Overcoming our fears is one of the most difficult challenges we face in life.
We tend to cling to our fear because we’ve learned that it’s part of who we are.
But the truth is it’s not, and the only way we’ll learn this is if we confront our fears head-on.
Below I’m going to share a Zen story that reveals the cold hard truth about getting rid of our fears.
After you read that, we’ll also go over 5 steps you can use to change your mindset to overcome your fears.
Why is overcoming fear important?
Fear is part of the human experience, but if you’re not careful, fear has the capability to take over your life.
You can become so afraid of failure, of being vulnerable, of not fitting in, of letting yourself or others down that you stay stuck in your life without ever pushing yourself forward.
You can become so fearful of negative emotions that you never allow yourself to confront them.
You can fear discomfort so badly that you never exercise and push your body.
You can be so afraid of social rejection that you never push yourself to meet new people and experience true love.
In essence, fear can stop you from living a fulfilling and meaningful life.
In fact, it’s fair to say that nearly every problem you or I have is rooted in fear.
This is why from a Buddhist perspective fear is the root of suffering.
And all fears really boil down to the same fear:
The fear that you won’t be okay, that you’re not good enough. A lack of trust in yourself and the present moment.
Now the question is: How can we overcome fear?
I don’t know about you, but for me, fear can be a really powerful emotion. At least it used to be.
But when I learned the power of acceptance, I realized that while fear was a strong emotion that’s difficult to control, I didn’t have to listen to it or let it change my behavior.
I respect fear. I understand fear. But I won’t be afraid of fear.
And that all comes down to letting go and trusting in yourself.
This is why the Zen story from Pema Chödrön that I’m going to share below is so powerful. It explains why you don’t have to listen to fear and let it change your behavior.
And in doing so, fear will become less and less powerful over time.
Check it out:
Once there was a young warrior
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly.
“But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other.”
“The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons.”
The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
“In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.” – Pema Chödrön
What can we learn from this story?
We all experience fear. You can’t control your emotions, but you can control how you react to your emotions.
Many of us try to avoid the feeling of fear, but avoiding it means fear is controlling your reactions.
Instead, we need to accept and acknowledge our emotions, bring our focus back to the present moment and proceed with whatever we need to do.
Below we go over 5 steps to do this.
1. Be aware of fear.
When you’re suffering, be aware that it’s fear that you’re experiencing and it’s fear that is stopping you.
2. Then we accept the fear.
Don’t beat yourself up about experiencing it. Everyone feels fear. Don’t try to fight it or wish it wasn’t there. It’s part of you. It’s part of life. Accept it.
3. Understand it.
Then actually dive into the fear and consider why this emotion is so strong.
What is the worst-case scenario of what you’re fearful of? Would you be okay?
The answer is almost always yes.
While life doesn’t always turn out the way we want, you’ll find a way and be ok.
4. Be grateful for it.
It may sound weird to be grateful for fear, but fear also means that you have a huge opportunity in front of you.
For example, often when you have to do something hard it results in some sort of good and benefit to yourself or the world.
Fear is nearly always an opportunity for learning and growth.
Furthermore, the more you act in spite of fear, the less fear controls your life.
5. Return to the present moment.
Trust yourself to deal with whatever moment arises. Accept it for what it is. You can’t always control the present moment or what you’re experiencing, and nor would you want to.
If there’s no ideal, there’s no fear.
If you don’t have an idea for how things should look, then you don’t have to fear things not turning out as it should.
You don’t have to fear not being good enough or not making it.
The present moment is what it is. Try to embrace it as best you can.
How to implement the above 5 steps
Now don’t me wrong:
Implementing the above steps isn’t easy, and it takes significant practice.
This is especially the case if you’re experiencing anxiety and physical sensations such as a really fast heart rate and a trembling body.
This is why it’s much easier to implement the above steps if you can learn to calm yourself down.
And one of the best ways I’ve found to calm myself down is through breathing exercises.
By using breathing techniques, it tricks the body into relaxing.
According to Live Strong, this is because breathing slowly “activates the hypothalamus”, which is connected to the pituitary gland in the brain that then sends out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.
One popular breathing meditation is Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Technique, which involves the following steps:
1) Let all your breath out and begin with empty lungs
2) Breathe for 4 seconds through the nose
3) Hold the breath in for 7 seconds
4) Exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds
5) Repeat the step 2-4 cycle for 3-5 times
Another breathing exercise I highly recommend comes from the wise shaman Ruda lande.
For a limited time, Ruda is teaching a powerful self-guided meditation focusing on your breathing. And it’s completely free.
Ruda Iande is not your typical shaman. While he does many things that shamans do, like bang his drums and spend time with indigenous Amazon tribes, he’s different in an important respect.
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If you want to boost your health and vitality in a totally natural way, Ruda’s shamanic breathwork class is an excellent place to start. It’s 100% free and there are no strings attached.
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