It’s like a plague – something happens that upsets the normal balance of life and pandemonium breaks out, suddenly fear of the ‘unknown other’ is making us turn away even from those most in need. When a seed of fear is planted in our minds it generates instability to the point of paranoia and can spread like wildfire. As it spreads it reassures us that we are not alone in this unfounded fear, that we are right to join forces in making the ‘other’ the enemy. Fear is like a pig in the garden: once there it is hard to get it out.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — Franklin D Roosevelt in his first inaugural address
The effect of fear is to shut us down and, in particular, to close off the heart. Just for a moment, let your body take the stance of feeling fearful. What is your posture? Most people hunch their shoulders forward, fold their arms across their chests, or assume a similarly contracted position to shield the heart, fear having triggered the need to be on the defensive. In this self-protective place, the heart goes out of reach and we can’t feel love or even friendliness. Try saying “I love you” with real meaning while your arms are firmly folded across your heart. Hard to do?
Now take the posture of love. Watch your body respond as arms reaching outward, accepting and inviting. Fear may still be there but love embraces fear. Watch your breathing gets deeper, fuller. Where fear shuts out love, love holds fear tenderly. It is like the sky that contains everything, the stars, the moon, the wind. With your arms stretched wide, say, “I’m frightened” and really mean it. Hard to do?
“There’s a world of love and there’s a world of fear, and it’s standing right in front of you,” said Bruce Springsteen in David Hepworth’s The “Q” Interview. “And very often that fear feels a lot realer and certainly more urgent than the feeling of love. The night my son was born, I got close to a feeling of real, pure, unconditional love with all the walls down. All of a sudden, what was happening was so immense that it just stomped all the fear away. But I also understood why you are so frightened. When that world of love comes rushing in, a world of fear comes in with it. To open yourself up to one thing, you’ve got to embrace the other as well.”
When fear is in control we become resistant to change and spontaneity; we get angry and defensive, reinforcing separateness, isolation and enmity. Fear arises when the ego-mind is threatened, making us reject anything that is unfamiliar; in so doing we surrender our sensibility and compassion.
Bless you for your fear for it is a sign of wisdom. Do not hold yourself in fear. Transform the energy to flexibility and you will be free from what you fear. — Yoko Ono in our book, THE WAY AHEAD
As long as we deny or ignore fear it will hold us captive, emotionally frozen, unable to move forward. Trying to run away from, ignore, or stop fear will simply create more tension. It is transformed only when we can turn around and face it, get to know it, release resistances and fixed ideas, and speak with our own voice. It cannot affect us when we are strongly rooted in truth.
What is triggering this desire to withdraw, contract, or close down? If we keep breathing and being open and naming and watching and going underneath or behind or into the center of fear then we will find the source. There may be sadness, loss, inadequacy, or tenderness in our heart. Keep going deeper. And as we do this, fear will begin to move through us without stopping, without landing. We will be able to see it, know it and keep going beyond it.
The key to dealing with fear is awareness; it can only harm us if we are unaware of it and how it is affecting us. As fear comes we breathe in, breathe out, and let it go; we offer reassurance and tenderness to the mind; and we replace fear with unconditional love for all beings.