MOVING MINDFULLY THROUGH FEAR

Overcoming FearMy son, 19, just back from his first semester at college in Chicago, goes out with his friends to hang out at one of their homes.  He’s driving his Subaru on the icy roads at night and he hits an icy spot, goes into a spin and can’t re-correct the car.  He ends up sliding off the road and lodging his front end into a fence.  No sooner do we get him home and safe with his car towed, then he wants to go back out with his friends.  My stomach is in knots!  My old friend fear has just set back into my body and I cannot sleep.  I check in and I notice my whole body is tight.  It’s going to be a long night.

When we begin to look closely at our lives, fear is always there.  I notice my usual habit, before I practiced mindfulness, was to push it away, or react intensely to it in some way.  I would typically get irritable or act controlling. Most women, like me, can recognize these signs of stress but not know how to work with the fear.   I still feel the fear grab me, but I now realize that familiar feeling creeping back in.  Here’s some ways to relieve the stress caused by blocked fear.

Realize that you have the choice to work with that fear. That’s the biggest stress reliever for women–seeing that you have a choice to do something different.   Here’s how Saki Santorelli, Director of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts, in his Mindfulness Based Stress-Reduction Class explains 3 steps in working with fear and breathing….

First, notice that it is possible to STOP, ATTEND TO, and FEEL the fear while remaining aware of the breath, and that this can be quite helpful.  Rather than using the breath to sweep away the fear, try to gradually soften, allowing yourself to be with the waves of feeling JUST AS THEY ARE.  Spend as  much time as you like here – our only purpose is to get acquainted with your fear and how it feels in your body.  Noticing how the fear stresses your body is a good place to start.  Look for these signs of stress.

A second step in working with fear, Santorelli explains, is to “begin to ESTABLISH A SENSE OF SELF-TRUST through your willingness to turn towards the feeling of fear.  You might notice that oftentimes standing right beside fear are CURIOSITY and a sense of MYSTERY.  In almost all instances the arising of fear signals our arrival into new territory.  Life is beginning to enlarge around us, and we have an opportunity to step into rather than away from it. “ This is a huge stress relief activity–bringing our larger self to the situation.

Finally, a third step is to actually work with the possibility of “surrender.”  Allow yourself to open more and more to the feeling itself and that you have within yourself the capacity to “give yourself over to the moment.”  This is mindfulness itself.  “Your view of who you are, what fear is, and how you stand in relation to it may slowly be altered forever.”  (Taken from Heal Thyself- Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, Saki Santorelli, 1999.)

Learning how to work with these symptoms of stress, our stuck fear can release.  Using mindfulness meditation can  help us notice and stay present to the fear, to notice the signs of stress as they manifest in our bodies, and use the mediation for stress relief.  Stress has a big impact on our health and using these spiritual coaching tools can change your symptoms of stress and your life.