Ah, fear…my old friend. I mean, fear…my old nemesis. I mean…what?
Fear has been living with me for so long, it’s like a part of the family — that abrasive relative you never talk back to but who holds everyone in their grip. You might sidestep, placate, appease, even confront, but still, they never really back down. Sometimes they’re sweet and charming and you get lulled into a false security, then…wham! Knocked down once again.
If you’re like me, your fear masquerades in many disguises. It often takes the form of disinterest. For example, I’ve had many job opportunities where I’ve given a dynamic first interview and gotten close to a new challenge. Then somehow I’d decide I wasn’t so interested anymore. I’d give a weak second interview, and instead of being the one to make the decision, it was made for me, in the form of no offer. Of course I’d tell myself I didn’t really want it anyway, and maybe I really didn’t. Or, I’d imagine the job was really too hard for me and who knows, it might have been. It took a long time to learn that the important thing wasn’t whether or not I could have done it, but that I gave up my power, and usually way too soon.
Fear of failure is certainly common, but fear of success can be equally strong. Getting closer to experiencing your own power can be a scary thing if you’re used to keeping it in check. I see it happen all the time with yoga students who are making great progress in their physical practice and suddenly get sidelined by injury, or somehow their schedule changes and they can no longer make it to class. The first time it happened to me, I was attending classes consistently and practicing diligently. One day I was practicing a headstand at the wall and brought my legs straight down and held them in a half-staff position — this was something I thought I’d never be able to do and it was exhilarating. What happened next? I found reasons to stop going to class. Progress halted. Again, it took me a long time to understand what was actually going on.
Using mindfulness to deal with fear is both effective and challenging. It requires the patience to sit with the many different faces of fear until your awareness is keen enough to recognize each. There can be a process of decoding the language of your own relationship to fear. It often manifests as physical symptoms, hiding unconsciously in the body. Mine has been lodged in my lower back for years, a literal “holding back.” This is why it’s important to avoid aggressive yoga practice. You might be working with more than just a tight muscle, and the whole body-mind continuum needs to work together to release something deeper.
It takes fortitude to recognize, tolerate and accept the role fear has played in your life. Luckily, there’s courage. No one likes the idea of being afraid, but we love the idea of having courage — which, by definition, includes feeling our fear, so it’s a winning concept. Lately, I’ve been feeling fear directly in my gut, where I believe it’s supposed to be. I’m pleased about this shift. I’m not always sure what I’m afraid of but at least I know what I’m dealing with, which makes it a lot easier to decide what to do.
Eventually, we’ve got to tell our fear to move out. Sure, it can visit — sometimes we actually need it to let us know what real danger is all about. But when we determine that there’s no real threat, or that the threat is in the past, it’s time to show fear the door. Then it’s more like a distant relative you’re glad you got to know, but you’re relieved it’s gone back home. Next time, maybe it can just phone.