There’s so much been written about fear and how it holds us back from achieving our full potential. Some of it is helpful but a lot of what has been said is really just another excuse for beating ourselves up for not being as successful as we think we should be.
I can’t remember who it was who first said FEAR stands for False Expectations Appearing Real. That’s not really helpful because a lot of the time the expectations are not false. Fear of heights is a very sensible fear, fear of falling also makes some sense, even fear of change is not unreasonable. In fact most fears are simply our survival mechanism, our Inner Reptile, kicking in and telling us he thinks we’re about to die! If we ignore or deny our fears we run a real risk of him being right!
What most of us are scared of is fear itself, but if we recognise that its only information, we can stand back and choose a more appropriate response. The key is understanding that its not the fear reaction itself that causes us problems, but how we respond to it. Fear is just a reaction to a set of circumstances – its only feedback. It only becomes a problem if we allow it to hold us back.
But some fear doesn’t just hold us back, its a big waste of energy. In Buddhism they say there are two kinds of fear – unhealthy fear which is fear of something which can’t harm us, like fear of spiders (though I would take issue with that!) or fear of something we can’t avoid like growing old or even dying. These fears sap our energy and drain our spirit and really hold us back. Healthy fears are those which cause us to take positive action to avoid them such as a fear of having a car accident making us drive more carefully, or a fear of illness making us adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Here’s a great meditation to overcome fear from a wonderful Buddhist website:
Sitting in a comfortable position for meditation, with a straight back, we close our eyes and breathe naturally through our nose. Then we spend a little time identifying what it is we are currently afraid of. We identify our deluded, unhealthy fears, such as the fear of dying, the fear of loss, the fear of failure, and so forth. Using our wisdom, we understand that all these fears, and all dangers, arise because of our deluded minds and negative actions. We then visualize these fears together with their actual causes (negative minds and actions) in the form of dense thick smoke, and we breathe it out. This smoke leaves our nostrils and disappears to the furthest reaches of space, where it completely disappears, never to return. As we inhale, we imagine we are breathing in all the pure, inspiring energy and fearlessness of all holy beings in the form of blissful white light, which fills our body and mind. After meditating like this for a while, we feel that our body and mind are now completely pure and that we have received the blessings and protection of all holy beings. Our body feels light and supple, and our mind is clear, peaceful, and fearless.