Day 25: Final Lessons Four Fear
Photo Credit: UrvishJ via Compfight
In this 30-days to Mastering Your Fears Series, The Skool of Life and The Fear Project are collaborating to blow the doors off our most primal emotion. Today’s substitute teacher is Megan Morris
“If we can understand fear rather than demonize it, reframe fear as a natural part of our biology rather than avoiding and repressing it, stretch our comfort zones just a little every day, and walk peacefully and courageously into those scary memories of embarrassment and trauma, we will gradually learn to transform fear into focus and compassionate action, and our sons’ and daughters’ world can be better than the one we live in. Will we collectively freeze, fight, and stagnate? Or will we learn and act?” – Jaimal Yogis, The Fear Project
When I sat down to take stock, I was surprised at how much I learned about fear over the course of 2012 — including, in the last few days of the year, the great tidbits I picked up from Jaimal’s book. (If you’re interested in my favorites, they’re compiled here on GoodReads, with some additional thoughts tagged here.)
Part of my journey in the last twelve months has been confronting varied and tangled inner demons previously invisible to me, and oh, fear is so subtly enmeshed with every action I take, every challenge I meet, every obstacle that daunts me. Even when I don’t recognize it, it’s there. (I’m not alone.)
In my attempt to sort out and explain some of these lessons, one thing became very clear: These have been milestones for me, but they’re still new. I only grok them in the sense that they’re working for me better than what I was doing before — trying to practice and be mindful of them every day. And if I am going to be absolutely fair… some of these realizations have fundamentally changed my life.
Your mileage may vary, of course; take what you can use and forget the rest. When I write, I write to myself — but if it’s useful elsewhere, it’s done more than its job.
Fear is onion-layered — and deceptive.
Sometimes fear is obvious, and sometimes it’s not. Don’t assume that it doesn’t exist when it’s not apparent. Fear hides itself in layers; when you uncover one layer, you soon find another. Sometimes fear masquerades as something else that takes time to recognize. Where there is discomfort, there is often fear as well.
Beware your own explanations and excuses, and always question them in any moment. Is your reasoning based on tiny hidden fear? This is always worth exploring, because it will show you who you really are. Find the fear, and you find yourself, too.
Fear is best invited to tea.
Or as one darling of mine recently rephrased: “Hey fear — wanna make out?” Fear frequently points you to your next best step, and the most wonderful feeling in the world is to realize you have embraced your fear, and have found that there’s truly nothing to be afraid of.
Step towards the fear, and find out what makes it tick. Resist the urge to flee or distract yourself. Lean into the feeling of fear, rather than pulling away. The authors of Conscious Loving suggest focusing on the physical sensation of an emotion; in the case of fear, what do you feel? A heaviness in your chest? An ache in your forehead? Sit with that physical sensation, and stay there. Let the sensation intensify, if it wants to — welcome it. What is the fear inside that feeling? Don’t expect an immediate answer, but wait and listen patiently.
The thing you fear is your most effective teacher.
When you find and identify the fear, realize that its presence serves you whether the thing you fear has come to pass, or not. If the thing you fear does not happen, you’ve identified an impulse or desire or worldview that will help you learn more about yourself. If the thing you fear does happen, that experience will invariably help you grow wiser and stronger. Even the experience of learning to lean into fear is an incredible teacher. Embracing your fear means also embracing fear as your teacher, and when you know you can do this, fear as a concept will lose some of its sting.
We all hope for “good” things and fear “bad” things, but all events are essentially neutral. (Charlie Gilkey once told me a version of this story, and it changed my thinking on a fundamental level.) I am learning that it is judgments like “good” and “bad” that often cause us pain. The “good” judgments by themselves somehow manage to beget the “bad” judgments. The universe does not reward and punish us, but we often reward — and therefore punish — ourselves.
These things surpass fear: Art. Authenticity. Radical personal responsibility.
Brené Brown says that acting from authenticity protects us from shame — and much of our fear has its roots in shame. She also says that creativity is about authentic expression, and cannot coexist with shame. Play exists along these same lines; if you embrace your ability to play, to relax, to exist, you will be on the way to finding the core of your authenticity.
At the same time I discovered Brené’s comments on authenticity and creativity in The Gifts of Imperfection, I was also discovering my own radical personal responsibility. This newly discovered flavor of responsibility meant that I had the last word on all my actions, and that I no longer needed to look outside myself for the “right” thing to do. When I realized that mine was the only judgment that mattered, much of my fear in decision making dropped away. I knew I must decide for myself if I wanted something, and if I was willing to field the consequences of going for it — success or failure. Suddenly I understood the concept of failure in a new light: Experimental, exciting, and enlightening.
I have an extra copy of The Fear Project on my desk, and I’d like to send it to someone who will love and benefit from it. Comment with your feelings on better understanding fear, tweet this article’s link with @worldmegan tagged, and follow me so I can DM you to get your address. I’ll ping someone whose thoughts resonate, and get that extra copy out to someone who needs it.
Jaimal’s process to understand fear is very familiar to me, and his story appeals. Fear is for moving towards, not away from. Fear is for learning, not for shunning. If we can really try to move in this direction, everything in our lives and the world around us can become better.
It’s a constant challenge, but an infinitely worthy one. How will you meet it?