by Emily Eldredge
Recently, my mother shared with me an astounding tidbit she saw on National Geographic.
“Would you believe,” she said, “that the animals in Africa most likely to survive a fire are not the ones who run from it – they’re the ones who run through it? Those who run away get tired, collapse, and are engulfed by the flames. Zebras, on the other hand, are especially great survivors because, rather than running away from the fire, they run through the fire.”
“What a powerful analogy for the healing process,” she continued. “The fire is fear. If we run away from fear, we die. However, if we simply turn around, face it, and run through it, we survive. And discover that on the other side is simply scorched earth, fresh for rebirth. And the fire is no longer moving towards us but away from us, no longer a threat to our survival.”
Wow. Who would have thought that actually running through the source of one’s fear would be the way to survive… and even thrive?
Diane Rehm (drshow.org) recently featured a gentleman who wrote a book called The Science of Fear: Why We Fear Things We Shouldn’t and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger. He comments on a phenomenon that occurred post-9/11: “A lot of Americans were afraid to fly… So we got into our cars and drove… But flying is far safer than driving. It’s so much safer that, even if there had been a wave of fatal terrorist hijackings, flying still would have been far, far, far safer than driving… Researchers found that the switch from flying to driving lasted for about one year. And during this time there was a spike in auto fatalities… The estimated number of Americans who were killed because of the irrational decision to drive rather than fly: 1,595.”
3,000 people killed in New York, and 1,600 more killed on the road… because of an unreasoned fear.
Most “fears” and defense mechanisms are simply energies within us that we create or are taught to create during childhood. At the mercy of our environment and dependent on others for survival, we unconsciously devise strategies for getting our needs met and walls for protecting ourselves from those who may be violating our boundaries. Internally, we all have multiple personalities, reacting in different ways to different situations, depending on what served us best as children. These personalities are not to be feared or fought – they are simply trying to help. They are doing exactly what they were designed to do – to protect us from a perceived or actual threat.
As we grow older and more independent, these outdated and unnecessary personalities continue to operate. However, that’s like running an updated computer on an outdated operating system. The old programs need to be removed, allowing the higher versions to be installed, opening the space for us to be who we truly are…
I frequently venture inside myself to unpack this concept of fear. It’s one thing to tell myself, “Fear is an illusion,” but when I’m swimming in that fear, the experience is truly intoxicating, like a poison warping my perception of what is truly worthy of fear. For example, if you’ve had a few glasses of wine but tell yourself, “No, I’m not drunk! This is all just an illusion!” it won’t negate the fact that your tongue feels like lead and the room is spinning around you! Best to simply wait and allow the body to release the toxin.
This, too, will pass.
Sometimes I won’t even realize that a fear is operating within me. I may be in a situation, reacting a certain way, and it isn’t until I stop, take a breath, and become aware of my body that I sense the resistance to an uncomfortable energy within me. “Oh! I didn’t realize that was there!” I relax the space around it, accept that it’s there and that it’s okay, and – POOF! – it usually disappears.
Sometimes, though, fear can be so intoxicating that my only choice is to surrender to it. Surrender: what a magnificent gift. Because, when I finally do, all resistances dissolve, and the “fear” floods in. I surrender by lying down, breathing into my body, and simply telling myself, “I surrender,” “I accept that I feel afraid,” or whatever feels right to say, whatever feels the most freeing.
And, in that moment, as my muscles release, my breathing deepens, and the fear floods in, the most spectacular awakening occurs. It finally dawns on me that:
1. It isn’t “fear.” It is just energy. I’m the only one who is feeling and labeling it as “fear.” Energy comes and energy goes. As Einstein says, it is neither created nor destroyed – just transformed. Also, energy follows thought, so the only qualities and powers given to energy are the ones I give it.
2. The “fear” is almost always irrational – never a life-or-death situation, though I may have given it that power. It is typically the fear of experiencing more fear or some other uncomfortable emotion that I’d rather not feel, like anger. And what is anger? A message that something internal or external is not in alignment with our truth, with our love of self. Worth listening to.
3. My resistance to feeling it is what has given it power over me… which is always more power than it deserves. When I let go of my resistance to it, I allow it to return to its natural flow of the Universe… to love. And I discover that it really, truly was just an illusion. And that I will survive whatever it is that I think I fear.
I often compare this process of awakening to what happens when your foot falls asleep and then wakes up. As the blood starts to flow again and the vessels stretch and the muscles twitch, it experiences the pain of awakening before it can walk again. Only, in this context, it is the heart that is waking up… thawing out from years of contraction and denial.
In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle beautifully describes what happens when we allow this fear and pain inside us to melt: “The energy that was trapped in the pain-body then changes into vibrational frequency and is transmuted into Presence. In this way, the pain-body becomes fuel for consciousness. This is why many of the wisest, most enlightened men and women on our planet once had a heavy pain-body.”
My God, if that isn’t ever a brilliant and inspiring statement. You mean, this pain is useful for something? You mean, Buddha and Jesus and all of these enlightened teachers went through this, too? You mean, all of this pain that I am feeling can miraculously transform into exuberant love and indescribable joy? You mean I can actually be free of fear?
Yes! It’s just energy that wants to flow again – that’s all! It wants to be loved and returned to the current of universal love that flows through us all. It’s the welcome sigh after holding your breath, the flood through a dam that electrifies a city, the relief we feel after a long cry, the spark of flame negating all darkness. It is the essence of our being – altered by the intentions of a fearful mind. Nothing more, nothing less. Fear is nothing to fear.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and even that we don’t have to fear!
Actor Will Smith has said he’s driven by fear. “All it takes is just one person telling me I can’t do it, and I’ll use the fear of failure as fuel. I keep going because I doubt myself… It drives me to be better. I’ve learned that the mastery of self-doubt is the key to success.”
He has learned to recognize that the feeling of fear is not something to fear. He feels the fear and does it anyway, thereby disempowering the feeling altogether and invigorating his trust and faith in himself.
For me, I take a more measured approach. I know that if I do something from a place of fear, then that is the energy I will attract in return. So I tend to face the fear internally first, recognize that it’s just an illusion based on an old belief from childhood or my environment, which then clears enough Presence space within me to know what it is that I have to do and then do it.
I recently had an extraordinary epiphany when I made a choice I had long feared doing yet knew I had to do. I said to myself, “I’m going to do this. I don’t know what will happen as a result of doing this. I just know that, in this moment right now, this is what I have to do.”
I ran through the fire… And came out glowing on the other side.
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