Fear is one of the most difficult emotions to manage. But if we don’t learn how to manage our own fear and help those around us to manage theirs, we are going to turn crisis into disaster. As a former psychotherapist I have spent many years witnessing people’s reactions to their own fear (and this includes observing fear in myself). Most of us are afraid of our own fear and will do just about anything to avoid feeling it: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, anti-depressants, over work, over eating and compulsive shopping are some of the ways we avoid, or try to numb our fear.
Right now we are all facing a massive fear of the unknown. The world as we have known it is crumbling and none of us knows what is going to replace it. Personally, I believe this global crisis is an opportunity to create a more sustainable, humane society; yet in this present climate of crisis fear, at times it is difficult to maintain this trust that something better will emerge. I am no stranger to fear, having consciously chosen for many years a lifestyle in which I uncompromisingly live my passion, or do what I believe I am here to do, I know what it means to live on the edge financially and not know where the next dollar is coming from and this has taught me a great deal about radical trust. Many people are being pushed into this same dilemma not through conscious choice but through external events over which they have no control. The opportunity and challenge in this is we can learn to live simple, sustainable, authentic, and community based lives which offer inner fulfillment.
But people are not in a position to make conscious choices nor to think rationally about what needs to be done when they are gripped by fear. Fear creates stress and stress limits our sense of what is possible. If it is not attended to, fear goes underground and can manifest as anger, despair or ill health; fear literally grips the heart and squeezes the life force out of us. It cuts us off from the source of our creativity and empowerment. When we are afraid we tend to disassociate from the body and from the present moment and lose ourselves in worry, anxiety and doubt; all products of the mind. The kind of fear I am speaking of is a basic fear for survival, a root chakra fear connected to the oldest part of the brain, the reptilian brain, which as its name suggests is primitive, reactive and potentially aggressive. Such fear makes us feel more isolated, cuts us off from each other and causes people to become self protective, to look after their own and close their doors to “strangers”.
Changing our attitudes
An important aspect of the Western psyche and sense of identity, particularly so in North America, is the belief that success means being independent, going it alone and competing with others for life’s goodies. These attitudes are being challenged by the current economic crisis, which is throwing many people into a situation where they literally can’t support themselves in the ways to which they have become accustomed, nor derive their identity from external sources such as status, money and material goods. This identity crisis comes on the heels of the economic crash and a shift of identity has to happen before anything new can be built. If we are going to survive as a species we have to learn to work together, to recognize we are all in the same boat, find ways to support each other and think creatively together.
So what can we do when fear comes knocking at the door of the heart? When people are gripped by fear, the first thing they need to know is they are not alone. Helping a frightened or distressed person to become more present is a good first step. Helping someone to become more grounded literally means getting them to put their feet on the ground and reminding them to breathe. The earth beneath us and the air we breathe are forms of support that are there for each one of us, always. By breathing into our fear, we enable the body, and thus the heart and mind, to expand, and we get back in touch with our own power and resourcefulness to effect change.
The skills of empathic, compassionate listening are very helpful. Giving someone you love or care about the space to vent their feelings is a good first step. But this can be challenging especially when their emotions are raw and put you in touch with your own fear. When we feel uncomfortable with another’s expression of feeling we tend to shut them down by interrupting, trying to “fix” them, or moving away. If we really want to help, the trick is to know when people need to express their feelings, when they need to be present and find inner calm, and when they need to look for solutions. People seldom find healthy solutions when they are afraid, and if you move into “fixing” them they are likely to become more reactive and frustrated, or to withdraw into depression.
Focus and flow
Much of our fear is created by the mind. When we don’t know what is going to happen we tend to fill the empty space with fear. The insights and practical wisdom of spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, have helped me to learn how to drop my negative fear based thoughts. Learning the laws of manifestation and the creative process has helped me to replace the negative thoughts with positive, creative thoughts. To focus on what I can do, to stay present, take my next step, and be relatively unattached to the outcome of my actions, keeps me sane and enables me to go with the flow of my creative process. Maintaining this kind of focus in this current climate of fear is a spiritual practice requiring daily, moment to moment intent. When I fall off the wave, I have to summon all my strength, haul myself back on the surfboard and start again. Of course this is very challenging, and the bottom line is, we all need each other. Many people, who are focusing on maintaining a positive attitude in this way, seek out or create communities of like-minded people for mutual support, comfort and encouragement.
I hear many people these days talking about how “things are only going to get worse”. I don’t think this helps anybody; our thoughts create the situation we fear. Whilst the global economy in its current state is certainly bankrupt, the flow of commerce freezes in local communities when people hold onto their money. Abundance and prosperity can only come from staying open, trusting, and sharing what we have. I also read even in “progressive” internet news groups criticisms of President Obama and how he isn’t living up to expectations after a month in office. As if there’s some great magician in the sky who’s going to wave a magic wand and make everything better. The reason people love Obama is that he sows seeds of hope and encourages grassroots action and involvement. Hope alone is not enough. Life will only get better if we each choose to create it better, and that means connecting with our own power as creative beings and not passing the buck to any politician, guru, hero, or demi-god of our imagination; nor, giving our power away to an invisible oligarchy of robber barons.
We all need hope, and positive models of people who are creating more peaceful sustainable lives, and the skills to build our lives anew. I agree with Obama, it’s not going to be easy, the path is strewn with challenges, the process of changing deeply engrained attitudes doesn’t happen overnight. But it is possible, and it is worth working for, and we are the only ones who can do it.
Rose Diamond offers Coaching for Positive Change for people who want to stay focused, empowered, and peaceful during troubled times. awholenewworldcoaching.com
Rose is an international facilitator, lifelong educator, author and pioneer in transformational learning who has helped thousands of people in many different contexts to move through transitions and creative blocks and fulfill their potential. For the last decade Rose has been focusing on the skills we need to make the transition to a more peaceful sustainable world. See "Living your Passion; How Love-in-action is seeding A Whole New World" livingyourpassion.info
She is co-director of A WHOLE NEW WORLD, an emerging local/national/global learning community awholenewworld.net and of Fire Seeds Publishing, a direct distribution publishing company for transformational books. Blog: TheGrowingEdge.net