Is fear the enemy? Some popular “fitspiration” Facebook posts indicate that it might be. A few recent ones I’ve seen read: “Fear is the opposite of love”; “F**k fear”; “Fear is a liar.” I saw the latter in a meme of a very toned woman holding an enormous barbell on her back. For me, the thought of lifting a weight that size on by back would be scary because such a choice would land me immobile for days. Yet strength comes from encountering difficulty, and fear is the emotion that comes up at difficult times. In my view, fear is not a voice that “lies” to us, existing as a misleading emotion that we have to work against if we want to be loving, free, and fully realized human beings. Rather, it is something to be embraced as a reflection of our innate intuition and a necessary pathway for growth.
The other day when I was walking on the street a car ran a red light and fear triggered an adrenaline rush that told me to stay on the sidewalk. A week ago, a friend confided in me that a healthy fear of going over the edge keeps him from taking that first drink. Another discussed meeting someone he really liked and being full of excitement that what he felt was real enough to scare him. Looking back on our lives, were we not all scared at some point or another when we embarked on something worth doing?
On the other extreme, the same type of apprehension can keep you on the sidelines of your existence, staying encapsulated in your own perception of safety. It might paralyze you to the point of not getting on an airplane, or even leaving the house. It could keep you from going for your dreams or speaking your mind. I’ve been there and I can say with certainty that waiting for fear to subside has always been futile. The fear of fear kept me at bay more than the actual emotion of fear. The only way I got through it was by recognizing, feeling, and learning how to move with it. If I waited for fear to disappear or saw it as the enemy, I would never do anything and feel too easily defeated.
Whenever we embark on a course of change, large or small, fear shows up in some way or another because any shift in routine is new, and newness is scary. We might be afraid of failure or even success, but either way, the thought of putting ourselves out there in unknown ways might freeze us cold in the doorways of new adventures.
Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger: a feeling of being afraid,” and “a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful.” The respect part is what gets me, and while I doubt there will be a flux of “Respect Fear” memes on Facebook tomorrow (nor should there be), I think this perspective shift is a step worth considering. Embracing fear allows us to move forward. Maybe then we can see ourselves more clearly when it leads us to retreat and when it leads to persevere; does it not lead to both?
So the next time you feel fear, listen to it. Ask yourself what it is saying and why it is there. What difficult challenge is presented? Is it your life at stake? Listen to it. Is your ego at stake? Hear it, but move forward anyway. Give fear a chance to run through your veins…it might just be there to remind you that you are alive.
Here’s a yoga sequence you can use to embrace fear and grow from the challenges it presents.