Working with Fear

Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth... Usually we think brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are inimate with fear.
— Pema Chödrön

We live in uncertain times. Amid groundlessness, it’s natural to feel fear. Specific fear about circumstances or vague, roving fear about life. The mental storyline of fear is “something is wrong.” And this wrong-ness is projected inward at self or outward at other. Either way, it constricts our mind and heart.

Florence Nightingale said, “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” I disagree. Oppression and injustice occur when we’re plagued with fear. War and violence sprout from fear. Yet I think Nightingale’s true intention was this: meaningful change comes from wisdom, love, and compassion, not fear. If we seek meaningful change in ourselves and the world, we must work with (and through) fear. Once we’re intimate with fear, it no longer holds power. Fear talks a big game, but when we turn toward it—embodied and aware—fear morphs from a scary monster into a small, harmless character.

Turning toward fear takes courage and patience. It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a life-long commitment to growth and healing. My fear manifests in the solar plexus and sometimes radiates through my chest. Fifteen years ago, fear felt overwhelming and impacted my entire life. Like many, I came to meditation out of necessity. I had to do something differently. Gradually, I transformed not the fear, but my relationship to it. Instead of pushing it away, I began to allow for and feel fear in my body. I stayed, breathed, and inquired: What is underneath? What needs my care and attention? Fear and anger are protectors of our heart. Underneath is often sadness, hurt, grief, shame, or loneliness. And underneath that is our basic goodness and our inner wisdom. 

It’s a brave path to become intimate with fear, but it needn’t be a punishing path. We can work with fear in small, doable, kind ways. When we stay with—instead of resist—fear for just three breaths, we create new habits. When we notice fear and its untrue storylines, even once, we build awareness and wisdom. When we feel what’s underneath, for any amount of time, we open our heart. It's possible to form a new relationship with fear.

We can begin together, with a short meditation: