by Delia Quigley
“Fear is the mind –killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” –Frank Herbert
Fear is a natural part of life. It is what drives us to our reactions to everyday existence. It can save us in moments of immediate danger and motivate us to stand firm in face of a threat. But it can also freeze us into passivity in the face of overwhelming harm. When confronted by our fears, the natural inclination is to take one of the following actions:
- Run away
- Attempt to control it
- Try to suppress it
- Resist it in any way possible
Instead of avoiding your fears, you need to take off your blinders and face them. You will still want to run, control, suppress, or resist them; after you have seen what the monsters look like, however, you just might discover that they aren’t such a big deal. The important thing is to identify your fears. Then, using your yoga practice and meditation, you can observe them and work to dissolve them.
I once had a student who had broken her neck in a riding accident many years before she began to study yoga with me. Going upside down, even in the Downward Facing Dog pose, was emotionally challenged with fear. Even though she was a Physical Therapist by profession and knew that her neck had healed and strengthened properly, she would not consider doing a headstand. Meanwhile, her life and relationship was at a standstill and she was afraid to make a decision fearing it would be the wrong one.
One day, after a few years of studying yoga and practicing meditation, she came to class and announced that she would like to do a headstand. Having already prepared her body to take this step, I assisted her in lifting into a headstand against the wall. She was surprised and thrilled as to how easy it all happened and how easily she was able to balance there. Following that experience she returned home, left her job, ended her relationship and successfully opened her own physical therapy office. To this day she credits that headstand with helping her to overcome her limiting fears.
The majority of people live in fear of the unknown future. This may be fear of future failure, success, commitment, disapproval, a person, or group of other people, or even fear of looking at ourselves and seeing who we really are. In actuality, it is not the unknown we fear, but losing what we know, what we have, what we are attached to in our lives. Spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti says that “you are afraid of discovering what you are, afraid of being at a loss, afraid of the pain which might come into being when you have lost or have not gained or have no more pleasure.”
These fears limit your ability to flow with the ever-changing world. These fears stand in the way of actualizing your true potential. It’s not easy to face your fears, especially when you have set up an elaborate network of denial, subterfuge, and escape that has kept you dancing around your mental monsters. To help face down your fears, take a moment to list the things you are afraid of on a piece of paper. It might look something like this:
You might find that in making this list the little fears refuse to surface—things such as locking your keys in the car, getting a speeding ticket, or being late for a meeting. More than likely, you have a list of minor worries hanging around the backroom of your consciousness, draining energy and feeding into the big ones we all dread might happen. A good example of this is taking a minor health problem—say, a sore throat—and letting your imagination feed into your fear of having something more serious, such as throat cancer. Rather than dwell on these negative thoughts, use your meditation practice to calm your mind and emotions, so you can see how you are just making up stories that have nothing to do with the truth.