Fear: we all have it. Mindfulness does not make it go away. It does, however, help us recover from it.

I went to see a children’s story hour with my young daughters.  My older daughter was frightened by one of the stories. When she began to react to even very sweet moments of the story as if they were scary I knew that she was struggling with something inside of her, not outside.  She was struggling with the trance of fear.  I reassured her that it was OK to be scared and it was OK to hear the story. After the whole show was over and we were outside sitting on the grass, she crawled into my lap and said, “I still feel scared”.

I said, “I understand, I get scared sometimes too.  Actually,” I explained, “everyone in the whole wide worlds gets scared sometimes, it’s part of life.”

“But I feel really scared”, she said in reply.

“Can you give that scared feeling a hug?”  I asked her. Giving our feelings “hugs” is something we do often in our family.

“It’s not working,” said my daughter.

“Can you give your feeling a big hug full of tenderness, and then let it fly away on the breeze?”, which was blowing softly as we sat together.

“No I can’t, it wont go away.” She said

So we sat and cuddled and decided just to feel our hearts and feel our (her) fear…

My daughter is still learning the skill of being with and moving through her fear.  She is right where she needs to be—there is no rush, I remind her— and yet I want to help her with this hurdle. Whenever I realize there is something I want to teach my children, I first try to learn, or re-learn it myself.

Sitting on the grass holding my scared child as she recovered reminded me of something one of my teachers once said —Everyone gets frightened, startled, or jarred sometimes, the key to well-being is being able to return from that place of contraction, back to center. —Mindfulness helps us return from our contracted, rejecting state back to our open, receptive state.

By chance, a learning moment about my own fear occurred a week before my trip to the children’s story hour. It always amazes me how life presents lessons before I even realize I’m in need of them. I had put this one in “my pocket” for later use, and here was my opportunity to take it out.  Feeling into my own experiences with fear was one way of helping my daughter work through hers.

I had been cycling slowly, happily up a large hill when a cyclist passed very close to me without warning. Her handlebars nearly locked with mine and I startled. Fear shot through me and then turned to a strong flash of anger.  I watched this all happen in my mind and body and was just about to get on the angry express and give her a piece of my mind when I realized, I don’t have to do that.  By the time the harsh words were just about to exit my mouth and contaminate my experience and hers, she was already passed me.  The danger was over and my shouting at her would not improve anyone’s safety.  We crested the hill just as I had decided not to spew my anger and fear out onto her. I rode down the other side, happy and at ease. I smiled with the joy of the ride and then even more broadly as I realized that I had just escaped from what could have been a miserable flight down this glorious mountain.  I had returned to center and come back from anger to well-being. I had left behind the lure and seduction of fear.

Fear likes to set up house and make itself comfortable in your brain. Laying claim on aspects of your life it has no place in—it can be like a trance we fall into.  But you don’t have to let fear hypnotize you.  Mindfulness can help you come home to yourself, and help you to know you are safe inside your own skin, your own mind, and your own heart.

What worked?  Why did I not fly off the handle and stay angry with the cyclist? First, I didn’t try to bypass the fear, pretending it was not there. I felt it and fully acknowledged it. Second, I didn’t let the story about the fear become larger then the actual situation.   Yes, the cyclist had endangered both of us, but when the moment had passed I realized exactly that: We could have locked bikes and fallen, but we didn’t. Third, at the moment that the adrenalin was trying to get me on board for another ride on the anger express—I took several deep breaths, calmed my nerves and repositioned myself to enjoy my ride.

Because I’m pretty confident on my bike it was a good place to start looking at my fear process. It is always a good idea to start learning (or continue learning) about our feelings with something small and build up from there.


Try it for yourself:

Next time you find yourself afraid-

1. Notice and fully acknowledge the fear – “bow” to it or honor it.

2. Keep it real – No need to blow it up or make it a larger then life situation.

3. When it has passed, let it pass.  Don’t rekindle the fear by re-living the story about it again and again. *

* you may need to go through these steps a few times before you have truly honored the fear and digested it.   Again you don’t want to bypass it or suppress it. But once it has authentically passed you can protect your equilibrium by not pouring salt in the wound.


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