Your Body Speaks Your Mind: Fear and Fearlessness
By Deb Shapiro, author of “Your Body Speaks Your Mind”
Fear is an instinctive response when your survival is threat andened, when what you believe in is undermined, or when the ground you are standing on becomes shaky and there is nothing to hold onto that feels secure or safe. Healthy fear is an important part of your defense mechanism. It maintains your alertness to danger; it keeps you on your toes. But unhealthy fear is neurotic anxiety that creates worry, panic, and nonspecific tension: the “what if . . .” syndrome. Constant fear or dread can undermine relationships, increase stress, and is physically detrimental. Physical signs include trembling, sweating, sleeplessness, exhaustion, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Unhealthy fear is paralyzing.
Every movement forward is undermined by doubt: the fear of what has happened or of what might happen, fear of being a bad person, fear that you are not good enough to be loved, fear of the pain in your heart, and fear that you are not strong enough to deal with it. We went to visit a young woman in the hospital who had become a quadriplegic as a result of an accident. We offered her some relaxation and meditation tapes, thinking this might help her relax into a deeper place of acceptance. But she refused, not because she did not want to relax but because, “I know I am being punished for being bad, and I am frightened of what I might find if I look inside myself.” You fear being healed for fear that you will no longer be sustained or supported. You fear that if you give something up you will no longer be worthy of love. “If I give up a bad relationship, maybe no one better will come along. If I look for a new job, maybe I will get a worse one,” writes Joan Borysenko in Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. “If I let go of my suspicion, maybe I will be hurt and disappointed by people.
It is fear that masquerades as the need to control, a fear that deprives us of the chance to be free.” In other words, fear is about the future and about what might happen, what the next moment could bring or how change will affect you. Change is the very essence of all life, but when it is resisted it brings uncertainty and doubt. If that uncertainty is resisted it brings fear. If it is embraced it brings security and fearlessness in the deeper acceptance that nothing can be held onto, as all things are constantly changing. Recently, my husband, Ed, asked a 28-year-old Buddhist monk what he found hardest to deal with in his life, and he replied “uncertainty.”
A few weeks later we were with a 71-year-old woman who had few possessions and no home of her own. The same subject arose, about how life contains so much uncertainty. “I love the uncertainty!” she said with a laugh. “It makes life so much more interesting.” The unknown can make you feel fearful, but only by entering into it can you reclaim your power. The contents of your own mind might appear scary but it is where your healing lies. For fear is like a mask covering up deeper issues, perhaps ones of grief or anger. Only when you go through the fear can you bring healing to what lies behind it. As Bruce Springsteen said in a GQ interview:
There’s a world of love and there’s a world of fear too, and it’s standing right in front of you, and very often that fear feels a lot realer and certainly more urgent than the feeling of love. . . . It’s about walking through that world of fear so that you can live in a world of love.
Sit quietly Breathe into your heart, opening and softening.
Find your fear When your breathing is steady and you feel comfortable and relaxed, then go and find your fear. Find where it is in your body, where it is in your past, where it is in your present, where it is in your future, where it is in your mind and your heart.
Do not hide from fear Get to know it. Feel it. Breathe into it. Every time it arises, see it, smell it, hear it, touch it, taste it. Then breathe and release.
Follow the fear Where does it come from? What does it want? Breathe and release.
Ask yourself questions How does fear affect you? What does it stop you from doing? What does it make you do? How often have you felt fear but not been able to identify what you are fearful of?
Name your fears Fear maintains control by being nameless, so find its source and give it a name. Define and name it. And breathe into it and release.