At first glance you might not put mindfulness and fear together or think that one can counterbalance the other. But while mindfulness invites us to be present with fear rather than run from it, it also frees us from being stuck in fearful thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness allows fear to be, just as it is, without diving in. It turns fear into an ally we can use to become courageous and fearless.
We all know what fear feels like, how it can appear as the enemy attacking when you are least aware or entering without being invited. It can arise as a natural response to physical danger but more often is self-created, like the fear of failure, not being good enough, being lonely, or of the future. We fear loving for fear of being rejected, being generous for fear of going without, or sharing our feelings for fear of appearing weak, and we're easily dominated by insecurity and self-doubt.
The immediate effect of fear is to turn off our heartfelt feelings. Just for a moment, let your body take the stance of feeling fearful. What is your posture? Most people hunch their shoulders forward, fold their arms across their chests, or assume a similarly defensive position. In this self-protected place, the heart goes out of reach and we can't feel love or even friendliness. Try saying "I love you" with real meaning while your arms are folded firmly across your heart. Hard to do!
But where fear contracts and closes the heart, love expands and opens. In other words, love is letting go of fear. So now take the posture of love. Watch how your body responds, your arms reaching outward, accepting and inviting. Fear may still be there but love can embrace it; where fear blocks out love, love holds fear tenderly. With your arms stretched wide try saying, "I'm frightened" and really mean it. Hard to do!
Here are 10 ways mindfulness both influences and transforms fear:
1. Through mindfulness you make friends with yourself and your world -- just as it is.
2. Friendship naturally extends greater kindness, compassion and love, which are the antidotes to fear.
3. Friendship is also the gateway to greater clarity, ease and tolerance.
4. Mindfulness turns off the stress response of your nervous system by activating the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system; this enables you to stay focused and relaxed, no matter what is going on.
5. In a focused and present state you are better able to deal with whatever is happening than if you are preoccupied or distracted.
6. Fear takes you out of your body, limits your reactions, and brings your feelings to a standstill, while mindfulness keeps you centered and in touch with yourself.
7. Fear can make your breathing short and shallow, while mindfulness of breathing keeps the diaphragm open and breathing deep.
8. Mindfulness enables you to see that fear, or any other negative feeling, is a passing experience that comes and goes.
9. Fearless doesn't mean denying fear; it's not a state of being without fear but one of being with awareness.
10. Fearlessness is getting to know fear, name it, and take it by the hand so that it becomes your friend and ally.
Can you remember times you met fear and moved through it, times when fear arose but you kept going? Those are moments of fearlessness. Fear may close the heart, but courage comes out of heartfulness, out of releasing resistance. Fear may stop you from participating fully in life, but fearlessness gives you the courage to dive into the unknown.
Fear comes -- breathe and let go; fear arises -- replace it with love; fear knocks at the door -- invite it in to share a cup of tea. In this way you become a fearless warrior of the heart, unshakable, confident, and joyful, with fear as your ally.
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Ed and Deb are the co-founders, with Brian Jones, of RevolutionaryMindfulness.com. Join to get our newsletter, free meditation downloads, community support, and learn to balance your nervous system. They are the authors of award winning Be The Change, How Meditation can Transform You and the World. Deb is also the author of Merging: Women in Love. See more at RevolutionaryMindfulness.com and EdandDebShapiro.com