“There is no greater illusion than fear.”
⁃ Lao Tzu
A mouse was extremely worried that a cat would catch and kill her. Her fear was so great that she never ventured out at all. “How I wish I were a cat. I would then have nothing to fear,” she thought. A genie who was nearby heard her and pronto, through his powers, her wish came true and she turned into a cat. As a cat, she saw a dog and became afraid again, wishing she was a dog. The genie heard her again and her wish was granted. She turned into a dog. Then she saw a lion and she was terrified by his power and strength and wished she could become a lion so that she would not have to be terrified ever again. Her wish was again granted and she became a lion. At this stage, she saw a man who was about to shoot her with his gun. Naturally, she wished she could become a human and she did. But then, when she was sitting in her house she saw a mouse and guess what? She started shouting because she was scared of the mouse.
Fear is essential for humans to survive. It prepares us to take necessary action in the face of danger. But fear can also cripple us in more ways than one by swallowing our sanity and chewing our peace of mind. Facing our fears is the only way to combat anxiety born out of fear. The truth remains that Fear is nothing but an illusion. All our battles begin and end within.
We have all been conditioned with an array of fears without ever exploring their true nature. They work as an unconscious driving force; hence we are unaware of their impact on our lives. Fear of missing out, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment are some fears that we carry in our subconscious from our early age experiences.
Think of FEAR as False Expectations Appearing Real. For instance, you’re about to give a PowerPoint presentation to some bigwig colleagues and are wondering, “What if I mess up? What if people laugh? What if they get up and leave?” Our fearful thoughts are not always logical — even if you make a mistake, chances are, no one will get up and walk out of the room.
Fear is often the anticipation of the future, an imagination, often unfounded. As Mark Twain remarked, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes—most of which never happened.”
Practice to make Fear your Ally: See it, Feel it, Write it
Try these three ways of working with your fear. They are all ways of opening yourself to the strong emotion, as if it were a friend you’re trying to get to know better. You want to know why fear is the way it is.
1 – See the fear
This method uses our logical, examining mind to uncover what fear and anxiety are all about. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. Then ask some questions to uncover the fear:
What’s the worst that can happen?
Can I do anything to change the situation that frightens me?
Look more closely at what you’re afraid of. See if you can break it down into smaller pieces. Is this fear tied up with memories or past experiences? Am I afraid of something happening now, that happened before, or that I think will happen in the future?
2 – Feel the fear
Sit with your fear. How does it feel in your body? Does your breathing change when you’re afraid? Do you feel other bodily changes? Is there an arc to your fear, where it increases, peaks, and then subsides? If you stay with your fear— neither grasping onto it nor trying to get rid of it—do you find other feelings beneath or within the fear? Do you find any sadness there? Is there anger?
3 – Write the fear
If you don’t have paper and pencil, make a mental list. Later write it down. Spend some time contemplating the things that came up. Bring one of these feelings vividly to mind, let it be there, and then release your fear. Write it and let it go. You can do this for each individual fear, for a few prominent or recurring fears, or for all of them at once.
Leading researchers posit mindfulness meditation as a form of exposure therapy. When we meditate we rehearse our fears in a way that can “extinguish” them.
You can identify your fears by becoming mindful. Ride them instead of running away from them. Take a leap of faith and allow your faith to be your wings. Empower yourself to detach from your situation in the moment of fear and look at your life from a bird’s eye view. Befriending fear becomes a gateway to freedom, an invitation to live more fully with trust and love.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”