Facing Fear Mindfully 

 September 6, 2020

How can we face fear?

The simple answer is to face it! Sounds so easy, and yet can be so challenging and even overwhelming.

To begin with, we can accept that fear exists. There will be moments when we are called to act, because our world is uncomfortable by design and uncertain. Know this. However, we can choose to face our fear, first with awareness, and then learn how to respond with skill. In doing so we can become increasingly confident, brave, and find greater balance in our lives.

Fear is an emotion. Nothing more, nothing less. It is built in to our central nervous system to detect threats. It has helped keep us alive for thousands of years, and yet the impact of this system can wreak havoc on our mental health in our modern way of living. As psychologist and author Rick Hanson, PH.D. points out in Hardwiring Happiness and Buddhas Brain, our brains are like velcro for the negative. All this means is we have to work diligently to work with our minds, and this takes practice, lot's of it. You cannot read a book and be mindful, or teach mindfulness, it has to be learned through experience, practice, and time on the mat or chair. There are no shortcuts. "Sit happens!" especially if you want to grow. Timber Hawkeye is another great author and resource for those interested.

I will admit the following poem did not resonate with me the first few times I heard it and read it. After a while it just clicked and I got it. For how can one make sense of all the emotions, thoughts, events, and conditions that happen in a life make any sense? Life can be crazy, tragic, and absurd! This is exactly why this poem is so timeless.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,

Still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

In some cases I have read this poem several times aloud while sitting in my classes. I find it incredibly insightful, helpful, and cathartic. Fear, doubt, frustration, boredom and other negative thoughts, emotions, and sensations (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral) will continue to seep into our minds, this is a reminder that we don't have to validate them, because through the lens of non-judgmental awareness we can see them simply as mental events, coming and going, passing as they will, and impermanent. This is a critical concept, but it has to be experienced to be truly learned, as experiential learning is the highest form of wisdom.

“Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”

– Rita Levi-Montalcini

I love this quote. There are so many to choose from to highlight and articulate my own thoughts and experiences with fear. We all face difficult moments. We all fear something. We can run, hide, avoid, or fight. We can also respond by cultivating our own skills with present moment awareness. This is applicable to almost any occupation or situation in life. In some circumstances we will succeed and others we will fail, this is given, but failure can and should be an opportunity for our growth, if we allow for that possibility. We can face our fear with self-compassion and resilience. For the moments of facing fear allow us to grow, and therefore are critically important and can be incredibly empowering.

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