Mindfulness is the key word for stress reduction in today’s world, so much so it has been given the term “McMindfulness” where the practice has become commercialised and departed from its roots. In its ancient form, mindfulness is for overcoming fear and getting to know ourselves deeply, and not just a wellness tool. There are different types of fear such as missing out on profit, losing reputation and our lives. The last fear is something that drives most of us – the need to make a name for ourselves before we die, seek comfort for a long life, or annihilation because we fear living. Some people aren’t afraid of death but are afraid of public speaking. However, all fears are in fact existential.
The fear of public speaking is in fact a fear of being rejected. The fear of rejection by society can lead to survival problems, threatening our existence. While the fear of living a stressed-out life is in fact a rejection of what we really are. Unfortunately, we seldom contemplate such matters until a serious challenge in life forces us to look within.
What Drives Fear?
Fear is a strong human and animal instinct and is a healthy natural state for survival. However, in our society, we have created unnatural psychological fear in our need to make profits. For instance, we fear not looking beautiful, not having enough and not being healthy. Do you see how all these fears are driven by beauty, investing, and get-fit personal training advertisements we see everywhere?
Fear is one end of having to be with or face something we dislike. The other end of fear is being displeased. Being displeased is not wanting or fearing we have to be with something uncomfortable for an extended period of time.
Different mindfulness techniques for working with fear
One of the powerful techniques in mindfulness for overcoming fear is to befriend fear. Befriending fear is a wonderful technique for overcoming fear. When we treat someone as a friend, that person stops antagonising us and it is the same way with negative feelings. However, this technique may not be useful for all situations.
Learning to be with fear is another way to get to know it simply by watching fear arise and subside on its own. This takes a strong mindfulness practice because most times we react to fear as opposed to observing and being with it. Another powerful method of working with fear is to give in to the situation (that we cannot change) that is causing it. But Isn’t mindfulness a technique to get rid of fear? This is the BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION OF MINDFULNESS. Unlike going for a massage to get rid of pain, mindfulness is not about getting rid of feelings we dislike.
Overcoming fear by letting go of control
Since fear is a natural physical instinct, we can learn to trust that it is there for helping us. However, since we humans are also a part of nature’s law, we need not fear the feeling of fear when we are facing possible death of the self because death is natural. It also means we need to look at fear closely if we are afraid of living because fear is a natural instinct for survival, not annihilation.
The key ingredient that is missing in secular mindfulness practice is confidence or faith. A lot of people reject negative emotions and use mindfulness as another tool to get rid of them. For example, a practitioner who is feeling lonely may start to watch the breath so as to forget feeling lonely. However, this is just another form of distraction.
Mindfulness is not meditation
Meditation is the deliberate act to train the mind to be concentrated. When we are very concentrated on the breath in meditation, it can relieve unpleasant feelings. However, when we come out of the meditation practice, the same unpleasant feeling can return.
Meditation is a support for mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a tool to distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings. First, we learn to steady our minds with meditation. Then we use this strength of the concentrated mind to observe and accompany unpleasant feelings. Why? With mindfulness, we can become familiar with what comes after unpleasant feelings such as fear. We can see that calm always follows a bout of anxiety or stressful feeling. It cannot stay forever.
When we learn over and over again to be with fear, we realise there is no need to overcome fear. Fear is natural, and when we realise we are also natural and have to die, we recognise fear is no longer necessary since it is a tool to stay alive when we are alive. We can also gain confidence through the practice that fear or any painful feeling is also followed by feelings of relief.
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