Meditation Articles Series
How meditation can put your fears in perspective
Today I read an e-mail with a quote that said,
"You can conquer any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind."
I had this vision of a person with a big stick and heaps of determination battering the mind into submission so that it would no longer feel fear. But battering the mind still did not conquer it. Then I thought as an example, I could decide that I will never be afraid of an aggressive, barking dog again. Okay, so next time I see such a dog my mind is saying,
"I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid,"
but all I want to really do is run away because there is so much adrenalin pumping through my body.
Where then is my fear really residing?
Is it in my mind only, and where is the mind? Or is the memory of fear in every cell in my body that registers fear when a certain stimulus presents itself? Years ago a woman by the name of Susan Jeffers wrote a book called, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway." With the example of the barking dog does that mean I would feel the fear and then run away?!
Hmmm… maybe, maybe not. I would certainly then have more choice rather than blind fear. Yes, our bodies do feel fear. It is natural for humans to fear. Fear is necessary because it enables us to survive and teaches us to become a lot wiser. Without inbuilt fear we'd all just blithely jump over a cliff without considering the consequences. However, fears can also become irrational and fill us with anxiety and dread that then rule our lives.
What does fear have to do with meditation?
Simply that as you continue your meditation practice fears will arise from time to time. These fears are stored memories in your body. Such stored memories will have corresponding physical sensations such as muscle agitation, sweating, increased pulse and heart rate, and nausea. There could also be emotional reactions such as panic, uneasiness, and anxiety.
When you are meditating and fear or fears come up at some point in your session what is the best thing to do?
A friend of mine tells me he just gets up and walks away. However, his resistance to sit down and meditate the following day increases dramatically. His mind has told him, "This is aversive - I don't like it. I don't want it, and I'm out of here." A lot of people would just stop meditating at this point saying that meditation isn't for them. Of course as humans we do a lot to avoid unpleasantness in our lives. For a start we are constantly judging what is good and what is not so good. We then begin to crave for the good things in life and by doing so increase our aversion to what we judge as bad. No wonder we are always looking for ways to distract ourselves away from our fears. We look to alcohol and drugs to make us "happy" and "high". We succumb to many addictions from overworking to overeating to overspending and so on. We as humans will often do anything to prevent us from having to face our fears and ourselves.
What to do when fear arises in your meditation session? First of all stay with your one point of focus as much as you can. Accept and allow the sensations in your body. Avoid labelling the sensations as anything other than just sensation. Be aware of the thoughts that come into your mind, and keep on allowing them to arise and fall away.
Remain aware but not reactive. If the sensations become really strong and they start to pull you out of your one pointed focus, breathe deeply into your belly for three or four breaths and then go back to your one point of focus. Allow and accept that what is happening is the way it is. If you accept and allow, the sensations will dissolve. What arose, as a fear will not have the same hold over you as in the past. As you move through your fears you will experience deeper inner peace and calm. It's as though the memories in your cells are being washed away. Fear of course may arise again in another meditation session but once you have accepted and allowed the sensations to be there, to observe the corresponding thoughts, then you can stay more actively present in your session. You begin to see that the mind is an amazing storehouse for thoughts and mental activity but that it does not have the ultimate control over you. You begin to observe that sensations are arising and falling; that without judgment they are just that, sensations. As just sensation you let go your thoughts of aversion and dislike.
Meditation is a tool to allow us, amongst many other things to face our fears. If you accept and allow a fear arising in your practice then you can more easily transfer that acceptance and allowance into your daily life and the fears that may arise there. You begin to move through your life with greater calmness and serenity.