Author Jay Cradeur shares the secret to transforming fear of fear to the powerful impact of embracing fear as your teacher.
Perhaps the most important relationship we will have in this lifetime is our relationship with fear. Fear is that feeling in the pit of our stomach that forces us to stop and reevaluate any given situation. Fear is a beautiful mechanism that can, when operating properly, warn us of potentially life threatening situations. Fear is the trigger for our most natural human response of “fight or flight.” Fear is what happens before anything of real importance occurs in our life. Fear keeps us honest. How we respond to fear at every turn determines not only the direction our life will take, but also how we will feel about ourselves after we have chosen a direction.
What is fear? At its root, fear is a feeling. It is nothing more and nothing less. For me, the feeling of fear is a full body sensation, kind of like an alarm clock going off deep inside. I don’t usually get nocuous, but the feeling can be very intense at times. For some, the physical sensations can be overwhelming, and medication is necessary to achieve a balance. The point is that fear is a physical sensation. How we react to these physical sensations is the real question at hand.
I remember when I was in my late twenties; I had fallen deeply in love with an woman named Mindy. We had a very passionate one year relationship. Mindy was sexy, smart, really funny, and when I was with her, my world was all smiles. After a year, Mindy had had enough of me, and the relationship came to a sudden end. I remember writing letters to her, imploring her to give us another chance. I sent flowers in an attempt to win her back. Finally, I had to realize that it was over. I was devastated. My dominant feeling was an intense fear of being alone and being profoundly sad. I was not hungry. I did not feel like working. Everything seemed dull and muted. My greatest fear at the time was realized. I was alone again.
I did something very wise back then. I did nothing. I did not run out to find another woman. I did not start drinking. I did not sit in front of the television. Instead, I took the advice of a wise old crone, and I took walks in nature. Whenever I got that sick to my stomach feeling, that overwhelming fear of being abandoned, I got up, and went to a park and walked. It was amazing how I could shift my feeling by joining in with nature. I did not feel alone amongst the oak trees. I did not feel alone watching the red tail hawks flying in the sky overhead. I did not feel alone when I smelled the sweetness of the rose bush or the jasmine.
The choice is to distract from the fear and avoid the situation, or feel the fear and move forward anyway. I have noticed over the years that those who try to avoid the fearful situation never do. That situation will continue to reappear until it is dealt with. You can run buy you can’t hide. And when that time comes, the time when I face the fear, feel the fear, and then take the appropriate action, then I am free, even if only for that short amount of time. Each time I live with the fear and move forward, it gets easier, although I would say it never gets comfortable. This is the essential nature of the act of surrender. You have to give up. This is the beginning of learning to let it all go. This is the opening to the gates of heaven.
It is my experience that once the universe sees that you don’t run and hide, there will be rewards, unexpected feelings and insights and gifts which were never expected. Going back to my nature walks, I began to feel a strange oneness with everyone and everything. First I noticed a strong connection with the trees. It was as if I and the trees both acknowledged our ancient nature, and the sharing of our mutual wisdom. My sensitivity to all elements of nature began to expand. I noticed the way the light shown through the canopy at noon. I noticed how the wind would blow the branches smooth one day, and then almost in circles another day. Other days, everything seemed so very still, almost surreal. These are the types of gifts of which I speak. This was my first real demonstration of the phrase: “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela
Unfortunately, many don’t have these experiences. Rather than feel the fear, they run from it. They hide, acting as if the fear never existed. They drink. They medicate. They chase after sex. They eat and veg in front of the TV. The worst part of all of this is how it makes us feel. How do you feel when confronted with a fearful situation, and instead of taking a deep breath and moving forward, you run and hide? I feel like a coward. I feel like I ripped myself off. I feel a bit of self-loathing. I feel like I missed out on something. My aliveness takes a big hit. The magic dies.
Isn’t it always fear that creates our feelings of separation? It is fear that creates a you and a me. If in the moment we are not feeling fear of anything, then we feel at one with everything and everyone. So simple. Yet all suffering is born out of a feeling of separation. If we are one with everything, we do not suffer.
I suggest doing something which goes against all I have been taught – Do nothing and feel it. Don’t avoid fear and don’t resist fear. Don’t ignore the fear. Acknowledge it. Feel it. Own it. Let it burn you up. Think of fear as internal gasoline waiting to be lit to burn up more gunk. Or think of your fear as your greatest ally. Your fear is your greatest teacher. When fear appears, honor it. Know that the fear you feel is here only to teach you. Pretending it doesn’t exist, pretending you don’t feel it, pretending you don’t have any fear, only makes it worse and increases your feelings of separation which increases your suffering. To repeat something my dad always said “Honesty is the best policy.” I AM AFRAID. You know when this is true. And when it is true for you, say it loud and strong for that is the only way for a fully present human being to respond to fear.
The hardest part of the fear is to just let it be, acknowledge it and feel it. To acknowledge that we have fear makes us so human. We hate that, don’t we? We’d rather be above it all, chosen ones, gifted leaders, unusually perceptive, and ever so special. Fear continues to point out our truth, which, I am sorry to say is, we aren’t special. We are just like everyone else and we get afraid. We are all running scared. And, we all have the same choices. We can own up to the fear, and really feel it, or we can be phony and try to tell the world we aren’t afraid and we don’t have any fears. No one is going to believe this lie. It is your choice. Make it a wise one.
Feeling your fear will generate all the compassion you will ever need to be of service. And it will put you just at your edge, at your most awake, most creative, and most alive and present. By not resisting our fears, we feel them. And by feeling them, we transform while the fears gently begin to fade away. By feeling them, they burn through you and they burn away, sometimes slow and sometimes like a tinderbox aflame. There is a universal wisdom which honors honesty and courage. If you are honest with yourself, and courageous enough to feel deep into your fears, the universe seems to say “Well done.” Out of the honesty and courage, your focus will begin to shift from your own personal fears and suffering, to a much larger perspective of fear and suffering. We begin to understand that the root of all fear begins with our fear of death. Once we realize we are infinite beings, and death is not an end, but rather a transformation, our relationship with fear takes on a whole new level of understanding. In learning to “know thyself” and get comfortably uncomfortable in our own skins, we are humbled and we become vulnerable. This is where true love lives. This is where the sacred is. This is the pathway to divine grace.