In this line of work, people talk a lot about overcoming fear in order to be courageous.
I’m a bit different. I often refer to my philosophy on working with fear as “practicing courage.” Courage is feeling afraid, diving in anyway, and transforming.
The practice is in being willing to feel the fear (rather than attacking it, trying to please it into submission, or avoiding it), head towards that what we desire anyway, and transform–and when we meet our fear, transformation always happens. Always. That’s the beauty of it.
Transformation doesn’t always mean “complete life overhaul.” But in bits and pieces, the circle of that with which we are comfortable widens, and becomes bigger, and then there’s less to be afraid of. Also–and this is pretty cool–fear just stops being as big of a deal. Instead, it just becomes part of the process.
Years ago, I had a foot injury that defied logic. A bone kept dislocating. Doctors couldn’t understand how it happened or why my foot wasn’t responding to treatment. This was especially hard because I am a runner. It was two years after I was injured before I found a doctor who could help, and another two years before I was back to running again. Because I spent so long limping, this caused other issues–back, knee, hip pain.
I tried everything to fix it. I went to alternative practitioners, Western medicine practitioners, the entire gamut. I spent time reciting positive affirmations (they always felt fake). I tried ignoring the pain and running, anyway (always made it worse).
Then, a few years after that, I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease (probably genetic) and related to that, infertility. Being perhaps a bit of a slow learner, I took the same approach, vacillating between trying to force the result I wanted through being “extra spiritual” and through hustle and work.
Fear drove all of this: You have to do something. You have to fix it! You have to change it. What if it’s always this way and you’re never okay?
It’s natural, as a human to want to overcome fear in these situations. It’s distinctly uncomfortable. But I found that the only thing that ever worked for overcoming fear (if such thing was possible!) was being willing to be with the fear, itself.
Overcoming Fear Through Being With Fear
I don’t really believe that we overcome fear, in the traditional sense. I believe that we can only ever be with it (and paradoxically, sometimes this means that you’ll end up feeling less of it).
Being with fear involves a few things.
1. Access the body. This is basic somatic awareness. Pay attention, get mindful, bring in some presence, and notice what insights arise.
2. Listen without attachment. You listen to the voices of fear, but without trying to change the fear.
3. Reframe limiting stories. You notice where you have a limiting Story (such as, “What if it’s always this way and you’re never okay?”).
4. Reach out and create community. Fear thrives in isolation and diminishes with others, so find other people who can support you along the way.
Fear as process
I still have foot issues.
I still have an auto-immune disease.
But being with my fear is how I started overcoming fear in the traditional sense: being with fear allowed me to slowly train up to a half-Ironman. Being with fear is what enabled me to figure out how to live a pretty damned good life, even with an auto-immune disease.
Fear becomes part of the process, instead of being this thing that holds you back or convinces you that you can’t do something you want to do.
You can live a very good life, even amid tough circumstances. In fact, you’ll be in an even better position to move through and with your tough circumstances. The systems in this world that need changing will only ever be changed by people who stop trying to “overcome” fear and instead have a willingness to be with their fear. The personal challenges you encounter will become easier when you treat fear as a process, something to engage with and work with, even as you continue towards your goal.
I know that it isn’t the easiest thing to be with your fear. But I know this: it gets easier to be with fear, with practice. You can meet your fear, and move towards it, into it, and beyond it.