Becoming Fearless

 

There is a common myth that I think we all fall prey to - that if something makes us uncomfortable, it's bad.

Surely, if what we want is easy - be it a business venture or a happier life - then everyone would be doing it wouldn't they?

Well, yes, sorta. I've found that while the road of life isn't always smooth, it's usually that we think something's wrong when we come through a place of pain and suffering.

Actually, anxiety affects 40 million people in the US alone, according to research by Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That's only what's reported. It's also highly treatable, and only about a third of the people get treatment. 

There's an exploding amount of research that fear of death underlies most phobias.

The truth is, we all have fear and nobody is exempt. 

 

LIFE IS TEMPORARY

Part of being human is being aware of our own mortality. The more we understand this, the simpler things get. When I show up as a hospice volunteer, I am reminded of bittersweet impermanence.

When I see and experience that life is beautiful AND it's a struggle, something happens. I climb outside of my own inner angst and recognize that this is part of it for EVERYONE.

When we practice meditation and yoga for a year, 5 years, 15 years - we start to see what it really is to be in a long term relationship with ourselves - and it’s not pretty. We actually invite our deeper stuff to emerge. A teacher of mine, the renowned Rama Jyoti Vernon says, "Yoga is compressed evolution." We constantly expand our comfort zone.

We are forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom and, inevitably, diminish and die.
— Irvin Yalom, existential philosopher

So essentially, when we grow in awareness, we're eliciting the **** to hit the fan.  And how do we work with the material that is brought to the surface - what do we do with it?

In times of deep difficulty, my years of training and everything I've studied swims around my head, and I don't always realize that the simplest things work. The most difficult part is actually using the simple tools when we need them.
 

RELEASING CONTROL DOESN'T MEAN YOU DON'T TRY

It's hard because we know this, yet we value complication. It feels safer somehow to worry about everything, because we trick ourselves into feeling like we're being productive. We focus our real underlying fear on other things. 

This makes sense, because clinging to life is normal. Researchers argue that our shared underlying fear primes increased reactions to other things, from social interaction anxiety to fear of spiders. 

What if there was a "freakout formula" for those times when everything seems too much? What if you didn't need to go anywhere or buy anything to help yourself? 

The body is a place where we experience where our troubles might be, and it's a huge resource for healing those troubles

When those waves of distress come, try to cycle through a few sense perception doors. Seeing, hearing, touching. Name three objects at each of these sense doors. Attention is diverted in a helpful way. Counterintuitively, you don't have to figure anything out or fix it. 

It will still be there, but what will be different is your stance. 

 

FEAR AS LEARNING

To train ourselves to work with "unpleasant feeling tone" is to grow this amazing gift which is the doorway to impermanence, where we prepare the mind for that which we cannot escape. We can work with stuff that has come up, stuff that maybe we don’t yet see, or don’t want to see.

It involves shining a delicate light on what’s in there and growing in our own discernment. It’s about establishing true intimacy with ourselves to hear those voices in our heads telling us things.

Two decades of research supports writing out fears as an effective coping mechanism.

For a long time I didn't even recognize the "hard on myself" character that I have inside. I took it for granted and yet it was destructive and hurtful. When we use fear to become aware and start to see, then we can even adore and take care of those voices inside without them ruling over us. 

 

FEAR AS STRENGTH 

When we use our fear, we naturally develop qualities of acceptance, compassion, tenderness, and wisdom. It's a magical thing - that by truly embracing the raw fear within ourselves, we realize we're not alone. Such compassion flows in simultaneously as we begin to see this rawness in other human beings.

This is what happens automatically when we do yoga and meditation. We actually don’t have to think much about it. We experience the changing nature of things. Then we understand there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.

As our worries and fears arise, they too shall pass. And what remains? Throughout the coming and going of thoughts and fears...who’s watching?

We are our own best teachers on this journey AND it can be profoundly helpful to have an experienced teacher skilled in fear management to be a support system. 

Trusting our own strength, we can absolutely stay with ourselves as we move into variations of the unknown.

 

Lauren Ziegler, RYT500, is a Yoga Therapy practitioner practicing strength and tenderness simultaneously on this lifelong journey. She has 1000+ hours training plus clinical hours in pain and stress management.