Justin Less, LICSW
Sources: True Refuge by Tara Brach
8/19/15 Podcast: Transforming Fears by Tara Brach
This is how a human can change.
There is a worm addicted to eating grape leaves
Suddenly, he wakes up, call it grace, whatever, something
wakes him, and he is no longer a worm.
He is the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
A growing wisdom and joy
That does not need to devour.
Fear is a basic human emotion, an instinctive and necessary reaction to perceived threats. Fear allows us to anticipate, prepare, and act in ways that help ensure safety and survival. However, fear is often out of proportion to circumstance and seems to be in a state of overdrive to the point that we are locked in a pattern of self-doubt, restlessness, and panic that becomes our baselines state of being. These ways of living, which are present to help us improve our quality of life and being, actually laed us into states of inaction, inflammation, and paralysis thereby spiraling us further into fear.
Many of the people I work with present with various forms of fear. It is not so much the presence of the fear that causes problems but the way the fear is held. The patterns and styles of fear vary significantly from person to person. But at the root of most fears are two core processes: the fear of failure and the fear of missing out. Tara Brach, a psychologist, teacher, and writer explains that these two primary areas of fear can be transformed and ameliorated through mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is an open, present, and flexible state of consciousness that promotes and an enlarged sense of being and formless quality of awareness. When we get scared, more small, more cut off from a true selves we experience our fears more intensely. Fear of failure (Tara Brach uses the acronym FOF) involves fear of not being enough, being deficient, and a deep seated fear of rejection. Fear of missing out (FOMO) involves missing out on pleasure or gratification. These fears are tied to primitive areas of the brain involving survival and flight, fight, freeze patterns.
We are naturally driven towards survival and out of this we can become hyperfocused on grasping and seeking more in order to feel bigger, more important, and less vulnerable. We are often unconscious of our tendency to be dissatisfied and eagerness to be somewhere else than where we are. We often aren’t exactly sure why, but we clearly feel something is missing. There are questions we can ask ourselves to begin opening up to mindfulness and getting out of the “small separate self” (also known as ego). These questions include: What is between me and the sense of growing wisdom and joy that I long for? What is keeping me from having this peace of mind right now? What am I believing about myself and my situation? Are these beliefs true or are they conditioned ways of viewing the world and based on fear and the false self?
Fear of failure often involves the sense that around the corner “I’m going to fall short somehow, that I’m going to fail.” It involves a strong sense of shame and isolation. This manifests in many versions, including “the imposter syndrome,” that underneath our roles, accolades, titles, etc. that something is wrong with us, that we are deficient and that others will find out. There is a sense of being annihilated or that we will lose respect or love. In cultures that are competitive and value is based on intelligence, aptitudes, appearance, etc. this fear is even stronger.
When we have fear of failure our sense of who we are gets tied around this. We then manage the fear with proving ourselves in certain ways, getting approval from others, etc. We then identify with this cocoon of the ego self (trying to find ways to prove ourselves) we are cut off from higher levels of consciousness that have a larger sense of belonging. The first step out of this trance is to bear witness to it. Ask yourself, where am I afraid of falling short? Is it in relationships? Work? Losing respect from those I love? Is there a situation where you habitually run into sense of rejection or failure, go into this for a moment. What are you believing? What are your strategies for trying to protect yourself? Notice where it lives in your body or heart. Notice that it isn’t so much my fear but “the fear” an archetypal human fear. You are witnessing what it’s like when the human self is experiencing fear, how the mind gets narrowed, the body gets contracted. Bear witness to this kindly and tenderly, infused with compassion.
Fear of missing out. This comes from a primal urge to thrive, receive nourishment, and reward. We get anxious about getting what we want (peak experiences in life, deepest spiritual teachings, living longer, more money, etc). The fear is that we are going to “miss the boat.” Depending on the degree of our unmet needs, it intensifies the intention of missing out. What happens when we are caught in this? Our aperture and perspective is very narrow and fixated and we miss out on the rest of the world. There is an ambitiousness about getting what we want, get more, get it right, etc.
When we get fixed on both core fears we are cut off from all that we can be. First is the suffering of separation , of not being enough, and then the urge to have to do something to feel complete. It cuts us off from the present moment since we are seeking something more than we perceive as available to us in this moment. What is your mind like when you get caught in it? Widen the awareness to recognize it is “the fear of missing out” the natural desire to get rewards, etc. Be aware of this tendency to caught in it, that it happens to everyone, and we can bear witness to it rather than unconsciously let it control us.
If we get caught in it, it keeps us small. And, if we deepen our attention when it occurs the more we discover a timeless belonging that we what we always want is actually here. A flow of dynamism and expanded consciousness, creativity, and sense of belonging. In order to move beyond it we need to lean in it and hold it in a larger space so it can transform. We can’t get rid of the fear but we contact it within a larger space of presence. Fear can become a portal to love, by intensifying our presence love for ourselves and fellow humans deepens.
When fear is present, deepen your attention and ask yourself, what am I afraid of missing out on? What am I really wanting to have happen out of the situation/life itself? These questions helps us to wake up our hearts and minds. What we fear missing out on is always here, the fear of the ego tells us it’s down the road somewhere else. What we most want is belongoing, wholeness, peace of mind which is found in the present moment when we let go of negative thoughts and resistance to life itself.
But if I’m satisfied with what is here, how will I have the motivation to accomplish the goals I want to achieve? The more we that we realize that what we long for is already here, the more we are resting in in deep presence. This state of being promote the natural intelligence of the universe to flow through us keeping us motivated and engaged. The ego is not driving it, there is another intelligence driving it is that is creative, expansive, and focused.
The fears can either trap us, spinning us further from state of ease, and can make us think that what we want is somewhere down the road and out of reach in the present. But if we use the clusters of fear to deepen our attention, it wakes us up to a more present and centered way of living. When it is included in a wider space of presence it allows love and kindness to expand. The fear and anxiety will inevitable reemerge as they are instinctive survival based processes, but each time we are able to wake up the ego from the trance of fear, its grasp can loosen more, and it’s easier to engage in life with more creativity and flexibility. Every time you experience it and are able to witness and offer yourself kindness and presence, this becomes more natural and easier to experience.
Mindful contact involves noticing and opening up to what is here. What is the energy of fear needing? How do you experience it? What are you most wishing for? Are you yearning to feel belonging to others and life? Recognize your belonging to the web of life in this very moment through loving presence. If you feel you are missing out, what are you truly longing for? A sense of contributing? Full aliveness? Full creativity? Breathe in and feel the fear and breathe into what is already here? Isn’t what I’m longing for already here? Notice you are the witness of fear not the victim of fear. As you sit in this kind, expansive, and spacious awareness allow yourself compassion and peace to take some actions that will promote purpose and meaning for this day and for your greater life journey.