There are times when we feel as though we have conquered the world and everything just seems to be moving exactly the way we want. We have all felt that way and emotionally, it is one of the greatest feelings in the world. However, without notice, the moment just seems to vanish and our head begins to spin as if it is frantically searching for that feeling. Where did it go? What the hell happened? Were those feelings not even real? What am I going to do now? When this happens, it triggers fear and insecurity and we begin to feel stress and anxiety and usually, most of us will somehow get stuck in that fear state, even for a short time. This is natural and, believe it or not, a necessary part of our growing process. We briefly discussed fear in Mindfulness Volume 1, so let’s look at that here and see how fear works for our good.
Science has determined that we are all born with only two natural fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears that we may experience have been conditioned in us from the moment we were born. The term phobia is also used simultaneously as a reference to fear. However, though similar, fear is different than a phobia. Let’s look at the definitions as described by Grace College Online:
“Fear is the emotional response to a real or perceived imminent threat.”
“Phobias are anxiety disorders involving fear or anxiety that is excessive.”
Based on these definitions, fear is an emotional response or feeling we have when something comes up that presents a threat to us or someone or something we care about. Think about it, where would this fear be coming from? Well, the human brain is considered more powerful than the largest computer ever made. Remember, only a few years back, when the fastest computer you could buy utilized memory less than a gigabit. Now you can purchase computers with terabyte memory. Let’s put that into perspective, a terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes. One normal human brain has what seems to be an unlimited memory because science has not been able to reach the limits of the brain. That being said, every experience and situation we have been through since birth is stored in our memory banks. And, on top of that, every thought, vision, and dream has also been recorded in the same memory bank. However, even though the brain is so powerful, it is not able to distinguish the difference between a real experience or an imagined one. For example, if you actually fall off a bicycle, a fear emotion will be attached to that experience in the brain. Now, let’s say you have never actually fallen off a bicycle, but at some point or time, you visualized this experience happening. Even though it has not ever truly happened, the same fear emotion has still been attached to that experience in the brain. Just because the fear is there, it does not affect our skills in riding a bicycle. Now, what if we allowed this fear emotion to cause us to worry and have anxiety about the outcome of falling off a bike? We may allow our brain to attach the thoughts of hurt, pain, breaking a bone or even getting hit by a car, even if we have never actually experienced the fall. If that thought pattern continues and we lose control over how it makes us feel emotional, our brain can develop what would be known as a phobia. So, a phobia is excessive anxiety attached to fear. First is the fear, coupled with anxiety to develop into a phobia. When we look at it that way, fear alone does not seem that big.
We have strayed a little from where we began, but understanding the origin of a concept is very powerful when it can be applied in our lives. I began discussing the feelings of being on top of the world and then losing those feelings and starting to experience fear. Now if we choose, and it is always a choice, to allow anxiety to set in, it can begin to attach to that fear. We then experience worry and stress and if it continues, it determines the outcomes of our experiences. In my opinion, a true phobia is much more extreme than just anxiety attached to fear, but we are only painting a picture here to help us understand what happens in our brain.
Here I am!
We discussed fears, anxiety and phobias and how anxiety and phobias can control the outcome of our experiences. What if we were able to only experience the fear and eliminate the worry and stress associated with the fears? How can we use fear in our favor to experience a more desirable outcome? That is where the practice of mindfulness and meditation is most beneficial. By applying mindfulness techniques taught by masters and practitioners, as well as the ones included in Mindfulness Volume 1, we are more able to benefit from the fears we experience.
I sometimes like to use the term respect in place of fear. I may truly have a fear of falling off a bicycle, but instead of allowing worry and anxiety to attach to that fear, I view the experience with an attitude of respect. Yes, if I fall, it will hurt and I may break a bone, but how I respond from the experience determines its outcome. I respect the experience, even if it has never happened and I become aware that if it did happen, it would immediately become a past experience. And one of the most important keys to learning with mindfulness is to never attach to past experiences because then we get stuck, where? in the past.
Using the practice of mindfulness, we begin to approach fears with respect not attaching to them with emotions. We then allow fear to stand on its own, not controlling the direction of our lives. Focusing on an outcome makes it real even if it’s only real in our own heads. “If you must go through hell, walk through like you own the place”.
Try not to ignore or avoid fear, but just take notice of it and bring your awareness to the truth that it is a real fear in our brain and that is the only place it is. I have an acronym that I like to use for fear: “False Energy Appearing Real”. With this concept, all things are energy and energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be redirected. Notice the fear, acknowledge its existence in your head and allow the energy to be focused on a positive outcome. In time and with practice, mindfulness becomes as natural as breathing. The simple description of mindfulness is just being present in the moment.
I look forward to hearing from you and please share your feelings on this study.