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From Worrier to Warrior: Making Friends With Fear

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Lessons in Living: Part 2
The Wisdom of Eckhart Tolle and Warren Buffett

I don't look for 7-foot bars to jump over, I look around for 1-foot bars I can step over. -- Warren Buffett

Worry pretends to be necessary, but serves no useful purpose. -- Eckhart Tolle

OK, I know things are getting pretty hairy out there. We are standing in the midst of a perfect storm. Remember this part about "standing in the midst". I'll get back to that idea. But here we are at this moment in time: mid-October, 2008. The world financial markets are plummeting; our economy is on the verge of collapse. The presidential campaign is growing uglier by the day, and for many people, retirement just got a whole lot further away as life savings and home equities vanish.

In the face of circumstances over which we have no control, we commonly feel fearful and powerless. When these feelings get stuck in the body, they become gigantic pools of toxic stress. In the absence of knowing what to do, our default strategy is to swim around in the toxins. Our stomach gets tied in knots. We lose sleep, become irritable and often take out our feelings of fear and frustration on innocent others.

Even Warren Buffet warns us that times are bad and going to get worse. Meanwhile, the ego is jumping up and down with glee! Mighty Ego to the rescue! It's primary job is to insure the survival of that which it thinks it is. And that which it thinks it is; is Y-O-U. Ego, masquerading as Fear says, "Just hand over the keys ma'am and nobody will get hurt. You can go back to sleep now and let me drive this car. I've got everything under control."

Buffett advises that simple behaviors are far more productive than complex ones. So what's the simplest thing you can do to take back control when your mind is racing headlong for the abyss? How can you make friends with your fear?

In order for it to stay in business, the ego has to make everything appear larger than life, so it can play the role of hero and save the day. Feelings like fear and anxiety, which are merely a form of energy, get inflated and projected onto the screen of the mind and end up looking like WILD UNTAMED BEASTS! To the unconscious mind, fear and anxiety are REAL! As in,"things" that have the power to threaten your very existence. Well, in fact, they do, IF you grant them that kind of power; in which case, you've forgotten that you're the one running the projector! BUT, there are other options.

You could befriend your fear. And how might you do that? It's actually quite simple. I like to think of the ego as wearing a little gerbil suit. Yes, that's right, a gerbil suit. Stay with me here. This thought levels the playing field and puts things in a more advantageous perspective. It allows you to bring your fear back down to size so you can sit with it, embrace, and de-fang it. Once you see the fear as simply energy, instead of being a "thing", you can see more options for how to be with that energy, how to move it and use it to be creative. Fear can be a creative ally in your life if you know how to use it.

Allow me to review some points I made in a previous column on strategies for managing the gerbil, for I think they have application here :

#1- Stop. When life becomes chaotic and the gerbil is racing around the wheel, tap yourself on the shoulder and just say "stop". Stop the mind chatter and knee-jerk reactions. Gently pluck the gerbil off the wheel. With loving kindness, sit down together in a rocking chair and cuddle up with a cup of warm tea and a nice blanket. More than anything, the gerbil is the frightened part of you that just wants to be loved. It also needs some R&R. Imagine how tired YOU'D be if you were running in circles all the time! Oh, you already are? Then pay close attention.

#2- Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. Take nice, slow, easy breaths, following the inhalation and exhalation. Become aware of the spacious openness that holds and surrounds you and your breath. You and the gerbil, take a bath in this. Keep breathing into that spaciousness and stay here as long as you like. Even 5 minutes off the wheel will help to reset and refocus your mind. The world will still be there when you decide to return. Stopping and resting in the breath is an important step that helps you reconnect to your own rhythm when the rhythm of the world overwhelms you.

#3- Look- When you decide to return to the outer world, notice the ease you've just experienced. Before you resume activity, look to see what arises out of this openness. The world may be going to hell in a hand basket, but in this present moment, you have everything you'll ever need. Most of all, you have choice. You may not have choice about what is happening, but you always have choice about how to be with what's happening.

#4- Choose this moment. Choose, not based on your conditioned history or your fears about the future. Choose based on now. Who knows, this could be your very last moment. If it were, what would you choose? Have the courage to choose that, now.

One last thing: notice the gerbil. What's it doing now? Mine is lying on its back, quite relaxed, feeling ever so peaceful. Remember that perfect storm I referred to earlier? It's still raging, but the gerbil and I are standing in its midst, situated in the eye of the storm, where it's calm and quiet. A 1-foot bar we stepped over together.

So you and the gerbil, take at least one 15- minute break each day and you'll both feel better. You'll then have the clarity of focus and energy to take actions in the direction of what really matters in your life, like spending time loving the people you love and being a presence of peace in a stormy world.

To paraphrase our friends, Buffett and Tolle: "Find those 1-foot bars and step over them and don't worry if you trip and fall. Worry only pretends to be necessary".