All things are constantly changing, even what is most precious to you. You know that you and those you love will die, but you don’t know when or how. This is the existential dilemma of life, and the price of being a conscious human being. It is simply the way life is constructed. When your awareness of this vulnerability is triggered, you may become caught up in fear. Fear distorts your perception because it focuses primarily on the negative, exaggerates potential threats, filters out alternative views, and causes you to compromise your values out of the need to survive. When not named, fear narrows your vision, shuts down intuition as well as common-sense reflection, and can lead to violent behavior. The following steps can help you move beyond fear:
1. Recognize your fear
Fear that is not recognized and tended to with mindfulness takes the life out of life. Your life energy is lost to dread as the body braces and the heart closes in anticipation of what is to come.
2. Free your spirit
Your dread and uncertainty about yourself, your abilities, and what may happen to you in the future imprison your spirit. Learning to work skillfully with fear is essential to finding freedom and happiness.
3. Allow fear to become your teacher
As you deepen your spiritual practice, you will inevitably encounter all your fears, some of which you may not even know you have. Being alert and curious about your fear allows it to become your teacher as well as to serve your growth. This gives purpose to what is otherwise meaningless suffering.
4. Don’t deny what’s true
The truth is that you will never be absolutely safe. One of the values of spiritual practice is that you are able to come to terms with this truth in a conscious manner. Your life becomes more integrated because you are no longer trying to deny or avoid what is true.
5. Meditate on fear
Loving-kindness practice is the classic antidote for fear. If you see through the lens of love, you are not afraid of what is out there in the same way, even though it remains just as difficult and may still succeed in harming you. Your relationships to fear and to yourself are thus changed by experiencing the threatening aspects of life through the lens of love. Most people who start practicing mindfulness of fear realize for the first time how much of their behavior is motivated by fear. If this happens to you, you may feel discouraged. Be patient. As your reliance on fear diminishes, your sense of well-being will grow.
For your reflection:
1. Do the following loving-kindness meditation five minutes each day and when you are feeling fearful: "May I find freedom from fear in my life. May I also help others find freedom from fear in their lives. And may I meet the fear in our culture with the courage of the open heart, which acts with decisiveness but never divisiveness."
2. When your mind seems to be caught in a storm of thoughts about how bad the world is or about something in your own life, take a moment to notice what happens in your body. Then notice how your mind is communicating with images and words. Remember to be curious and receptive without taking any of it personally. Let your heart open to the suffering the fear is causing.
3. When the fear feels stuck, realize that you are clinging to a perception that is merely painted on the walls of your mind. It's this clinging, not the danger, no matter how genuinely threatening it might be, that is the cause of your greatest distress.
For further study, listen to Phillip’s talks on fear: