Fear itself is a natural and necessary part of being alive. All living beings experience themselves as separate, with a sense of “me in here” and “the world out there.” And that sense of separateness leads us to recognize that we can be injured by others, and that, one day, the “me in here” will die. Despite this inevitable outcome, we are genetically programmed to keep ourselves alive and free from harm, and it is fear that signals a response when threats arise. For example: run when being chased by the boogieman.
The problems arise when fear starts to work overtime, our life is not truly endangered but we spend time and energy on fear none the less. Mark Twain once said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Think for just a minute about all of the time you’ve spent fearful and worrying. Looking back, you might see that much of what you fearfully anticipated turned out fine. Precious moments in life—moments that could have been full of love, creativity, and presence—were taken over by habitual fear. Fear can prevent us from taking necessary risk to obtain happiness in our lives.
When we stay trapped in fear, we begin to feel tight and guarded, even when there is no immediate threat. Your shoulders may become permanently knotted and raised, your head thrust forward, your back hunched, your belly tense. Chronic fear can generate a permanent suit of armor, a bundle of tense muscles defending our very existence.
In addition to physical armoring and mental obsession, there are many common behavioral strategies for reducing or avoiding fear. We might run from fear by staying busy, trying to accomplish a lot, or judge others critically to boost our ego. Some of us take the popular approach of numbing by indulging in too much food, drugs, or alcohol. Yet no amount of doing or numbing can erase the undercurrents of feeling fearful and unworthy. When we run from fear and take false refuge, we miss being in the very place where genuine healing and peace are possible.
Overcoming Fear: First we look to mindfulness and ask, “What is happening inside me right now? Physically? Mentally? What are my fearful thoughts?” This can be done as a mediation. Sit quietly, breathe, and start to evaluate each question.Then as we begin to settle into the present moment and identify what is going on inside ourselves we can invite compassion into that space to take over our fear. This will prepare us to interact with our loved ones from a place of love and compassion even when we are afraid rather than avoiding, judging, or fighting.
For example: I recently started a new dance partnership. I was afraid of so many things: that I would not be good enough, that I wasn't going to be looked at as an equal, that I would not be able to properly communicate with him, I was even scared that I was making a wrong decision.
First I would become obsessed with all the details of the partnership and get angry when it was not turning out the way I had imagined it would. One night I became so mad I left the dance studio after a performance that I felt went terribly wrong without even saying goodbye. Then I realized what was going on and became more mindful of how my emotions and fear were affecting the partnership and dancing. Even my body was being affected as my shoulders became more and more tense. When I could see the bigger picture of how my fear clouded my judgements then I could see that this is probably scary for my partner as well, we are both new to this arrangement. We may not always understand each other but at least we can understand that we are in this together and can support each other. As I started to approach each obstacle with compassion rather than fear I found our communication and dancing had improved as well.
The Lion and The Elephant The lion often found fault with the way he had been designed by Prometheus. Admittedly, Prometheus had made the lion very large and handsome, supplying him with sharp fangs in his jaw and arming him with claws on his feet; in short he had made the lion more powerful than all the other animals. 'Yet great though I may be,' said the lion, 'I am terribly afraid of roosters!' Prometheus replied, 'Why waste your time blaming me? You have every good quality that I was able to create, and you are afraid of absolutely nothing, except for roosters.' The lion kept on lamenting his condition, criticizing himself for being a coward until finally he just wanted to die. It was when he was in this frame of mind that the lion ran into the elephant. The lion greeted the elephant, and stopped to converse with him. When he saw that the elephant kept on flapping his ears, the lion inquired, 'What's the matter with you? Why do you keep on flapping your ears like that?' As the elephant began to speak, a gnat came whizzing by and the elephant said, 'Do you see this little thing, this little buzzing thing? If it gets inside my ear, I'm doomed.' 'Well then,' the lion concluded, 'why should I die of shame? I am an excellent creature indeed, and in much better shape than this elephant: roosters are more formidable than gnats, after all!' Moral: Our fears are only given worth by our perception of the fear.
Pincha Myurasana (Forearm Stand) is a challenging pose that requires strength, balance, awareness and patience. It is an inversion that does not put any pressure on the head while still providing all the benefits of being upside down. Life does not always provide us a right-side-up perspective, so doing an inversion is excellent practice for focusing attention. We are able to face our fear of falling and, we often do fall, which teaches us to get back up and try again. This pose also builds a lot of strength in the shoulders, arms and back while calming the brain through the increase of blood and prana.
Muladhara Chakra The root chakra is located at the base of the spine and is associated with your root issues, such as your sense of security, satisfying your basic needs, familial relationships, and how at home you feel in your body and on this planet. Overcoming fear is part of balancing the root chakra.