Have you ever felt scared even though there wasn’t anything scary happening around you? Just the thought of something made you feel uncertain about what was going on or what was going to happen and whether you were safe?
At times I have been so paralyzed by fear that I have prevented myself doing the things I love to do. Other times, I have been inspired by the fear to act and create change.
When I’m feeling paralyzed it is as if the threat is so real and so large that I believe I am weak and will not be able to beat it. And sometimes I start to believe that I will be scared forever and that I will feel weak forever.
What if beating the fear is not the goal? What if the goal was to befriend the fear or at least not fall victim to its power? Seems like a lofty goal, right? That’s what I thought too.
It turns out that we are not our emotions. Our brains just have a funny habit of personalizing our experiences so that we believe what we are thinking defines us.
The truth is that our emotions are fleeting. They may be powerful and carry a strong punch and they may be long lasting and stay around for a while. But ultimately, all emotions evolve and change shape over time. The trick is that we must be present with them and notice our reactions to them.
Imagine this for a moment. What if instead of saying “I am scared” we say, “fear is here.” The latter allows us to stay separate from the emotion and perhaps keep enough distance so that we can look at it, notice its shape, size, color, and we can notice our reaction to its presence.
We may notice that just through the act of paying attention to the emotion it loses some of its grip on us. We may notice that it is not as big as we thought or that it’s not scary at all! Or we may notice that it is quite large and requires even more of our careful attention.
I am reminded of the classic poem, The Guest House, by Rumi. We can bring this image of the guest house when we are paying attention to our emotions. Let’s imagine we are a beautiful, vibrant, safe, and nurturing home and that from time to time we have visitors – happiness, joy, fear, sorrow, etc. Instead of picking and choosing which guests we allow in, what if we welcomed them all in, gave them a cup of tea, and either sat with them and really paid attention to what they are or at least simply gave them some tea and a quiet place to sit?
The guest house is a metaphor for our hearts and our minds and I sometimes expand the size of the house by making the walls bigger and further apart when there is a particularly large or rambunctious emotion. I let it have its tantrum, notice my reaction to its presence and behavior and then offer it my attention. Eventually and when it’s time the emotion leaves.
This practice has helped me so many times on my journey. And ultimately it is the wisdom from this practice that has helped me write this first blog post - apprehension and fear are drinking tea in my guest house and I am moving forward, out here, connecting with all of you.
With gratitude - Toral