Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Q25: Do you want to conquer your fears this year?

Would you like to fly higher this year? What stops you may be your own inner barriers - your doubts, fears and limiting beliefs. Yet, in the words of a world champion hurdler:

'If we doubted our fears instead of doubting our dreams, imagine how much in life we'd accomplish!'
- Joel Brown (hurdler)

And a philosopher:

 'To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.'
- Bertrand Russell

But just how do we stop doubting our dreams? And is it really wise to conquer fear? 

What are your 'limiting beliefs'?
Recently, I was at a conference in which the speaker was addressing our limiting beliefs. He challenged us to notice our views and assumptions - especially ones which restrict or diminish us.
  • I fail to make good friends ...
  • I can't get the jobs I want ...
  • I don't deserve to have fun ...
Try this: 
  • Take time to note down a few of your own views and assumptions about yourself
If we have these voices deep inside us, they influence what we do. They may make us heavy, sad or shaky. They close down possibilities before we've considered how true they really are. They are views born from fear.

Where does your fear come from? 
Yet we fear for good reasons - often because of difficult experiences in the past. Our fears are eager to protect us from doing anything which risks provoking the pain we felt then.

Some people think that one Big Reason stands behind all fear:

'The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.' 
- Sven Goran Eriksson (sportsman)

But perhaps it's best to decide for yourself. Different people usually point to different Big Reasons - to rejection, the unknown, loneliness, loss of youth, fading beauty, bad health, lack of freedom, pain or death, even to fear:

'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself .' 
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (statesman)

At its most general:
  • Fear points to something we do not want - to protect us from it
Try this: 
  • What is your fear telling you about what you DO NOT want?
What to do with doubt and fear? 
Back at my conference, the speaker led us in an exercise. We were to shut our eyes and imagine ourselves incarcerated within an old castle, inside a turret with immensely thick walls. This, I enjoyed! I could feel how my fears and assumptions create limiting beliefs which cramp and restrict me.

Next, we were to see ourselves wielding a tremendous axe, and chop, lop, hack and hew our way out. We were to smash the castle walls to smithereens ....

Now, keen as I am to free myself from imprisoning ideas (and liberating to believe we can), this stopped me in my imaginary tracks. I didn't want to react to my fears with violence. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. General advice tells us to 'head into battle' with our fear - often in rousing imperial tones:

'The first duty of man is to conquer fear; he must get rid of it, he cannot act till then.' 
- Thomas Carlyle (Victorian essayist)

Is it wise to 'conquer' fear? 
Yet fear has good reasons for being there. Like any emotion, fear is a messenger and will do its best to be heard. It will shout more loudly the less we listen. Unless we know how to listen, we end up in conflict with a part of ourselves that wants to protect us. This doesn't seem so wise.
  • 'Fighting' our fear makes us less wise, not more.

The positive message of fear 
The good news is that fear isn't just keeping us alert to what feels bad. It knows keenly and implicitly what feels good! 
  • Fear (also) points to what we do want - to ensure we get it 
If it's hard to listen to your fears, it's because you're merged or entangled with what you do not want. So remember: nothing inside us is there for a bad reason. If fear makes its presence felt strongly (in ways we find difficult to handle), it's because it's trying to catch our full, loving attention for good reasons.

So listen gently, take your time, and feel also what you do want - viscerally, not intellectually. Then you can feel the fear without 'falling into it'. You can trust the fear, and trust yourself. That's when the fear can start to trust you.
  • The more we listen, the easier it becomes to hear

Try this: 
  • Sense what is your fear telling you about what you DO want? 
(Safety, success, acceptance, security, love, freedom, vitality, life ... ?)

Being kind to fear 
Sitting there in my conference seat, guess what? I did not visualise myself with an axe. Instead, I pondered how my fears are fearful ... they need empathy for their good reasons, not violence - even if I've outgrown them and can see that they're baseless.

That's when the visualisation suddenly changed. I found the walls of my castle melting by themselves, disintegrating into light.

Who knows what practical benefits this may bring (time will tell!). But I do know that my decision not to 'fight' my fear was important. It signifies another small step on the path to loving whatever is here within me - and so to loving whatever is there in others, too.

Although it's a less dramatic tale to tell than the warrior with his axe, this path of small steps is often the surest way to change. Each momentary kindness has its own value; a cumulative power in which fear melts away simply because it's no longer needed. 

  • Look back in your life for something you once feared which you now do easily, without effort 
(For me, the confidence I now feel to perform in front of large audiences, where some years ago, I would have trembled even to think of it.)

The pathway to love 
When we face our fears with love, they naturally dissolve. In the process - actually because of the process -  we find ourselves more able to love and accept ourselves and others, just as we are. And as love grows, we have less reason to fear.

'What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.'  
- Jiddu Krishnamurti 

If you wish, try this exercise:

  • Take time to note down a few of your own views and assumptions about yourself; things you feel you CAN'T do or have
I CAN'T ... 
For example: 
  • I can't have the friends / family / love that I want ...
  • I can't live where I want ...
  • I can't achieve what I want (making money, a job etc) ...
  • I can't fly to the moon ...
  • Now take time to feel what you CAN do instead. Wait until you feel this deeply, viscerally - so that is it not a second best, but comes with a warming glow, or a fresh, good energy:
BUT I CAN .... 
For example:
  • Value and love the friends and family I do have
  • Enjoy where I live more
  • Trust [these] abilities
  • Dream about flying!

Elizabeth English
(With Peter Kuklis)

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  1. Thank you Elizabeth; I really enjoyed this and appreciated a non-violent approach to dealing with fear!

  2. sparky porcupine6 January 2014 at 17:17

    Although I can't shut myself away from risk (and that would be a very lonely place, if I could)... I can learn to enjoy risk-taking, while being fully engaged in this amazing world!

  3. I like that! Learning to enjoy fear … welcoming fear wholly as it is! Feeling anything fully is part of being really alive. (And it's only when we resist a feeling that it feels 'bad'.)