Whether it's due to the current social-health climate or just my own life's trajectory, I've recently unveiled some antique emotional patterns and am witnessing them in a new way. After delving deep into the recesses of my psyche (and childhood), I'm finally learning something new about fear.
That it just wants to be held.
I don't know about you but fear for me is a pit-of-the-belly sensation. It seems to radiate lumpy patches of 'bleurgh' that begin at the navel and spread as far up as my diaphragm. I'm not sure if it reaches down into my thighs but it definitely takes up space in most of my abdomen.
Over the years I've had a number of people exclaim that they perceive me as someone who doesn't feel fear. Not possible I would answer. But I realise now, they were right.
The distinction however, is not that I didn't feel fear but that I had created an automated response that covered it up so instantaneously (with anger, false confidence and I-got-this) that even I was unaware of its presence a lot of the time.
Nonetheless, after spending the last 5 weeks uncovering what appears to be my deepest childhood wound – the one where I feel unloved, unsupported and live in permanent fear of being abandoned or rejected – I can safely say fear has been lodging in a cosy little bed, nestled right below my belly button, my whole life. And I dare say, it's not about to pack its bags and move out any time soon.
So why am I telling you all this?
Because writing my thoughts down is a remarkably healing process for me. In these past 5 weeks I've seriously upped my meditation game and am back on the cushion at least once each day – to check in and allow my thoughts and feelings to settle.
What arose in a meditation yesterday was that I Must Write.
I'll save the childhood wound story for another time because it's big and juicy and probably has enough material for a whole series of its own. Suffice it to say, fear is what was lurking beneath the 'trauma' narrative. I put that in quote marks because the trauma I've been living was 100% real for me (as childhood wounds are for all of us), but I'm equally aware that my infantile perception of the world that formed said narrative, lacked the advantage of adult wisdom. And hence, my weighty story that Nobody Loves Me and therefore I Must Be Unloveable – isn't entirely true.
But truth bears little weight in the mind of a hurt child. Reasoning and logic aren't the language of children. Hugs and feelings are. Any form of criticism or neglect (intentional or otherwise) can leave lasting scars on a malleable child's mind-body blueprint. And underneath those terminal wounds lies Fear.
So today that's where I'm at. When I awoke this morning I was greeted with that pit-of-the-belly feeling and felt acutely aware that Something Isn't Right. My initial response was not to put the kettle on and say "Oh, hello fear, my dear long lost friend, come and enjoy some tea." No, my immediate reaction was, "Oh no, not that old story again. How can I get rid of this horrible feeling."
Fortunately, it was only a moment before I realised I could hold a state of ambiguous appreciation for this expression of alarm. I saw that instead of instantly pushing the feeling away, wrapping it in masking tape and shoving it in the basement, that I could sense its message was coming from an old and hollow wound, and therefore I could allow it some breathing space without succumbing to the full force of its expression. Just like you would do with a young child.
My fear, as it turns out, responded well to being welcomed, which incidentally didn't cause it to escalate (the reason we fear negative emotions is because we think by giving them our attention they will expand). But the reality is, all our emotions respond far more positively to being acknowledged, and they serve us when when we allow them time to share their deeper message.
The message contained in my fear this morning was that it represents a part of me that I've been disconnected from and it's awakening is actually an indication that an integrated healing is taking place.
One thing to note is that as I write about my fear, the term 'my' isn't really fitting. I'm not sure it is my fear but rather a universal expression that I happen to be holding one particular thread of.
Fear resides within us all (as does anger, sadness, joy etc). We'll each experience the rainbow of emotions in varying degrees (anger has been my go-to for almost 5 decades), and all of them occupy space in the collective conscious. E.g. your fear is my fear is The Fear. So to say my fear isn't entirely correct.
And that's a pertinent message for those of us on the journey towards greater insight. When we believe our feelings are our own (and belong solely to us and our experience), we create an even deeper separation, which is partly why our 'negative' feelings feel so bad in the first place.
Loneliness thrives on the idea that it is a solo effort and Fear loves a you-don't-understand chronicle. Moving towards the understanding that even our most fraught emotions are actually a shared experience can help lighten the load.
But the point of these senses is not that we must lighten them. Or Lighten Up as we fear people might say if we voice our inner worries.
No, fear, like any emotion we perceive as negative or unwanted, is much better served by being acknowledged. But the big question … How?
The how might be different for everyone but what I realised today as I lay in bed with tides of fear washing over me, is that fear can be gently put down. As though you were holding a rope, you can gently lay down your fear without cutting off from it.
You're not denying the rope by putting it down, you're simply loosening your grip and allowing some space between it and you.
We should have no desire to be fearless. Fear keeps us safe when we cross the road and is an indication of danger. So we need a degree of fear in order to stay alive. But when fear is in excess or is unwarranted it can help to treat it like a wounded child. Gently and ever-so-lovingly engage with it. Ask it what's wrong? What is it trying to tell you? Is it warning you that something dangerous is about to occur, or is it responding from a frightened place and is worried it will be left destitute and alone?
My current fear is around money. A lack of money would lead to destitution and homelessness, so you can understand why it's rearing its head.
On the one hand I can see its point. These are trying times when work, let alone social contact, is no longer something any of us can take for granted, so I can appreciate its approach and I honour the part of me that is awake to what's going on.
But on the other hand, I believe I'm fully resourced and I have numerous gifts and talents that are blossoming in new ways. I may or may not need to worry about money or social connection in the future, but right now, right here in this moment, I'm OK.
Being OK is a changing tide so I'm mindful to not dismiss my fear. I've simply let go of its hand and soothed it with recognition and further investigation into what other thoughts and emotions are involved.
For me, fear has been a long time coming. It's a relationship I've denied for most of my life (abandoned even…), so I have no issue with finally coming to terms with its existence. And it definitely feels raw and unpredictable at times. But fear, like love, is my friend. I don't buy into the mantra that we should chase the good feelings and deny the challenging ones. I find it far more peaceful to welcome them all. To invite them in for tea and find out more about them.
Just like I would a friend.
So next time you experience a twinge (or an earthquake) of fear, see if you can approach it like you would a frightened child. It's not your child, it belongs to the world. Where are the parents you might ask? Is it OK? What happened? What can you do to help soothe its innocent heart?
I'm taking that approach and it seems to be working.
Writing it out helps too.