“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

When we live within a self-designed comfort zone of habit, everything else is experienced as a threat, and fear arises. As long as this situation is hidden from your awareness, you can only react to what you perceive as a threat.

What can I do?

You can develop awareness of what you are thinking and doing habitually. If you do, you can bring a breath of fresh air into this stuffy world in which you have been living, and you can begin to see the possibility of making a different choice—of not reacting.

Who reacts….not me!

When we are reacting we usually don’t realize it. A habitual pattern takes over our behavior. We each have our own set of behavior patterns, which are possible to see. One way to do this is to clear away the confusion of mind that hides these reactive impulses through the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Short Mindfulness Meditation Instructions

Take a comfortable sitting posture where you can feel alert and relaxed at the same time
Notice how your body is feeling – connect to the ground beneath and the space you are in
Bring your attention to the feeling of your body breathing – just simply be aware of your breath
When your mind wanders to other thoughts, just gently come back to noticing your breathing
Relax and enjoy the break!

What you can realize from your reactions

Over time, the practice of mindfulness – where you see your own thoughts, but are not caught by them – reveals your personal reactive triggers to you. Once you see what your triggers are, and how they set your reactions in motion, you have created the space and opportunity to change. You may even realize that you operate with a different set of behaviors when you are at home or with close friends than when you are at work. It is possible, even likely, that fear is a more constant companion at work than you even realize, and that you don’t know how deeply it has been affecting your behavior.

This fear is not our enemy

Fear is really a hallmark of intelligence – it reveals where to look more deeply. When you are open to the big picture, to the interdependence of all the factors that come together in each instant, it is not illogical that you may want to withdraw. We live in what is sometimes called a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), and that can be scary.

Fear constricts

Narrowing down is what fear does. But we have the capacity to stay open, strengthen our cognitive functioning, and reduce the reactivity of the fear impulse, and we can develop that capacity through mindfulness practice. We can utilize these results in any moment by taking a breath and a pause, and allowing even small moments of mindfulness to ventilate our day.

Smile at fear

Buddhist meditation master Chogyam Trungpa offers us the phrase “Smile at fear” as an alternative to being ruled by it. He suggests that in practicing mindfulness, and in looking at what closes our hearts, we are expressing the ultimate courage, that of “not being afraid of who you are.”

If we can look directly at our lives, including our work lives, we can begin to experience the challenging scenarios of our life for the wisdom they hold. This takes genuine courage—courage that starts with that willingness to look more deeply into our own minds and hearts.

Don’t worry – be happy

When we can’t control our busy thinking mind, it can lead to a feeling of constant worry. Worrying is a pervasive habit that keeps you busy, and that also can prevent you from putting the little things into perspective. You can recognize and curb your worry by seeing it and developing a sense of humor about how amazingly creative your imagination must be to create those ruminative scenarios. Then you have the choice to stop, breathe, and not react to every concern that pops into your head.

Take a courageous look at what scares you

Mindfulness will certainly lessen your anxiety, because it will help you release ruminative and unhelpful thoughts by becoming aware of them—and of course you don’t want to live in a perpetual state of anxiety. Yet closing yourself off to all messages that make you anxious or fearful is not always the courageous choice, and it won’t help you express our highest potential and vision.

Anxiety can teach be a teacher

For example, anxiety over not meeting a deadline can be a nudge to ask for assistance on that project. Anxiety about your job security can inspire you to set up an appointment with your boss to discuss how you can further meet the needs of your organization. You can use your anxiety to move forward into action if you act with courage and step out of habit.

Let mindfulness help you

If you want to look under the surface of your habitual behavior, you need the tool of mindfulness, and additionally the tools of gentleness, openness, and bravery. In my next posts, we will explore practices that access intuition, open the heart through compassion, and allow you to connect with a bigger unknown. Together, these practices will enable you to harness and go beyond the subtle manifestations of fear that appear in your behavior. And when you are no longer ruled by fear, you will be able to ride the energy that is released.