“Fear of life is really the fear of emotions. It is not the facts that we fear, but our feelings about them. Once we have mastery over our feelings (experienced in the body), our fear of life diminishes. We feel a greater self-confidence and we are willing to take greater chances because we now feel that we can handle the emotional consequences whatever they might be. Because fear is the basis of all inhibitions, mastery over fear means the unblocking of whole avenues of life experience that previously had been avoided.”DAVID HAWKINS, LETTING GO
Not long after my training with Craig Penner, I visited Dr. Joe Lindley. Dr. Lindley is a gifted diagnostician and master clinician who has studied with healers from all over the world. His care has been an integral part of maintaining my health over the past 10 years.
I told him about my experience with Craig and the deep sadness I discovered underneath my smiling demeanor. With a gentle, kind expression, Dr. Lindley looked me in the eyes and said, “Maybe it is time for you to walk into your fears.”
Walk into your fears.
I was confused at first. No one had ever invited me to walk into my fears before. I wondered if that was even possible? His suggestion to walk into my fear was inconsistent with the message of “overcoming” fear I had heard all my life. “Overcoming fear” always feels like a never-ending battle against a challenging foe. “Walking” into fear” felt oddly conscious, like intentionally opening a door into unexplored territory. What is on the other side of the fear? I was intrigued and desperately ready to find out.
I decided to start with something I already knew and move forward from there. 1 John 4:18 would be my starting place: “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
Perfect love drives out fear. Love is the guide. Open in love.
I opened myself up to trusting that love would show me the way through the door of my fears; love would walk with me into the unknown terrain. I learned from various teachers the art of being with fear without resistance. They described imagining yourself as a tree rooted deeply in Presence. A tree has the capacity to move with the wind and allow even intense weather to move through when it is deeply rooted. In the same way, over time, I learned to root in present moment awareness and allow the sensations of fear to move through without resistance.
“To recover from fear, let go resisting it. Surrender to the fear and allow it to run. Stop resisting the fear and stop calling it “fear.” You cannot experience fear. You can only experience the sensation. Fear is not “what you are afraid of,” but the experience which is sensory. You cannot experience hunger either, hunger is a name. You can only experience the physicality of hunger. What is the sensation of fear? It is a shaking in the knees, a pressure in the chest, a dropping of the stomach, a trembling of the nerves, a bracing in the shoulders, a holding of the breath. It is a feeling of terror and pending doom. Let go resisting the sensations. This is how you get rid of pain. All feelings have a limit. They are not limitless. Eventually they will drain out.”PARAPHRASE, DAVID HAWKINS, TRANSCENDING FEARS
I leaned on the most current neuroscience understandings of how the nervous system works. Each state of the nervous system (engagement, fight and flight, and collapse) have different sensations and body posturing depending on the level of survival. I learned to track the sensations and watch myself move through fight and flight, into collapse, and back into fight and flight again. I learned the importance of gauging my level of presence when I was experiencing overwhelming and intense sensations, or when I suddenly felt nothing at all. I used the quality of my vision to determine if I was present enough to stay with what was coming up in my body. The numbers on the digital clock in my room became a baseline for my vision. When my vision was a little blurry, fuzzy, darty, or tunnel-like, I knew that I was not present. I would take a break and re-orient with my senses until my eyes could see the clock clearly again. Then, I would return to the difficult sensations and stay with the experience in my body.
Love is the guide. Open in love.
I learned to let go of thoughts. Centering Prayer became my compass with its silent invitation that no matter what happened with my thoughts, body sensations, or emotions, I could return to the center: the Presence and Action of the Divine. I meditated in the morning and at night, relinquishing and growing in trust.
I hit a wall on many occasions. Sometimes the wall would last a couple of hours or several days. Sometimes I would reach an impasse that felt like it would never end. I could not stay with the intensity of what I was experiencing in my body. It felt too scary. My meditation experience would be a litany of endless, looping thoughts. In those moments, my centering word became, “I don’t know how,” and I would give up completely into the Loving Presence of God. The letting go of knowing forced me to let go of the way I was still unconsciously trying to control what was happening. The release would give way just enough to allow for things to start moving again and my mind would quiet down.
As an adjunct to Centering Prayer, I began to work through the 10-week program developed by Michael Brown called the “Presence Process.” Michael emphasized the practice of focusing on continuous breathing as an anchor in Presence. The conscious breathing practice proved to be profoundly helpful. Whenever I would get sleepy during meditation, I used his advice to double up on the pace of the conscious continuous breathing. Increasing the pace of my breath allowed me to move through difficult subconscious material that was surfacing into consciousness.
I decided it would be imperative to use the support of knowledgeable guides to move through this process. Sometimes, no matter how hard I tried to stay with it, I could not move through something on my own. I began to work with a somatic EMDR therapist, a cranial sacral therapist, and a spiritual guide.
Love is the guide. Open in love.
When Dr. Lindley challenged me to “walk into my fears,” it opened the door to a wild, incredible adventure. Little did I know that the year to come would bring about opportunities to face and resolve many unfinished experiences in my life. The Universe just came alongside and said, “let’s do this!”
How Surely Gravity’s Law
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child —
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
by Rainer Maria Rilke