August 27th, 2015

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Face Fear – Embrace Freedom

Life is a series of experiences that bring constant change. Change, even beneficial change we choose: a new career, a move, a new baby, a long planned trip, can fire up fear. Fear of the unknown, of loss of control, of feeling fear itself, can trap us. Trapped by fear we are unable to move forward or change what might be best for us. Fear can also scare us so we grasp towards a future that isn’t in our best interest.

Do not run from fear and do not grasp it! Either way FEAR controls you. Realize that fear, like Gain and Loss, is part of the inevitable flow of real life; but not a concrete reality. Fear, riveting and compelling as it may be is just another emotion. We can’t change the past and we can’t control the future. We have this one amazing present moment to breathe into and nothing else. Don’t allow FEAR to steal it from you.

Next in Ten Principles for Being Human: How to Turn Every Experience into Opportunity, we learn Face Fear – Embrace Freedom. FEAR is a feeling like joy, happiness, excitement and not more. Refuse to be at the mercy of FEAR as master of our destiny! EMBRACE FEAR as a Teacher. It is an invitation to become truly FREE. Facing fear keeps us awake, aware and mindful in the moment where we can weigh opportunities realistically.

Fear invites us to ask, “what could actually be happening that I feel anxious or suddenly frozen, nervous, exhausted, flighty, wanting to run away or towards with so much mindless anxiety?” “Why is fear gripping me right now? What is this fear really and what can I do before it controls me? Can this fear be useful tool for me to ACT appropriately? Is it an indication of REAL danger or is it an effort to stop me or urge me to rush to bad choices?”

If we accept the invitation to BREATHE deeply and calmly and look at our fear, we create OPPORTUNITY to come to grips with the truth of our entire existence: things happen we cannot control! When we learn to “embrace fear” as an essential feeling of being human we begin to understand where fear can assist us in the process of true freedom. We come deeply into the possibility of understanding Every Experience as an Opportunity.

Featured Journal Entry:

Lizzie is a determined, organized and single-minded mother, wife and emerging tech executive with her own online publishing company. “Deadlines,” she says breathlessly, “my life is about deadlines, schedules, calendars, timelines; what is due and how soon and who the hell needs to know and approve; get it done now, under all circumstances! I live partly in the past that confronts me with my secret, personal litany of supposed failures OR drives me forward into what I fear might be new punishments of possible failure. My antidote to fear was ‘be brave and reject fear.’ ‘Find freedom, by embracing fear’ sounded like the craziest idea! And the challenge to ‘feel fear,’ almost sent me out the door!”

No one likes that creepy, out of body, my personal-earth-shattering; “skin crawling” feeling. We begin to own our fear and embrace truth when we can say, “my eyes burn; mouth is dry; I want to give up my legs and sag to the ground never to get up!” Once we own our reactions to fear we experience it for what it is: an effort to control feeling, to change the past and keep us safe from future hurt we can’t name!

When we go into the feeling of fear understanding its actual effects on us it can no longer control our choices, decisions and actions. We dismantle its ability to drive us, or grip us, or send us flying into the tortured past (real or imagined) or towards the scary future (which we cannot ever truly know.)

Lizzie agrees; “My family was run on ‘winner adrenalin,’ my Navy officer father was proud to say. Every night at dinner we ran through our accomplishments and ‘failures.’ Sibling competition was intense and the ‘reward’ was daddy’s love and praise. Punishments could be anything from a face or bottom slap to extra dishwashing, to no dessert or being grounded for a month; every punishment was in excess of the ‘crime!’ The humiliation or threat of it was the worst! If I got in trouble for a broken pencil in school I had headaches all day, afraid I’d spend the night being publically berated and sharpening two dozen new number sixes until I dropped from boredom or ridicule by my siblings.”

“We learned to be either rigid and frozen with fear or run towards quick fixes, including lying to avoid wrath. My head hurt most of my life as I worried, thinking up excuses for minor infractions. My stomach hurt because half the time I was too anxious to eat and the other half I gobbled down food trying to ‘consume’ every possible ‘sweet’ to fill the emptiness of NO victory. My dad, to this day, reminds me I am successful because he taught me how to compete. But, he also taught me how to be so fearful that the result was ulcers, bouts of bulimia and anorexia and a constant feeling that the ‘boogeyman’ was waiting for me to fail just around the next bend.”

Fear is a feeling and invitation to understand ourselves better. It is an invitation to see the reality of experience, the give, take, ups, downs, limitations, sadness, joys and endless possibilities. Understanding fear is the best opportunity to come fully into the present moment where we can find possibility to change our entire experience.

“It was the promise of ‘Become a Mindfulness Ninja,’ not the opportunity to work on fear, that brought me to Rise Up. I knew my health was out of control, that despite business success I literally lived running away from a heart stopping fear of failure, or towards the wrong man, the drug that might calm me, and the victory that would finally make me feel satisfied. I didn’t see the irony of this until our weekend, but I thought ‘mindfulness’ would help me gather my mind so I could reach for more! When I learned to feel how FEAR drove me, rattled me, and even made victories hollow and nerve shattering, I started to finally BREATHE. I learned ‘fear is the real enemy.’ I felt myself as a whole person in the present moment for the first time in my life. Resting in that oasis of calm I began to dismantle anxiety.”

Stop and feel fear for what is it: a physical response to stimuli from the past that infects our present life experience and makes us anxious about the future! “Embrace fear” and it invites us to look deeply; to feel its hold on us; to understand it as an emotion BUT NOT CONCRETE REALITY.

Only then can we use fear to teach us about life as it truly is, and the nature of reality: that everything changes and certainty is an illusion. Understand fear and we see that ONLY in the present moment can we breathe freely, rest, make choices that are reasonable, and FEEL OURSELVES as WHOLE. Awake and aware in the present moment we understand life as a river of experience and allow ourselves to be in the flow of it all. ONLY then can we “Embrace fear and BE FREE” to find Opportunity in Every Experience.”

Featured Exercise:

Life can be scary: we can all admit that! A car screeches to a stop behind us; a dog bares teeth and barks; the markets fall and we’re afraid we’ve lost our nest egg; there is violence; International hackers; RISK is everywhere! Or is it?

  1. What is our best strategy? Three deep breaths. Keep practicing deep breaths until they become as automatic as the fear itself. Breathing, available to all of us, brings you into the PRESENT MOMENT; puts you INTO your body and adjusts your mind so that you aren’t “chasing fear” into the past or into the future.
  2. Ask Yourself: “What is really happening?” Before you start a long fear list of the horrors of the past (“all those bad things that happened the last time…”) OR your fear of the future (“OMG all those bad things that will go wrong if…”) before anything actually happens, say to yourself: “STAY” in the present moment.
  3. Keep breathing: Holding your breath automatically makes your brain and body freeze and warns your entire system you are being deprived of oxygen. Physical response to fear begins by either holding your breath or shallow, quick breathing. Monitor your breathing and release your head from aching, your mouth from going dry, and your mind from racing into resistance or into false realities!
  4. Study Fear! Do not avoid fear, embrace it! Whether you read “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” (a great classic study) or take a YMCA martial arts class or start a true meditation practice; the more you study what fear really is (and your personal relationship to fear) and what it isn’t you put yourself in the driver’s seat of your own emotions. We ALL have the capacity to Embrace the TRUTH of FEAR and become FREE. We ALL have the capacity Turn Every Experience into Opportunity even if the entire lesson is “Fear can’t control me!”