These past few weeks have been challenging haven’t they. For me, life has been something of a rollercoaster ride as I waited for the wave to hit and then felt myself drowning under a black ocean of information, misinformation, speculation, sensation, news, fake news and seductive social media notifications.
Even now I see quite a lot being said on social media about not being ‘in fear’ and while I get that fear can be debilitating I also know it’s not so easy to move away from. Saying to someone ‘don’t be scared’ is possibly not going to have the desired effect. It isn’t as simple as that is it.
And let’s face it, these are fearful times, scary times. I’d like to suggest it’s ok to acknowledge this rather than try to put a positive spin on everything. After all, fear has a purpose. It’s a symptom not a cause. I find a certain kind of relief when I allow myself to accept that these are fearful times. It's as if I'm witnessing my own authentic inner feelings and giving them voice.
Working with the fear
This is something that came up for discussion both in our Mystery School online journey circle and the Coaching Call over the last few days and we discussed how it is important to work with fear and to regain control of our own emotional response to our current situation, or indeed to any situation that provokes anxiety.
Fear is not an emotion that many of us have to cope with very often so it’s easy to forget what steps to take. This wasn’t the case with our distant ancestors who lived as hunter gatherers. The fight or flight response that fear invokes would help them prepare their next steps in an instant.
When fear strikes it causes an instantaneous rise in our adrenaline level which floods our body and causes all kinds of chemical changes. We may feel sharper, more responsive, time may seem to slow down and our strength increases. This all helped our distant forebears calculate how best to react to the predator they just bumped into or how to negotiate the mountain slope they suddenly found themselves trapped on. They would feel absolutely ‘on it’, in control and ready to fight or flee.
The key thing is that they would have an action as a reaction to a situation that was prompted and heightened by the fear. This is what we can lack today. After all, the third response to fear is to freeze which could also do our ancestors some good on occasion but won’t help us fight this current issue.
We need to become ‘fearless’. By this I don’t mean that we deny our fear and pretend it isn’t there or try to will it away with positive thoughts. This does come with a caveat that I will mention later though.
Fearlessness is borne out of fear.
Fearlessness comes as a result of doing the work prompted by fear. It’s not the opposite of fear, I think that particular title goes to blissful ignorance, complacency or naivety. Take the example of a mountaineer who is about to conquer an imposing peak. She would do the work of thorough preparation in response to her fear of death prompted by the mountain. She would train and perfect the techniques that would be needed to best ensure survival in that threatening environment. She’d most likely carry an oxygen supply and would certainly have the clothing and safety equipment that is essential to surmount such a climb.
Then she could be said to be fearless. She’d be ready, prepared and tooled up for practically any eventuality that could confront her. Yet when out on the mountain her fear would keep her sharp, strong and ultra focused on the task ahead.
Likewise we have to look to the root of the fear, to remember that the fear is a symptom that has risen to prepare us for something. If we look at this in an animistic way we may see the fear as a being with sentience and an agenda that we can work with. The only way to assuage the fear is to deal with the reason it’s swollen up within us in the first place.
Explore these reasons for your fear one by one.
It’s easy to think our fear is all about being scared of Coronavirus, which can rise up in front of us like a beast that we can’t even see let alone beat. So go deeper. Why are you afraid of the virus? Because it could kill my ageing parents… so do what you can to address that issue. Because it could break me financially… again do what you can to seek a solution. Because I could catch it… so follow the steps to minimise that.
By hearing the words that fear has to speak we can dig below it and address those issues that it’s in our power to deal with. And knowing we’ve done our best can help allay that sense of fear or helplessness. What fear remains could help keep us sharp and alert to any changes and adjustments we need make in order to stay one step ahead. Fear is an ally. However it can soon change into the very thing that eats us and that is what we need to take steps against.
In her book Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert addresses the issue of fear in the context of being afraid of doing creative work. She recommends that we don’t ignore fear as it may have a habit of coming back to bite us. Rather we should take the steps necessary to alleviate it. She goes on to relate how she invites fear into her life, tells it that she has heard what it has to say but that it has to sit in the back seat of her life and that she’s not going to listen to it’s constant grumblings. She refuses to let it have either the steering wheel or the map as she navigates her way through life’s twists and turns.
Don't feed the fear
The one thing that we should not do with fear is feed it.
Don’t feed the fear is a mantra I’ve heard so many times, but how many folk right now are inviting fear to a banquet of delights from their waking moment right through to their fitful sleep at night! By constantly scrolling through news items and social media headlines we fatten up our fear until it absolutely consumes us. And then it can shapeshift into anxiety, panic, terror and hysteria. All of which are hugely detrimental to our ability to function, think straight and plan our life.
Can you imagine what would happen to the mindset of our mountaineer if she kept pulling her phone out on the mountain slopes and poring over images of mountain deaths and reading of all the recent fatalities and becoming fascinated with the details of frostbite, altitude sickness and such? I fell into anxiety over the virus not long ago.
It was necessary for Nicola and I to have a good handle on the growing situation as we had decisions to make that were impacted by the pandemic. So we had to be informed and ‘on point’ so to speak.
However fear proved to be so seductive and hypnotic that it got its tendrils into me and began to control me. I began to feel helpless, out of control and unable to do what I had to do. I kept reading the news on my devices. I became enchanted by its mystery.
A shamanic journey to my guides helped me straighten myself out and subsequent time out in nature taught me that I had to walk my talk and stop feeding the fear within me by cutting off the constant supply of news updates. As soon as I ring fenced a set time to check for updated information and kept the rest of my day coronavirus news free I began to settle. And now I’ve reached a place of balance where I feel I’m informed, up to date with what I need to know and able to continue to climb this mountain.
Like our mountaineer from earlier who knew she could still die in her attempt despite her best efforts I know I may be afflicted by this in one way or another. But I also know that I’m doing what I can to weaken its impact on me. I’ve become more fearless in the face of the virus and I can write again. Pretty soon I’ll be resilient, mindful and present enough to go out in my garden and take photos too.
This is all well and good I hear you say, but what do we do if we are gripped by fear? What if we are suffering the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ syndrome of freeze? Well first and foremost take positive steps to stop feeding the fear. Equip yourself with what you need to know but stop succumbing to the seduction of fear. Whenever it whispers into your ear and tries to beguile you back into its thorny embrace remember your resolve. Remember to wait until your allotted time to touch in with current developments that may inform you, and draw them from reliable, balanced sources that don’t pander to panic and sensationalism.
Take time out to get some air, some solace and some mental respite. I had a wander on the local moors where I sat for a while and felt myself begin to settle. I drummed long and steady, the beat resonating both outwards across the empty landscape and deep within to steady my racing heart and busy mind.
During my journey to my guides that I undertook while out there I received insights about taking time out in nature and then on my drive home an unusual bird flew alongside me close to our lane. It was a green woodpecker, the very first one I’ve seen near where we live. That was symbolic and significant.
I knew there was a message within that visitation and I was reminded how Nicola said she was aware of a greater spotted woodpecker drumming in the woods near her earlier. We explored woodpecker and soon realised what it had come to share with us. They fly in an undulating manner, taking a few flaps and then folding their wings against the bodies as they dip down for a couple of seconds before repeating the pattern.
Work then rest, work then rest, work then rest.
They also drum in short bursts too.
Drum then rest, drum then rest.
Interestingly they have special cushioning in their skull to prevent brain damage from their drumming. We too need to find the cushion that will help us absorb the shock and fear at the moment.
My cushions are nature time, creativity and my guide told me to study.
Plus woodpeckers drum as a way of communicating. Work then rest, drum and journey and cushion myself. What great advice from woodpecker!
When fear begins to overwhelm have a word with it.
Go on a shamanic journey to it. Journey to your guides. Stop feeding it. Take steps to counter the carnage it can wreak on your emotional, mental and physical state as mentioned above and come back to your centre, alert, alive, informed and prepared to embrace your life.
Don’t be slow about seeking help either. Our therapist-come-supervisor had lots to say to us and having an elder witness our words and reflect back wise insights can further help us become resilient.
Feed yourself - not the panic
These are scary, fearful times.
To my mind anyone who says otherwise is either kidding themselves, blinkered in their own little world or dangerously naive.
Feel the fear, let it touch you, let it work its magic deep within your heartspace but then respond as our ancestors would, as our mountaineer would.
Take heed, listen, take action and feed yourself not the panic.