We have all experienced fear at some point in our lives. For some, fear is a daily experience arising out of strong emotions. Fear is not rational; it is based in the emotional realm of being. At times, fear has value in that it prevents us from becoming injured. While at other times, it is based upon imaginary beliefs about the future. Regardless of how fear arises, how we deal with and understand our fear determines our ability to go beyond our self-imposed limitations. In this week’s blog, I will explore and learn from our fears.

The first step in dealing with any fear is to turn towards it rather running from it. Our hardwired response to fear is fight or flight. A situation arises and we either flee from it or take a confrontational stance. Fleeing from a situation arises out of a sense of self-preservation. We believe that if we don’t flee we will die. This type of response is warranted in situations of immediate danger, such as fires or flash floods. When we have non-life threatening situations come up for us, our normal response it to flee; it is these types of situations we need to turn towards. For example, you may avoid confronting someone because you are afraid of how they will react. You may evade certain people or places that would put you in direct contact with this person. In another example, you may avoid visiting your doctor or dentist because of a belief you have regarding a diagnosis or treatment. The idea that you have about the experience is often more intense than the actual event. Only in turning towards our fears will we ever overcome them and the convictions we hold. Otherwise, fear determines our life events leaving us with a restricted view of the world.

We must also remain open to whatever comes up for us at all times. When fear surfaces, rather than retreat we need to turn, face it and remain open to whatever is arising. It takes a great deal of courage to be willing to remain open to our greatest fears. We tend to shut down when fear surfaces so remaining open feels counter intuitive. However, only in remaining open can we have any chance of overcoming our fears. An openness means there is a willingness to consider alternative perspectives about rising fears. We are open to a different interpretations or views from the one we hold so dear. In our previous example of avoiding confrontation, we can remain open to a different outcome than anticipated. The stories we tell ourselves in our head never turn out exactly as we have told ourselves they will. Often events go better than planned and we find ourselves wondering why we were so scared. Occasionally, incidents go worse than we anticipate. At these times, we must be willing to be the witness to the proceedings rather than reacting. Remaining the witness to whatever is unfolding allows us to be open, non-judgemental and receptive to new possibilities. It is only when we close down, that outcomes become more certain and constricted.

Finally, there must be a willingness to look into the underlying issues around our fear. As we turn toward our fears, remaining open, there is the possibility of understanding what is underneath our irrational feelings. Out of a clear perspective of the origins of our fear, we can begin to reduce and/or eliminate the impact our fears have upon our daily life. We can never understand our fears if we run from them and are not willing to remain open to new possibilities. Having the courage to look at our limiting beliefs will eventually set us free. However, for some, freedom in and of itself creates great fear as there is an inherent accountability and responsibility. One cannot escape the truth once liberated and so some avoid freedom out of fear. In this way, there is always the opportunity to blame someone or something else rather than taking personal ownership. Using our previous example, when we begin to look at our underlying issues in not confronting someone, we may find that we are afraid of not being accepted or drawing unwanted attention. When we dive a little further, we may find our fear is of not being loved. Our belief may be that own sense of self-love is not strong enough to withstand the idea that others don’t love us as well. In looking into oneself, there must be a willingness to accept oneself without judgement or criticism regardless of one’s held belief. We must be willing to love ourselves unconditionally, in order to learn our true identity.

In the full onset of fear, it is difficult to turn towards it, remain open and look into ourselves. However, gently over time and with compassion, we can begin to see the traps we set for ourselves. We notice when fear is surfacing rather than being consumed by its intense emotional wave. Our fears hold less tightly upon our emotions and we are able to remain the witness to all of our emotions as they surface. Meditative practice provides the base upon which one can learn to remain the witness. In sitting meditation, we can observe our fears without comment or judgement and in so doing see the underlying issues at the same time. As in any endeavour to understand ourselves, we must begin with loving-kindness and compassion. Only then can we hope to overcome our fear and treat others with the same level of loving-kindness. Our fears are opportunities to discover who we are and the hidden secrets we keep from ourselves. As Winston Churchill said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Over the coming week, look into the fears that surface for you with loving-kindness and compassion. Know that they are only self-imposed walls created by the mind. You can walk through the walls if there is a willingness to turn towards them and remain open to new possibilities. We are only limited by our own limitations.