unconditional presence to fear and allow for spiritual awakening. Meet this moment with kindness and mindfulness. Courage, compassion, and patience are our watch words as we move through life. Then we are no longer overwhelmed or possessed with fear. Buddha said, “Fear is great, but greater yet is the truth of our essential connectedness.”