We all have them. If someone says they do not, they are either lying or at an advanced state of Nirvana and will be leaving planet earth soon.
So if fear is something that we all deal with on a daily basis, why is it still so darn scary and why do we continually let it stop us from doing the things that we really want to? You know, those sparkly aspirations that in our heart we so desire although when attempted, fear jumps out of nowhere, erects its big, yellow barricade and pulls out its giant, red stop sign screaming, “No!”
Being foremost a creator, secondly a mindfulness practitioner and thirdly an entrepreneur, I face fear almost every hour of my day and it has been something that has caused a lot of havoc in my internal world. For many years it regularly froze me in my ambitious tracks.
However, if there is one certain thing I have learned about fear, it is that it is fed by denial. When we turn away from it and run in the opposite direction this only gives fear the chance to grow. What a bummer, hey?
I tried many things to conquer my fears, like hand-on-hand combat with them or repeating new-age mantras like, “face the fear and do it anyway,” but these often left me feeling shaky and insecure. I wanted some immediate trick that would empower me in the midst of a staring contest with fear. Like many times in my life, I found this secret weapon in the ancient teachings of yoga and meditation.
Because us humans have been grappling with this emotion for several millions of years, and even before that as primates, there have been a few wise individuals who have developed ways to turn good ol’ dependable fear into something more useful.
These were wise teachers who sat in a cold, damp caves for months, isolated and with no place to go besides that one still spot right next to the uncomfortable things we instinctually hide from. I am certain that fear was the major factor these yogis were trying to understand.
Many of the techniques they developed for facing what scared us are taught in meditation practices, but I often use them less formally, whenever necessary: while I am making breakfast, driving my car, talking to someone who intimidates me, tackling a project that challenges me, going on a first date…you get the drift!
The first trick I learned to transform fear was:
Lean into it:
I was instructed to do this by one of my earliest yoga instructors. She taught Yin Yoga, a style that requires you to hold posses for up to five minutes. Trust me, “leaning in” was not something we enjoyed at first. But as we stayed in the pose, our resistance to it began to fade, much like it does when we stand our ground with fear.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun says simply, “just lean into it.” When we realize we can meet fear, touch the experience of it and survive, we gain confidence that we can meet it again. By getting cozy with fear, fear starts to break apart. Who doesn’t melt under a nice bear hug?
This next trick revealed itself to me in a beautiful book by Thick Nhat Hahn, a nobel prize nominated Vietnamese Monk who knows a thing or two about facing fear.
The Half Smile:
His whole book was about this one practice of maintaining a half smile toward anything that feels unpleasant to us. I am going into a board meeting—half-smile. I am applying for a job—half smile, I am telling someone I love that I didn’t like what they did—half smile.
The premise is that if we bring the opposite of fear into a situation, we realize there can be both fear and cheerfulness at the same time. And fear panics when we maintain our cool. It’s like, “Oh, sh*t… my cover is blown!”—half smile.
The third trick for fear metamorphosis is a practice the Dali Lama recommends doing every day, and it originates way back from an Indian Yogi, Atisha Dipankara Shrinjnan, born in 982 CE.
This is the act of reversing our impulsive reaction to fear. It teaches us to breathe in what scares us, rather then to escape from it, and then to breathe out relief. The technique is to focus on our fear, imagine what it looks like, tastes like and the colour of it, and then on the in-breath, take that all in. On the exhalation, we release peace, light and space.
As we do this, we realize fear is not so solid, but rather something that can be inhaled and then released. We begin to burst the fear balloon.
If fighting fear didn’t rule our lives, what would we be doing? Rather, let’s use it to motivate us to grow and know our strength. We are not alone in our experience of it, but as we learn that we don’t need to be scared when fear comes up, we transform it into something useful.
Today put on a bright, reflective safety vest and head toward what ever barricade fear tries to build. There will always be a new thing to be afraid of when we are pushing the envelope of our own individual evolution. In the scheme of the earth’s lifetime, it was only yesterday that we were hanging from trees and walking on all fours. Being inspired by our fear is possible, and developing to a place where we do not hide from it is, as well—the trick is cultivating bravery.
It is here in the midst of what frightens us that lays the exact ingredients for our growth.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Editor: Catherine Monkman