Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feeling Fear: Turn the Lions into House Cats!

Quote of the month:
The only thing we have to fear...
is fear itself.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

In March, we used the idea of lions and tigers and bears.... [Oh my!] to describe our fears. Now let's talk about what to do with that fear. The truth is, most of us don't like to experience fear. When faced with the possibility of actually feeling fear, most of us have elaborate methods we use in order NOT to feel it!


As FDR stated in the quote above.... we are afraid of fear. The nebulous fear that we have is that if we allow fear to surface, we will not be able to handle it.

Honestly, this is the most difficult post I've attempted to write so far.... because the truth is, this topic is not that easy to make "simple." Yes, I am suggesting that we expend a lot of energy NOT actually feeling the fears we began uncovering in the Why Process (December 2008) and further looked into in the post on fear (March 2009). Now I am now suggesting that we do try to feel them! So, before you aim your mouse for that "X" on the top corner of the page to close this out, give me a few more lines..... or paragraphs, to explain why this might actually be a good idea.

The primary reason this is a good idea is that by feeling the fear, it is released.... gone! Over! Most of us, myself included, often resist feeling, which actually holds the energy of that feeling inside. Initially, this can make one feel tired, achy, uncomfortable, overwhelmed. Over time, I strongly believe that emotions that are not felt, can lead to more serious illness. This is NOT to say that it's not real or it's all in our heads, but rather what is in our heads can affect what is going on in our bodies. Our heads are connected to our bodies by more than our necks! There is an intricate system linking our brains and our bodies, wherein each thought we have releases various chemicals into our bodies. There are many people who can speak on this subject with much more detail than I can... but even with this simple bit of knowledge, it makes sense that what we think, what we feel AND what we think about what we feel : ) can influence the body physically.

To cut to the chase.... the most simple way is just to do it.... just allow oneself to fully feel it... and then - the feeling is gone.....and you will probably wonder why you waited so long! Most of us do not do that...... myself included!!!!!!! Most of us resist feeling!

You've probably heard the saying, what you resist, persists.... As long as you resist, the feeling is going to stick around and try to makes itself known. So let me give you some techniques.

There was an old Blue's Clues (cartoon) episode on frustration when my son was little.
The advice they gave was to:

1- STOP,
2 - breath and
3 - think.

You know how I like to keep it simple. This really is great advice... but let's expand on it just a bit!

The basic keys to feeling fear.... or any other emotion are:
(Note: Each of these could probably be it's own post, so consider this as an introduction.)

1 - STOP - interrupt whatever the habitual pattern is that we usually fall into in dealing with fear. This is to give you a gap of time between whatever it is that is triggering you and acting. [The gap is used to determine what is really going on and eventually determining the course of action, if any.]

Answer the question, how am I resisting?

There are a multitude of ways.... probably as many ways as there are people. A clue for you is if you begin to notice any type of repetitive behavior such as smoking, reaching for a drink, reaching for a piece of candy... or even more socially accepted methods such as shopping, or working too much.... or even things you may not realize..... like glazing over watching a TV show, playing a video game or going out dancing. (None of these things is "bad" in and of itself.... I am simply suggesting that if you do any of these repetitively, there may be something more there.)

The way to tell if you are using a certain behavior to resist or avoid is quite simple according to Gary Zukav. Simply refrain from doing the behavior.... and see how you feel... see what happens.... If you begin to feel uncomfortable, there is a good chance you are using that behavior to resist.

2 - Figure out what it is you are feeling. If you are not clear on what is causing your repetitive behavior (and this is quite normal!!!!) try revisiting the post on the Why Process. Get as specific as possible about the feeling... I call it, "getting under" what it seems like is on the surface and seeing what is really happening.... what you are really feeling. Another clue here is to try to move towards fear, like the teen with the scratch on his car, who appeared angry, but in reality was in fear about his social status.
Then -

3 - Remember an important point from My Stoke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. An emotion only takes 90 seconds to physically move through your body... it is like a wave with a beginning, a crest and an end. Initially it washes over you, the way a wave does, but then also recedes, the way a wave does.

So grab your surfboard are my suggestions for "riding the wave".....

  • Repeat your True Colors Phrase (January 2009) to remind yourself that what you are feeling is not entirely true (this is similar to the idea I've mentioned previously of re-programming a computer, taping over an old tape or resynching the I-pod.)
Though this explanation is from a spiritual perspective, there is a scientific explanation as well. The brain has developed connections from repeated behavior. This can be likened to walking over and over on the same dirt path. After a while, a trench is formed. The trench can be more difficult to climb out of than stepping off the path earlier on... as more and more connections have now formed in the brain... but it is still quite possible to climb out of the trench. You do this by forming new connections in the brain. The True Colors Phrase is one of those new connections.
  • Try to step out of the emotion the way Gary Zukav describes stepping out of a river (the emotion) and on to a bridge above so that you can both view it and are not swept away by it. Eckhart Tolle calls this consciousness or being in the "observer" mode.  This means to try to observe the emotion rather than "becoming" it.  For additional reading on this subject, see The Voice, 8/2009 and the Observer 9/2009
I have a name for it too. I call it "sitting with it." A way to think of it is as "allowing." It has to do with just "sitting with" the feeling and allowing it to pass through you or wash over you. Not fighting it, not resisting it... AND not acting on it in the way you typically might. For 90 seconds attempt to allow it pass through your body. Watch a clock if you have to. If you must, at the end of the 90 seconds, scream into a pillow, kick your mattress or punch a punching bag! I also suggest journaling afterwards, yoga, exercising, or meditation!
It is us (the ego) who spends the remainder of the time (and our energy) resisting the feeling in all sorts of ways as described above. Anything that takes longer than 90 seconds....lets you know there is resistance of some sort going on. But don't be hard on yourself, EVERYONE resists something...most of us many things!
  • Let me add.... a final step
    BREATHE!!!!!! Part of the others but worth mentioning.
AS ALWAYS, I suggest starting with something simple....something that does not really create a great amount of fear. I am going to start with the example of someone getting in line in front of you in the "10 items or less" line with 16 items.....clearly more than they should have...

A quick why process...... maybe it is anger.... ask why does it make you angry?
It's not right?
It's not fair?
It's making you wait longer?

Why does that make you angry?
I always end up getting the short end of the stick.

Why does that upset you (vs. why it might upset me?)
It makes me feel unimportant.

A-HA! See, that is the real feeling! The fear! Outwardly, before, you might have rolled your eyes or looked at another person in line as if to say, "Can you believe this guy?" but now you know... it is really caused because you are feeling unimportant!!! (In my example, your reason may be different!)

Whatever YOUR particular reason....try just "sit with it." Use that extra time in line to actually feel the anger.... please DO NOT ACT..... just feel.... inside. No one else need know what is happening inside you.

A point I want to make very clear here is that lashing out at someone, becoming violent or abusive, yelling at someone.... these are ways people may typically think they feel their emotions. I want to clarify that these behaviors are a CHOICE one makes AFTER the feeling arises. It often happens SO rapidly that we do not feel it as separate or as a choice... but it is. I am suggesting STOPPING BEFORE that choice is made and experiencing the feeling fully. If you can do that, there will be no need to yell, etc. [I may have previously suggested mindfulness and meditation once or twice....ok maybe 6 or 8 times before..... to help with slowing this whole process down!!!!]

See if you feel something in your stomach (uneasy stomach), your chest (faster heart rate), your throat (tightening) or your face (hot, red, etc.) Breathe! This is the actual energy of the emotion moving through your body. Allow it to! Breathe! You will see that after it is finished.... IT IS GONE!

**NOTE - if this is a particularly difficult issue for you, please pick another one such as a traffic jam, a long line at the bank, someone cutting you off in traffic, bad weather....etc.... just something that is not your most difficult issue.....something little first that will pass through you much more easily and with much less resistance.]
I always suggest starting with those issues that don't "push your buttons" so to speak because this is like developing a muscle. You don't go out and run a marathon without training. This is like developing spiritual muscle. With that muscle...... you really can turn those lions and tigers....into house cats!

I would love to hear your feedback as well as any questions you may have or topics you may be interested in for the future. You may comment at the bottom at the blog where it says "comments" or if you prefer, send them to me directly at . All posts will be archived on my blog along with other useful information at: Simply Spirituality or

To continue reading next month's post on Intuition, click here.

Until next month....
Here's hoping you keep your spirituality simple!
Picture of the month:
Puff the Housecat, FL, July 1998

1 comment:

Penelope said...

I want to add a more recent insight... what I said is true - feel it fully and it is gone.

What I want to add is that fear is released to the extent one is willing to feel it. The release is proportional to the amount one is willing to feel it. It can go in steps. It does not have to be all or nothing. Even slow, consistent movement in the right direction is progress towards turning lions into house cats!