by Larry Kaplowitz • April 18, 2016
My own personal focus lately has been on paying attention to the subtle ways that fear operates in me—how fear is at the root of almost all my unease and inhibition. My practice, then, has been to notice when I’m in a state of fear, and to recognize that I have two choices: to suppress it, by shutting down or distracting myself in some way (food and Facebook are my favored go-to’s), or to acknowledge it and feel it. When I fully open myself to the experience of fear, I almost always find that through that opening I feel a sense of spaciousness in which I can feel my breath, and the beating of my heart, and in that spaciousness I can recognize my heart’s true desire and find the courage to act from that. So lately I have been simplifying this practice into two words: courageous love.
Here’s something I wrote about this recently:
The only thing that ever stops us from being true to ourselves is fear. If we had no fear, we wouldn’t hesitate to express the tender truths of our hearts or to openly reveal the deep currents of feeling that move through us. Without fear, we’d have no reluctance to be our most loving, compassionate, expressive, creative, and connected selves. Without fear, we’d be honest. We’d say “yes” when we mean yes, and “no” when we mean no.
But fear is not a bad thing; it is our natural and instinctive response to danger or threat. Fear is essential to our survival; without fear, humans would have become extinct a long, long time ago. But most of us rarely experience situations in which our survival is truly threatened.
Yet we often live as if we are in a continual state of threat, and experience a sense low grade fear that we describe with such words as stress, insecurity, anxiety, worry, defensiveness, guilt, regret, apprehension, and shame. This fear inclines us to hold back, to be controlling, cautious, and self-protective, to seek approval and avoid disapproval. We pay a high price for this: the loss of our happiness, love, and aliveness.
How do we free ourselves from fear?
Here’s the great secret: we don’t need to. We simply need to have the courage to feel our fear and to act in the face of it. Courage is not the absence of fear, rather it is the willingness to do the thing that we’re afraid of. To listen, through the persistent clatter of our fear, for the quiet voice of love, whispering in our heart, and to choose that.
The courage to love is the courage to be fully ourselves. Love is acceptance; full, unconditional acceptance. When we are denying, suppressing, or judging any aspect of ourselves, including our fear, we are not in a state of love.
To choose love is not to make ourselves different or to deny some fundamental aspect of ourselves. It is to recognize, though, that there are two aspects of our consciousness: our ego, through which we perceive ourselves as separate and unsafe and strive for self-protection and control, and our heart, through which we perceive ourselves as one, as connected. When we are favoring our ego, our focus is on controlling the future. When we are favoring our heart, we are living in the continual flow of the present. Let’s choose that!