There’s a common concept in our culture – one that I’ve adopted myself at times – that fear is our enemy. When we’re caught in fear’s offspring of anxiety and panic, it certainly feels like we’re been taken into enemy territory and are being held hostage. It feels like someone wraps a gloved hand around our throat and is sitting on our chest with a fifty pound bag of bricks. Anxiety in any form around any storyline – relationships, health, impending loss/death – is an unmanageable state that feels like torture.
I’ve learned so much over the many decades that I’ve become intimately acquainted with fear’s many faces in my own psyche, the mind’s of my kids, and the inner worlds of my clients, and one of the lessons that stands out the most is that fear is not, in fact, our enemy. Just like one of the main tenets of conscious dreamwork poses that all dreams – even nightmares and what we refer to as “bad” dreams – come in the service of health and wholeness, so all symptoms of waking psyche, including anxiety, panic, intrusive thoughts, recurring somatic issues, and insomnia – arrive like emissaries from our personal underworld to deliver opportunities to strengthen our sense of Self. In other words, without fear as the challenger, we wouldn’t have many opportunities to grow.
We’re on a family vacation this week, and, as a result of encouraging the passion of my aviator son, my claustrophobic tendencies have been pushed to the limit. Over the course of the last three days, we’ve walked through a quarter-mile long tunnel, been packed into a freight elevator with 50 other people, and shot up the side of a 600 foot building in a glass elevator (can you guess what city we’re in?). Yesterday took the cake as we gifted him with a seaplane ride for his birthday. While he was more ecstatic than I’ve ever seen him, I felt terror take hold the minute we took off. In my early years of struggling with anxiety in my 20s, this kind of experience would have surely sent me into a panic attack. But yesterday I relied on the many tools that I’ve developed over the years to walk myself through fear: prayer to connect to the still-point of unwavering strength, breath to anchor, focusing on the beauty and majesty of nature to allow the bigger field to edge fear out of the way, and love (which is always stronger than fear). About halfway through the flight, I was able to let go and appreciate the view. And by the time we touched down into the water, I was smiling. I can’t say that I would choose to go up in a seaplane again any time soon, but if I want to share in my son’s passion and inevitable path as a pilot, I’m going to need to work with this fear over and over again, on many levels.
Each time I face a fear, I work through a layer of a block between me and my highest self. Fear, in this sense, is not an enemy at all, but is truly a friend in disguise. For there is a certain and undeniable sense of elation that comes when we face fear head on and rise to our next level of strength, one that doesn’t arise in any other way. While my son’s joy after the ride stemmed from his pure and unadulterated passion for flight, my joy came from facing and then releasing one gripped, gloved finger of fear that squeezes my heart. Depth psychology posits that our greatest wounds carry the seed for our greatest gifts. This is why anxiety and fear, when worked with consciously, always lead to gratitude for the struggle.
Nowhere does this tussle with fear show up more prominently than in the world of intimate relationships. As soon as fear pricks the heart, we shut down, for fear and opening are mutually exclusive. Fear constricts. Fear causes us to withdraw. And fear, most especially, colors our perception: when fear is at the helm, we see our partner through the narrow slits of cloudy eyes, the negative projections of our own inner demons filtering our perceptions. The challenge, of course (and I say “of course” to those of you who are well-versed in my work), is that we’re not taught to view common relationship feelings like doubt, irritation, loss of sex drive, and lack of attraction is manifestations of fear and disconnection. And if we can’t name those experiences accurately, we fall into the danger zone of assigning first-layer meaning, which, in our culture means: it’s time to leave.
Nothing could be further than the truth. We need to learn the truth about love, which also means the truth about fear. We need to shift our mindset from “love should be easy” to “every manifestation of fear is an opportunity to strengthen my capacity to love.” We need to understand all of the ways that fear shows up so that we can become fluent and fluid at the art of naming them. These are just a few of the tools and techniques for shrinking fear that can be learned so that we don’t remain stifled under fear’s stronghold. The rest of the tools are what I will teach in my next round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner. If you’re ready to take the next step toward loosening fear’s grip and learning the Love Laws and Loving Actions that will help you feel more love and attraction for your partner, please join me on August 27th, 2016 for this ninth round.
There’s so much to learn about fear, and we cannot learn about love without learning about its counterpart. As much as we may know that fear is interfering with our joy, we must also learn that fear deserves our respect and gratitude. For fear is often a protective, early defense mechanism we learned as children to keep ourselves safe from the pain and powerlessness of being small without an adult to attune to our needs and guide us through the minefield of big feelings. In other words, fear kept our vulnerable hearts relatively safe until we could grow enough to find better ways of handling pain. So we begin with bowing down to fear with a silent and reverent thank you. From there, the rest of the work begins.