by Kara-Leah Grant
We all know the saying – the only thing to fear is fear itself.
But it’s wrong.
Completely totally and utterly wrong.
And if I was a conspiracy theorist, I would say that disseminating that piece of wisdom is a sneaky way to disempower people completely and turn them into comfort-seeking, convenience-addicted sheep.
Fear is not to be feared.
In fact, fearing fear feeds the fear and locks us up into a big old contracted mess that will do anything to avoid how we’re feeling.
And avoiding how we’re feeling leads directly to an explosion of mental illness.
Because the only way to avoid feelings is to shut down the body and flee into the head. When we do this – disassociate and send all awareness of being into our mind – we cut ourselves off from our body wisdom and from our hearts.
All that life force energy goes into the head and into the mind… and can literally send us crazy. Although only in extreme cases. Most of us just experience garden variety mental illness like depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
We’re stuck in our heads, separated out from our hearts and bodies and unaware of how we’re actually feeling. Yet those ‘garden variety’ expressions of fear avoidance can kill, so great can the suffering they induce be.
The good news is, there’s a way back into the body and into the heart.
The bad news is, that way involves getting up close and comfortable with fear.
It involves embracing fear, pulling it close, and listening to the message it has to share.
This is not some New Age, woo woo, unicorns and rainbows theory.
This is a pragmatic, grounded way of engaging with reality that brings us back in deep connection with our hearts and bodies. That leads directly to love, compassion, kindness, insight, clarity and wisdom.
And who doesn’t want that?
So here’s how to Dance with Fear
1. Catch yourself experiencing Fear by learning the signs in your body in your mind. For example:
- The mind fixating on a particular thought.
- The mind catastrophizing everything (thinking the worst)
- The mind obsessively having a conversation with someone
- The mind worrying about something
- The mind trying to plan something
- The mind spacing out and feeling disconnected
- The body feeling unnaturally cold
- The body wanting to contract or push against something
- The body wanting to run or flee
- The body wanting to curl up into a small ball
- A sensation of dread in the pit of the belly
- A sensation of dread in the heart space
- A nagging sensation that something is very wrong
2. Acknowledge what is happening – name it;
- I am experiencing fear right now (do not say I AM afraid… because YOU are not. The fear is something that is washing through you – it is an experience, not a fixed aspect of your beingness. This is an important distinction.)
- There is fear in my system right now.
- I can sense a fear tugging at my awareness
This naming and acknowledgement is crucial because it separates out our sense of who we are from the fear. We are no longer consumed by the fear or misidentifying ourselves with the fear. It is just something we are witnessing, something we are experiencing, something that is moving through us.
3. Create a time and space to welcome fear;
- This is the opposite of how we usually (unconsciously) relate to fear and this is where the power lies
- Make a date with the fear – ‘Hey, I’ve got to work right now, but after work, let’s take the time to sit down and get to know each other better.’
- Create a space to hang out with fear, something that allows you to track the body sensations while observing the mind. I find taking a bath useful, sometimes I meditate. Sometimes I literally dance with the fear and then meditate. Do what works for you
Because we’ve named the fear, and identified it as not-Us, now we can constructively work with it. Now it can’t touch us because it is NOT us – it is simply an experience moving through.
4. Get real curious about the fear and seek to know and feel everything about it that you can
- Start by becoming aware of your breathing (a regular breath practice will strengthen this ability)
- Once you’re anchored in your breath, expand your awareness out to include your physical body (a yoga asana practice will strengthen this ability.)
- Stay aware of breath and body, while allowing yourself to surrender into the experience of Fear
It’s classic war strategy – keep your enemies close. The only way to constructively work with and integrate fear is to KNOW it, understand it, embrace it and love it. That means getting up close and personal with your fears. That’s the practice baby.
5. Acknowledge any resistance that might come up
- Watch for the mind tossing up all kinds of reasons why this is a stupid thing to be doing
- Watch for the mind doing all kinds of things to avoid keeping the Date with Fear
- Watch for the body contracting and wanting to move in weird and wonderful ways. This too is resistance – but this is resistance we can work with.
Embracing fear is next-level engagement with life and when most people start this practice, they encounter all kinds of resistance. It’s the nature of the beast. Resistance. It’s how you WORK with resistance that defines whether you are a Fear-Rider or a Fear-Avoider.
We want to learn how to ride our fears… so don’t be fooled by that wily mind of yours and all the millions of thoughts it tosses your way to try and keep your safe from fear. It thinks it’s looking after you… but really… it’s stopping your consciousness from evolving. Damn mind!
On the other hand, body resistance is something that we can USE.
6. Working with body resistance
- As you stay anchored with your breath and body, allowing all the sensations and thoughts to move through your field of awareness… notice if the body wants to contract, or do weird movements, or shake about.
- Allow the body to do this.
- This means surrendering so deeply to the breath and awareness of body that the body might appear to have a mind of its own.
- Let this happen. Let the body DO and MOVE anyway it wants to during this Date with Fear.
- The entire time, stay anchored in your breath and aware of what is happening.
This itself can be scary, allowing our body to freely move without controlling it. Yet this is often the gateway into releasing the underlying trauma that created the fear in the first place. Learn to trust the impetus of the body to move in a certain way, and let it do so.
7. Being with the Fear
- So now you’ve Named a Fear
- Set a Date
- Danced with Fear, feeling deeply all sensations associated with this fear.
Now what? I’m not sure… this is the moment of magic… I can’t know exactly what you’ll experience if you go this way… because everyone has a different experience:
- Some people discover long-held emotions under the body contractions and once they feel those emotions and name them… the contraction and fear dissipates.
- Other people are more visual and see things in their field of vision which can have some meaning – or no meaning.
- Other people notice the fear sensations melt away and an intellectual understanding or insight will float into their awareness.
- Some people experience ALL of these things.
Whatever happens when you dare to Dance with Fear… will be completely personal to you. The only questions to ask is: Did it work?
Did moving toward the fear with curiosity and love to find out what the fear was hiding… did it change your experience of reality?
Recall the symptoms of fear that you were experiencing – are they still present? Or have they dissipated?
No matter what happens, stay open to the process of changing the way you relate to Fear. It might take a few dates before you can get truly intimate, but given enough time and encouragement, you and Fear could become dedicated partners in awakening.