Fear. It comes in different forms for different people. Everyone experiences it at least once – probably multiple times. We all deal with it in our own ways. However, what we don’t do in our society is talk about it. We don’t acknowledge that fear is a part of life. Instead, we’ve created a stigma around it, often unspoken. We don’t even talk about the fact that we don’t talk about it. And this happens on a societal level as well as on a personal level.

We tell stories about what is happening, yet we rarely talk openly about how we’re feeling deep inside. We may make jokes in an effort to deflect or minimize our fear and discomfort. Or we get into heated arguments because we can’t hold back our anger or frustration any longer. We’ve made it OK to be angry, but too vulnerable to acknowledge our deep fears. We don’t acknowledge that underneath the anger is fear – personally and societally.

In the meantime, the fear keeps eating away at us deep inside. It saps us of energy and focus. Deep in the collective subconscious, fear is increasingly in control. So how do we respond?

American playwright, novelist, and activist James Baldwin wrote:

Not everything that can be faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

Until we are willing to walk toward our fear and engage it in conversation, we will not be able to transform it. The fear holds the power. It holds us hostage. Left unaddressed, it begins to hold not just us, but also our families, our communities, our companies, and even our countries hostage. And here we are.

Not everything that can be faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

Walking towards the fear instead of keeping it buried inside is a first step in claiming our own authentic strength and power. As soon as we look fear in the eye, ask it what it needs for us to know, and take a step in response, something shifts.

I admit that when we first look fear in the eye, it might take every ounce of strength and conviction we have to not run away. Yet if we can stay with it, even just for a few moments, a bigger part of us starts to show up – the part of us that is bigger than anything that we might fear. When we are honest with ourselves and are willing to share space with our fear, we find out what we are made of. We find out what is more important to us than anything else. We find out that we are stronger and more capable than we ever realized. The same can be true with groups. The same can be true with families, with companies, with communities, and with countries. Yet not if we don’t face our fears.

Courage is not the absence of fear – it’s the willingness to be with it. It’s the willingness to listen to it, to recognize its invitation, to step into the authentic power and strength within us that the fear can help us touch. In fact, the fear is often showing us exactly where to go next.

As courage rises within us, panic begins to transform into determination. The knot in the stomach turns from heavy stone into fire in the belly. Fear’s grip begins to loosen, and the truth in the core of our being becomes our pillar of strength.

So here are five steps that can help you face your fear and transform it into courage and strength.

Step 1 – Let yourself feel whatever you feel. Don’t try to protect yourself from the fear or pretend like it isn’t there. Just acknowledge that you’re afraid. It’s OK. It’s part of life. You don’t have to like it. Just be willing to feel it. And notice where the fear lives in your body – where it has grabbed hold of you physically.

If you are in a group, create a safe space for people to feel whatever they feel. Then, together, notice where the fear has grabbed hold of your situation. Acknowledge what is happening and how it is tied to the fear that has taken hold. Again, let it be OK. This moment is not about fixing or solving anything. It’s just about letting people feel what they feel.

Step 2 – Name the fear. Acknowledge what it is that you are afraid of. And then drop underneath that fear. What is the fear beneath the fear? And keep going until you know you have reached Ground Zero – the fundamental fear. Naming the fear at every level can be incredibly intense, and it can already begin to ease the threat. This is because the part of you that is afraid now knows that you are paying attention. It knows that you are willing to acknowledge what is going on inside of you, and what is going on inside your situation.

The same process can be applied with a group.

Step 3 – Breathe into the bottom of your body. If you have trouble breathing deeply, bend over as if you are going to touch your toes, and then breathe. Your breath will automatically go deep into the bottom of your body to ground you and to re-connect you with your true life-force energy. Fear can create an artificial adrenaline-fed feeling of aliveness. Breathing into the bottom of your body and re-connecting to the core of you will help you anchor in your own strength.

If you are in a group, get everyone breathing into the bottom of their bodies. Get grounded. Get real, right here, right now.

Step 4 – As you continue breathing deeply into the bottom of your body, breathe also into the place in your body where the fear lives – Ground Zero of the fear. Keep breathing into the bottom of your body and into the place where the fear lives until that place starts to soften. It may take a little time. It’s OK. Keep breathing into the fear.

Do the same thing with a group.

Step 5 – As the fear begins to soften, ask it what it wants you to know. Don’t worry about how to do that – just do it. Trust that some part of you knows how to listen to the fear. The fear has a message for you – it’s trying to get your attention. It wants to know that you are taking what’s happening seriously, and that you are going to do something about it. As you listen to the fear, keep breathing. Be curious and ask the fear questions. Have a dialogue with the fear, and notice what is happening inside of you. Chances are, something inside of you is getting stronger. As you let the fear talk to you, you learn more about it, and you begin to find your way through it.

If you are in a group, facilitate a dialogue between the group and the fear.

Our Most Basic Fear

At the most fundamental level, fear is usually fear of loss. We are afraid that we will lose something or someone that is important to us. As you continue to breathe into the fear and listen to it, be gentle and compassionate with yourself. And be honest. What are you afraid of losing?

When working with a group, be aware that the fundamental fear of loss may vary from person to person. At the level of the collective fear, many people may be afraid of the same thing. Yet at Ground Zero, what people actually fear losing may be different.

Accept whatever comes up. And if it feels like there is still more underneath, then keep breathing into the bottom of your body, keep breathing into Ground Zero of the fear, open your heart as best you can, and drop down deeper. Don’t try to fix it or make it all OK. Just get used to being with it.

Sometimes, the fear transforms fairly quickly. However, initially it may also become even more intense. Acknowledging feelings that have been held back for a long time can open the floodgates of emotions. Again, it’s OK. Keep breathing into the emotions. It’s the same with a group.

If being with the fear and emotions feels like too much to handle on your own, ask someone whom you trust to sit with you for a while. If you want to talk with them about what you are feeling, then talk. And if you want them to be quiet and just listen – to just be with you – tell them that. Let them know what you need. Sometimes, strong presence and tender silence is much more healing and supportive than words.

Again, it’s the same with a group. Give people permission to say what they need to say without a verbal response. Just hold space for each other. Witness one another. Just be, together. Passing a talking stick may help.

Being Present With Fear

We can’t get rid of fear, but we can transform it. We transform it by engaging with it, listening to it, feeling it, getting to know it. As we get more comfortable being present with the fear, it can show us the way towards courage and acceptance. It can show us the way to our authentic power and strength. It can show us where to go and what to do next.

Not everything that can be faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

Things are happening all around us and within us. What is it time for you to be honest about and face? What next step is your fear pointing you toward?

~ ~ ~

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