At this time of year with Halloween around the corner, we may find that we subject ourselves to scary movies, haunted houses and spooky costumes. I for one dislike anything of the sort. I do however enjoy getting in the face of the fears that I experience each day; the ones that make me uneasy, irritable, and afraid of what may happen next. I’d like to share with you my experiences with fear and how I determine what fears I need to let go of.
One of my favorite acronyms for Fear is ‘False Expectations Appearing Real.’ I heard this in college during one of my psychology internships. Today, it has a whole new meaning for me. Let’s start with expectations. By definition, an expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or will be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” The keyword here is future. The future is unknown to us. We can plan, set goals, make appointments, but the future as a whole is a great unknown. In Mindfulness practice, we are taught to ‘be here now’. We see quotes posted on social media about being present, being in the moment, trusting the process, releasing fears, letting go. Sometimes, we hear it in yoga class “Relax, let go.” What exactly should we be letting go of?
As a disclaimer, this perspective is from my personal experiences and my journey through self-discovery and growth. This past year of my life has been eye opening with regards to my fears of the unknown. I’ve explored old wounds that have allowed me to navigate new depths in my heart and I’ll be honest, I have come face to face with many deep, dark fears. There have been fears that I didn’t even know existed. A few of the fears I’ve confronted include: fear that I’m not fulfilling my life purpose, fear that whenever I discover my life purpose I’ll fail at it, fear of opening my heart completely to my partner, fear of getting up in front of a room and teaching a yoga class for the first time, fear of what others will think of me, fear of disappointing someone I care about.
There is a gap of time between this moment right now and whatever plan or hope we have for the future. It is important that we set goals; make commitments to ourselves and others. It brings a sense of forward motion to our lives. Growth and opportunity arise from new experiences and connecting with new people. New experiences and connecting with new people can also trigger fear in us. These new experiences can come in the form of trying a new type of exercise class, signing up for an inversion workshop, committing to meditating 20 minutes a day, going on a first date, following your passion, falling in love, starting a family. The list could go on and on.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do” – Timothy Ferriss
We come up against moments in our lives where fear prevails. If we are not aware that we are afraid, this may manifest as anxiety. A therapist once said to me, “anxiety is simply emotions that you’ve not yet identified or allowed yourself to feel.” I try to think of this anytime I feel myself becoming afraid of what is ahead (the future…the unknown). I find that when I take a moment to be with myself and what I am feeling, my fears begin to lose their power.
Here are some tips I use when fear bubbles up for me:
- Pause and breath. I like ‘box’ breathing. Inhale for 4 counts, Hold for 4 counts, Exhale for 4 counts, Hold for 4 counts. Repeat for 5 minutes, or until you feel more calm.
- I carry a journal with me, and if I don’t have it I use the ‘Notes’ app on my phone. Write down whatever thought or feeling you have. Identifying your feelings often allows you to be more in tune. When you are feeling afraid, identify that and try to drill down. Ask yourself “What am I afraid of?” “What am I afraid to lose?” “What am I afraid will happen?”
- Find a quiet place, sometimes I do this in my car, at my desk, or at home on my meditation cushion. Sit comfortably and focus on your breath. Give yourself permission to be still for a period of time. Emotions and thoughts will likely flood your mind. As they come in, I find it helpful to label them. For example: ‘thinking’, ‘hearing’, ‘feeling sad’, ‘feeling afraid’ ‘feeling happy’. This allows you to spend some quality time with yourself. You’re more likely to identify what it is that you are afraid of if you give your mind an opportunity to quiet. Someone recently told me about the glitter bottles for kids and the analogy is so wonderful. A way to get children to meditate involves: filling a water bottle with glitter and water, shaking it up and have them focus on it until the glitter settles. This is analogous with how our minds are. Before we meditate, we may be a swirl of glitter zipping around. When we sit and focus on one thing (our breath), the glitter settles. When we settle, our feelings become clearer.
I have realized that all of the fears that creep up for me are related to the unknown, related to expectations of how I think things should be or predictions that I make. When I live in a place of fear, my mind feels jumbled and I find I do not fully live in the moment. When we take time to ground and center ourselves we are able to tap into how we are truly feeling. Once we can identify the feelings, we then have something to work with when it comes time to “let go”. I find that when I face my fears head on I am presented with ample opportunity for growth. I end up learning something new about myself, discovering a new layer of what I am capable of. Fear is an excellent opportunity to discover something new about yourself.
The gap between the known and the unknown is a beautiful opportunity for growth and exploration. This is one of my all-time favorite parables about fear that explores that gap from an interesting perspective: The Parable of the Trapeze
Love & Light,