To overcome fear is the greatest adventure of the mind of man.
~ Ernest Holmes
The Anatomy of Fear
Wisdom says that the better we understand something, the more logically we will be able to deal with it. We might best understand the anatomy of fear by first dissecting it and seeing it for what it is and what it is not.
~ Dennis Merritt Jones, The Art of Uncertainty
Fear is as ancient as humankind. “It” is one of the primary core emotions with which every human being has wrestled for countless millennia—and, for as many years, humans have done everything in their power to avoid their fears. Sometimes “it” is more difficult to evade than other times because “it” wears so many convincing disguises; anger, rage, vengefulness, resentment, jealousy, greed, depression, worry, self-righteousness, bigotry, superiority, inferiority, and, yes, even shame. Behind every one of the aforementioned emotions or behaviors dwell the same single, formless, invisible, insidious energy known as fear. This beast has many different heads—and what’s vital to remember is that it has no more power than the power we choose to give it.
The Tyranny of Fear
A Prison with Invisible Bars
The thing you fear most has no power.
Your fear of it is what has the power.
Facing the truth really will set you free.
~ Oprah Winfrey
If there is one constant in the human condition it is that the tyranny of fear does what it has done best for tens of thousands of years; holding us hostage, imprisoning us with invisible bars, keeping us from freely living the lives we were meant to live. If we are not present, aware, and accountable for what we allow into our mind and heart, fear will stealthily invade and dominate our lives. When this occurs, it can generate a sense of panic, powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, aloneness, and separation; similar to what we experienced in the tsunami of fear generated by the coronavirus crisis. When we allow fear to have its way with us—collectively or individually—we sacrifice a large piece/peace of our lives, including our sense of oneness with the Beloved, one another, and the present moment in which we exist. The quintessential question has to be, if facing our fear is the first step to reclaiming our power and creating a life worth living, where do we begin? How do we face a beast with so many heads?
First You Must Decide:
Is Fear a Foe to Evade or a Friend to Embrace?
What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means watch it, learn about it, come into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape it.
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
The answer to the question, “Is fear a foe or a friend?”, depends solely on one’s perspective and understanding of the nature and origin of fear. It’s vital to remember that fear has no life of its own, other than that which we choose to give it. Fear is a word to which we assign certain emotions. Getting comfortable with our fear means taking the time to stand face-to-face with it and understanding why it is there, even if it frightens us in the process. As awakened, evolving human beings, we begin to realize there is great power in our ability to choose the filter through which we see life. How we consciously perceive fear will determine our ability to coexist with it because fear is not going away, ever; nor is it supposed to—and that is the point of this article. While most people think of it as a foe, fear is not meant to be denied, evaded, pushed against, conquered or banished from our lives—but understood. When we are able to mindfully embrace fear as a messenger, a portal in awareness opens that gives us the ability to transcend the fear—to rise above it—and view it from a new perspective; to see it for what it really is and is not. This doesn’t mean the fear magically vanishes and goes away; it means we no longer allow it to determine our sense of inner peace or define our happiness. Acceptance is the operative word.
As long as we are living in a human skin, fear will be making an occasional guest appearance whether we like it or not. Infinite Intelligence would have never hardwired every living creature on the planet to experience fear without good reason; it’s a standard operating program that comes pre-installed as part of the gift of being alive—and if we are mindful enough to receive it, our every fear has a message for us. The challenge is, too often we are so busy running from the fear we are not able to see it or hear what it is trying to tell us. This is when life finds a way to metaphorically, in one form another, whack us upside the head to gain our attention—and often times in painful ways. The alternative to getting repeatedly “whacked” is to stop, turn, and face the fear—and receive the message it bears. While this can require courage it is also invites us to free-fall more deeply into our faith in something larger than ourselves choosing to respond—making intelligent decisions.
When and Where Fear Begins
Most dictionaries define fear as uncomfortable, tense feelings triggered by danger, real or imagined. But more precisely, fear indicates confusion, ignorance and a lack of awareness or understanding.
~ Michael Benner – Fearless Intelligence –
The Extraordinary Wisdom of Awareness
It is said that children are born with two basic innate fears; falling and loud noises. If this is correct it means all other fears are acquired or learned as we circumnavigate life. Think about that! It is understandable that as children grow they may acquire other childhood fears such as a fear of darkness—which is most logical in the mind of a five-year-old who is afraid of what they can’t see. While adults may have outgrown a fear of the dark, most adults are equally (or more) afraid of the uncertainty in their lives. The problem occurs when we drag many of our childhood fears into adulthood where they don’t really belong. As we become adults, the boundary line between what to fear and what not to fear became blurred. The anatomy of fear begins here with a willingness to redefine that line. In the following section, I share with you three mindfulness practices that will assist you in identifying what lies beneath your fear, breathing the breath of life into it. Practicing this three-step exercise will enable you to stand toe-to-toe with your fears with faith so you will be able to transcend them. As the old saying goes, Fear knocked at the door, faith answered and nobody was there. Are you ready to open the door?
Three Steps to Transcending Your Fears
Driven by fear, people run for security to mountains and forests, to sacred spots and shrines. But none of these can be a safe refuge, because they cannot free the mind from fear.
~ The Dhammapada
- Understand, you can run but you can’t hide (from your fear).
Have you ever heard this acronym for fear: Forget Everything And Run. Isn’t that what we often do when a fear thought appears in our mind wearing one of its many disguises, triggering our emotions? We run to the medicine cabinet, the liquor cabinet, the refrigerator, or online shopping, etc—anything to avoid facing the fear. The problem is, when we return from our “evasion therapy” the fear is still waiting for us. At first, it might appear that fear comes from the very thing we are fearing, be it a threat of physical harm, a scary prognosis from a doctor, a crashing stock market, the coronavirus, etc. Fear is a feeling that wells up inside us as a reaction to an outer stimulus; that stimulus can, does, and will change constantly. This is the first reason to stop, turn and face our fears; they are not “out there”—they arise from within. Then and only then will we be able to recognize them for what they are and what they are not.
- Understand, all fear is attached to a concern of death (or loss).
Behind our every fear is the concern of death—or the loss—of something in our world of people and things, both tangible and intangible. It is logical to think that our fear may be attached to our own death or the death (loss) of a loved one. However, we can equally fear the death (or loss) of a lifestyle, a business, a title, a bank account, a reputation, a relationship, a job or anything we cherish; our fear can even be attached to our loss of control over other people or outer circumstances. When we can identify the fear surging through our mind and body as being attached to a concern of loss of something, it enables us to more mindfully see it for what it is (and isn’t) and respond accordingly.
- Understand, fear can be your greatest teacher (if you invite it to be).
Every fear we have offers us an opportunity to learn something more about ourselves and the life we are living. Practicing emotional awareness will help us identify the message our fear is trying to bring forward so we may deal with it in a proactive rather than a reactive manner. As a mindfulness practice, visualize yourself on a dance floor. Rather than running from your fear ask it to dance with you. Embrace it, pull it in close and whisper in its ear, “Oh, tell me master teacher of the moment, what is it I need to know about you so I may transcend you and get on with living the life I came here to live—what message do you bring to me?” Remembering that you are leading the dance, the practice is to be teachable and simply listen to your fear—not debate with it. Consider the idea that your fear is there as an ally, trying to help you, not harm you. Understanding the true message your fear is conveying gives you the opportunity to mindfully determine the next proactive step you can take to transcend it.
To embrace the anatomy of fear is to take our power back; it is to be courageous, open and teachable, knowing that, in the process, we shall more fully understand and appreciate the valuable role fear plays in our lives. Dr. Ernest Holmes was correct when he wrote, “To overcome fear is the greatest adventure of the mind of man.” The dictionary states that to overcome means, “to succeed in dealing with a problem.” Overcoming the many-headed beast named fear does not mean slaying it or pushing against it; we all know that to resist anything only gives it more power. Overcoming our fear means successfully facing, understanding, and transcending it. Only then can we use fear mindfully as a sacred guide to a more joyful, productive and satisfying life. Fully living above and beyond our fears really is the greatest adventure our minds will ever encounter. Are you ready for the adventure?