Making friends with your fears during a global pandemic
“Let your difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning not to run away from it.” Pema Chodron
These are fragile and tender times. Ones that may be leaving you feeling as if you are living in a darkened void of fear and uncertainty . The unprecedented pandemic that is sweeping so quickly over our nations is like nothing we have seen before on a global scale.
During our tender years we aren’t taught to embrace uncertainty, in fact the direct opposite is true. We are conditioned by our fears. Our natural reaction is to run away from them. When we experience feelings of anxiety, worry or uncertainty, we directly avoid exploring the nature of that experience.
The people in my life that I deem as brave and courageous aren’t people that move in the opposite direction of their fear, instead they are the very ones that have opened themselves up in getting to know their fear very intimately. They have grasped the ability in learning how to be afraid without being driven by those feelings.
By early March I began to realise the Coronavirus pandemic was becoming an exceptionally serious issue world wide. This quite naturally brought up my own personal feelings of uncertainty and worry. As a chronic asthmatic, who has been hospitalised in the past due to respiratory complaints, it first made me consider my own vulnerabilities regarding my health. This of course comes with it’s own worry and concerns.
Also as a business owner, one who has staff to support, I started to feel the extra pressures of the life changing impact the whole situation could have financially on my business and my employees. A pandemic of this magnitude brings about issues that the majority of the world would never had believed possible. Its unknown ground, and with that comes unknown solutions. As a world, if we’ve ever needed to learn from the experience of cultivating the ability to sit in complete ungroundedness, it is now.
When we are driven by fear, our natural reaction is to do anything to avoid it. We push away from it, because it is uncomfortable or painful. Sometimes that can then lead us to develop self destructive patterns surrounding fear. We overthink, we withdraw. In seeking comfort we find ourselves scrambling for ground. We lash out, we blames others, we play victim. We repeat ingrained patterns over and over again, and we suffer.
We are afraid of fear itself because many of us we are not aware of its workings, it can often become an unconscious driving force in our lives. What mindfulness practice does is invite us to explore and understand fear from a different perspective using cultivated loving awareness.
Mindfulness invites us to learn to sit quietly with our fear, exploring it with awareness and compassion. We can begin to do this by firstly accepting that fear is usually built on structures of assumptions, lack of action and lack of awareness.
“If we are hurting enough from it, and we really have the courage to start looking for the source or root of that fear and what we can do to about it, it can transform into something much more than just wanting to feel better in ourselves.” Pema Chodron
When we have the courage to lean into the uncomfortable feelings that our fear brings up it can help us view our fear very differently. We can start doing this by simply exploring what it actually feels like. Is there tightness in the body? Are different emotions arising? Notice your breathing, your heart rate, the physical sensations it my bring. Are you someone that finds yourself grasping a different outcomes surrounding your fears? Are you looking back in the past or into the future? Or is it your natural reaction to want to bury your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t there?
This practice can initially make us feel more afraid, it’s difficult sitting with ourselves as observers. But being patient and disciplined with this practice, as and when life’s challenges arise, enables us to begin to observe fear as the energy it is, one that simply moves through us, if we allow it to. It enables our whole relationship with fear to shift, until eventually we are able to simply recognise it when it arises, almost like meeting an old friend. “Oh hello fear, here you are again, let me sit with you for a while.”
Becoming so deeply accustomed to how we relate to our fears, means that we will eventually no longer feel the need to protect ourselves from them. When we know our emotions very directly and intimately, then they cease to scare us. In fact they can begin to transition through our minds like a gentle free flowing stream, which invites us to practice less holding and more opening.
When we fear our fear less, it leads us to sit more firmly in times of challenge, which in turn enables us to approach difficult situations with more clarity and calm. Remember, this isn’t about being fearless, it’s about learning to accept our fear instead of avoiding it. Accepting it with loving awareness, so we can act with more openness and more wisdom. It helps us breaks the pattern of being consumed by the mental stories we play over and over again in our heads.
More openness and more wisdom builds a greater sense of resilience. We naturally become more adaptable, more accepting and more compassionate.
I sat deeply with my fears surrounding COVID-19 until I felt calm and grounded. It helped me understand fully my emotions in relation to the situation, which enabled me to see my options with more clarity.
Then I responded with mindful action. I decided what I needed to do in the short term to help support both my business, my staff and my health and I acted upon those decisions quickly with confidence and compassion.
I practiced full acceptance of what is. My Buddhist teachings have always taught me that we are in fact in control of very little. Only our minds and how we respond to others and situations. As horrific as the situation is, it is here, and to help work through my fear, I needed to simply accept it. I acknowledged that the entire world is experiencing the same as myself and collectively we are needed to move through it together as openly and compassionately as we can.
And then I looked at what I could do to help. ‘We’ are all in this together and the human spirit is a beautifully resilient thing. A tragedy of this magnitude gifts every single one of us with the opportunity to cultivate our capacity to care and love other people more. Yes of course we must look after ourselves, but whatever our circumstances, we can also derive inspiration to look at how we are needed in this situation? Ask yourself if we are all in this together, then who are ‘we’ . Every single one of us is needed at this time, each of us must act collectively to help stop the spread of this disease. In simple terms all of us are needed to potentially help stop billions of people from suffering.
So in this situation, one where so many of us are isolating at home, if every single one of us asked ourselves, ‘yes I can stay at home as asked, but what else could I be doing to help others just like me?‘
If just one person, one family, one village or one community all began to consider how else they could help in this global issue and followed it with positive action, so much good would come from this pandemic. It’s our compassion for ourselves and others that cause overall compassion to increase in the world as a whole.
Mindfulness helps us to begin to see fear as a passing conditioned experience, and in doing so it becomes much more workable. It enables us to see that every action we take is interconnected. We evolve and grow collectively. When we find the courage to cradle our fearful mind in loving awareness, eventually that loving awareness can expand out far more widely than ourselves.
Learning to make friends with your fears at this time not only helps alleviate your own suffering, but it expands outwards to help alleviate the suffering of others, and that is very a beautiful and powerful thing.