So many people around me—my friends, clients, family—are dealing with fear. They believe we have a president who is reckless, dangerous and impulsive. They feel he has a world view that is backward thinking, that clings to the fossil-fueled, earth-raping, power-privileged, racist, sexist, exclusionary beliefs that are destructive for our world.
They are afraid that we have a Congress that appears ready to trash civility, science, ethics, selfless duty and common sense so elected officials can march, lock-step, to rubberstamp the president’s agenda.
We have ample reasons to be afraid. And fear has ample ways to take us down, if we let it. Fear breeds fear, as well as anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, violence, self-harm, apathy, delusion. Fear can drag us down any of these paths if we let it take up residence inside of us and push out everything else, when we fail to recognize the role fear plays in our lives.
Fear is an emotion, a reaction to something. Like all emotions, fear gives us valuable information. Fear tells us when something in our world is dangerous, a threat, an unknown. With this awareness, we can decide how to respond. Fear might direct us to stop, reevaluate, learn more, reassess, make different choices so we can try to keep ourselves and others safe. It can wake us up, shake us up, change our world.
Once we recognize that fear is here to alert and inform us, then what do we do with it? We need to let it go. We don’t gain anything by holding on to the fear after it has done its job. When we allow fear to hang around after it has served its purpose, fear starts to drain our energy and power. It darkens our vision and our judgment. Eventually, it can disable us. We need to move the fear through us.
“Moving through” is not ignoring, suppressing or denying. It’s validating and honoring that emotion.
When I feel fear, I ask myself, what exactly am I afraid of? What is triggering me? When I get some clarity, I thank my fear for bringing this to my attention, for making me aware. I then invite it to move through me. My intention here is not to push my fear into the world or to dump it on someone else. I’m imagining the fear being transformed into pure energy.
I like to envision sending my fear down into the earth, placing it in a fire or dissolving it in water, with the intention that it be absorbed and dissipated. I also use a breathing exercise where I focus on my fear as I breathe in, and then focus on moving the fear out of my body as I exhale. As with the other practice, I imagine the fear being released and dissipated.
Once I let fear move through me, I create spaciousness inside for other emotions. Like all feelings, fear has its partner emotion. Courage is the opposite of fear. When I let go of fear, I can welcome in courage to fill that space. It’s from this place of courage that I then ask myself what I can do to address the situation that brought the fear. Courage allows me to see more clearly how I can enable change that will heal and empower.
Sometimes, courage can feel like too tall of an order, something that’s beyond me. I find it helpful to remember that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage shows up because of fear. The dictionary definitions of courage are 1. “the ability to do something that frightens one;” and 2. “strength in the face of pain or grief.”
This understanding that courage and fear are connected conjures up another helpful metaphor for working with fear—seeing it as the fuel that feeds our courage. Imagine a brightly burning campfire. The flames represent your courage. The fire needs fuel to keep burning. The wood that feeds this fire is your fear. When we give our fear over to the transformative energy of the fire, it creates flames of courage that can sustain us and guide us.
We have ample reasons to be afraid these days. The challenge before us is whether we see fear as something that comes for a short visit or something that takes up permanent residence in our psyche. When confronted with the challenging news of the day, how will you choose to work with the fear that comes? I invite you to see it as an ally that brings vital information about dangerous situations, a messenger that serves a purpose and then moves on, an emotional fuel that ignites your courage.
Fear warns of danger
Wakes me to inner courage
Informs me to act