I’ve become acutely aware how often I live in a mist of fear. Functioning, continuing my days, but often through a misty veil. I heard a radio programme with an American psychologist: “it’s fine to let your fears travel in the car with you but tell them: “in no way are you sitting in the driver’s seat, and “no” you can’t use the satnav!” Ok, I get that, but I don’t think it’s as straightforward as commanding our fears. I think we need a new “Me Too” campaign.
Early morning anxiety, ruminations about a piece of work, or a tough conversation needed at a meeting, a relationship off balance? And added to that, a dollop of avoidant behaviour which of course exacerbates everything! Me too. Maybe, you recognise you’re simply living with Fear FM in the background: the white noise of our monkey-minds well versed at stories about stories about stories. Fear FM isn’t simply a waste of attention, it’s more insidious. Our subconscious ruminations lead to fears being projected onto the faces of friends, loved ones, colleagues - and in that space we don’t really meet one another, encounters are through a muffled veil.
“Always on Air!” The ancient amygdala functioning of our brains has evolved (but not much) for thousands of years and kept us safe from dangers. It’s hypervigilance continually scanning our experiences against a vast database of personal and collective memories. It’s asking itself “is this safe, could this be a danger, this feeling reminds me of that frightening episode”. And with that comes all the neuro-physiological responses of fight, flight or freeze, often without knowing our sympathetic nervous system has been triggered, like the mosquito that numbs our skin before its bite. Unconsciously we have increased cortisol levels, accelerated heart rate, widened air ways, eyes dilated and raised blood pressure. Great if you need to fight, not if you’re sat with a dear friend.
So, back to Fear FM. How can we disrupt our listening patterns?
In “Fear: Its Beginning, Middle and End”, Krishnamurti said: “Fear is never an actuality; it is either before or after the active present. When there is fear in the active present, is it fear? It is there and there is no escape from it, no evasion possible. There, at that actual moment, there is total attention at the moment of danger, physical or physiological. When there is complete attention there is no fear. But the actual fact of inattention breeds fear; fear arises when there is an avoidance of the fact, a flight; then the very escape itself is fear.” So, is it our inattention that inadvertently devotes more air-time to Fear FM? It’s no accident that many spiritual practices share mindfulness or meditation, as ways to bring ourselves to the present. We know from neuroscience that stilling the mind, and focussing our breathing triggers our parasympathetic nervous system and allows us to rest and digest.
I want to share a story.In my early 20’s in the beautiful gardens of the Krishnamurti Centre in Madras, I spent time with someone who grew up as a young man learning from Jidda Krishnamurti. He sat with me as I explained that as long as I could remember, fear had always been very close by.
“What are you afraid of?” he asked. “Loneliness,” I replied.
“Are you feeling lonely now?”. I replied not. He continued: ”What are you afraid of?”
“Dying”, I said. “Are you dead now?” “No”, I said, a bit shocked.
He asked again, “What are you afraid of?” A few moments passed.
“Not being good enough.” “What’s behind that fear?” he asked gently. “Judgement”, I answered.
“Who’s judging you?” he asked.
“My father” I said. “Is he here judging you now, in this garden?”
“No. I’m sat on this bench with you”.
“So, what are you afraid of...?”
He continued with a lucid dismantling of the many layers of fears, unquestionably causing me distress, but none of them present in those moments. The experience was a bit like unpacking a Russian doll set: each doll containing another associated thought, fear or memory. I wasn’t experiencing any fear in those gardens, yet I complained about fear being a constant companion. With his enquiry, in that garden, I’d run out of dolls to keep opening.
Yet, here I am at 50. I still feel fear as a constant companion. I find Eckarth Tolle’s 5 minute video Getting rid of Fear wonderfully insightful. Rather than evade or try and escape fear, he advises “accept the seemingly unacceptable”. Although it’s not pleasant, he says, shine the light of your awareness on your fears over and over again. They won’t kill you. In fact, when we surrender to it and allow it to be, that’s when spiritual transformation happens. We may have to do it over and over again, perhaps all our life, however that ONE thing will be our greatest teacher. Perhaps that’s what Krishnamurti meant: “hold your fear as a jewel in the palm of your hand”.
So, for me, fear FM’s jingle contains some truth - they really are always on my airwaves. One of the joys though that comes from being 50 is a realisation that there’s no silver bullet, no perfect life to be sought. It’s a daily craft, a discipline, an attention and noticing when I’m off balance.
Some tips for all you Fear FM listeners out there who, like me, are searching for other ways.
Try a daily meditation practice, even 10 minutes can make a difference
When you feel stress levels rising, take a few steady breaths in and out
Walk outside, focussing as much of your attention for a few minutes on one thing: really observe the snail’s trail, the bird’s song, the leaf in the breeze...
You may just find these steps return you to the ever changing NOW, and more of your self becomes available to meet life. If you’re interested in deepening your exploration of how your inner and outer worlds intersect, please join us at Landscapes of Change, a series of retreats at Hazel Hill Wood, near Salisbury. We explore questions of balance, and much more besides, in safe community, and as pilgrims on a path.
Wishing you blessings on your path