“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” — Pema Chodron
In today’s world, we hear a lot about the benefits of being mindful and present, but what if you’re fearful of being present?
Being in the now and living in the moment can be scary and uncomfortable for those who wish to escape reality. It’s easier to ruminate and dwell on the past or fantasize about the future. How can you learn to stay present when it’s uncomfortable?
This can be tough because we are programmed to run, hide, and escape from fear. If a bear is chasing you, this reaction is wise; however, if you are running from yourself, your emotions, and your reality, this approach can backfire. Instead, start with letting fear be your guide rather than your enemy.
Emotions, including fear, can act like an enormous gust of wind that scoops you off the ground; you don’t know where you might land. This overwhelming intensity is because we make emotions SO MUCH BIGGER than they need to be, especially negative ones.
In fact, we do everything we can to avoid negative feelings: we sleep, eat, drink, do drugs, smoke, have sex, shop, overwork, gamble to distract, and distract ourselves. Here’s a case example of how this hurts:
Sue and Depression
Sue struggles with depression. She often finds it more comfortable to lie in bed all day, regretting the decisions she made in her life or fantasizing about being rescued. Disney has done us no favors in that department. When I’ve asked Sue what she really feels before she decides to crawl into bed, she said, “sadness and loss of hope.”
Okay, we can work with this. What does that feel like in your body? “Heavy and all I want to do is sleep,” said Sue. What if we imagined this weight and truly experienced these emotions without sliding into bed? To do this, we acknowledge, and validate these emotions and their weight. Yes, you made mistakes along the road, but they are emotions, not cement. They pass through you when you allow them to exist. When you fight them, they continue to grow.
Mindfulness, in this case, starts with feeling one’s feelings, not burying them. Then, mindfully putting one foot in front of the other and walking in the direction you wish to go, acknowledging your pains, struggles, wishes, and desires.
How can you start to incorporate mindfulness into your emotional life?
- Be mindful of being fearful
- Get curious about what you are feeling
- Gently and compassionately name the feeling
- Allow yourself to feel whatever emotion is present
- Acknowledge and validate its existence in your body
- Intentionally choose to radically accept its existence and move in the direction you want to go
Wash, rinse, and repeat.