Fear is a muscle that you can release
We used to have a book on the shelf called, “Love is Letting Go of Fear.”
I liked seeing the spine of it from across the room. That simple phrase sounded so wonderful and true. I may have even read the book once and understood it conceptually, but it did not actually help me let go of any fear.
I really had no idea what to do within myself to let go of fear.
So, I held on. I held onto so much fear, for so long, that I couldn’t even notice the scope of it within myself. I only knew it was there.
One big fear that pervaded my experience was that I wouldn’t be liked. So, for many years, even writing a simple email to an acquaintance brought up fear. I was afraid I would say something wrong and they wouldn’t like me. Many of my social interactions were tinged with this anxiety. It inhibited my ability to create freely. It inhibited my sense of freedom.
I started many projects only to give up on them out of fear. It kept me jumping around from one thing to the next, never allowing me to settle.
I also learned to push through fear. Especially as a startup founder and a manager. Every day I faced situations where I had to push through it. It wore me out.
This year, I finally discovered what is meant by “letting go” of fear.
I had missed this discovery for so long, because it was too simple.
Here’s my own model for how to do it.
There’s a place in the mind where fear doesn’t exist. Some people call it “is-ness,” because it’s the place where everything just is. Without judgement or shame or anything else. It’s the place where the past doesn’t exist, the self doesn’t exist, and the future doesn’t exist.
It’s the part of us that’s always here. Simply here, always around, regardless of our circumstances. It’s the part that is just witnessing what’s going on inside of us.
Most of us don’t notice this part of ourselves very often, because we get so caught up in thoughts and stories. Maybe we get an occasional glimpse of it, but most of the time our modern society keeps us in the habit of running wild inside our heads.
I think there are two muscles of the mind that, when strengthened, lead to letting go of fear.
One is the muscle that notices how the body feels. For me, I use this muscle to focus on the way air feels moving through my sinuses, or the way my feet feel when I walk slowly. As this muscle strengthens, we get to experience the sensations of the body with a higher fidelity.
The other muscle notices when thoughts arise and lets them go. The easiest way to “let them go” is to return the attention to the body and how it’s feeling.
The core of meditation, for me, is the strengthening of these two mental muscles. The experience of the ‘is-ness’ emerges on its own.
I meditated for five days at a Vipassana retreat in order to learn to strengthen these muscles.
If meditating for five days sounds boring, just remember that “this is boring” is yet another thought. The ‘is-ness’ never gets bored. Whether five days or five seconds, the ‘is-ness’ just is.
Over time I have been able to strengthen these muscles enough to radically change my perception of the world. Specifically, I strengthened the noticing muscle so that it became stronger than the fear muscle. And, at that moment, the fear simply lost its grip, overnight. The seat of my consciousness shifted over to the stronger muscle, the noticing muscle. Fears suddenly felt almost like nothing at all. They had nothing to hold onto, because I had trained my focus to find a home within the ‘is-ness.’
When this happened, it was the best day of my life.
Eventually I realized that the ‘is-ness’ was now running the show, and the old fears were off to the side of my awareness. Whatever fears were left did not grip me anymore.
Of course, not having any fear at all would be dangerous. But, that has never been a problem for me.
It was amazing to learn that what I thought was fixed about myself could change. I wish I’d found these muscles sooner in my life. But, I’m happy to know now that they are there. Now I want everyone else to know: It’s possible to find deep inner peace by strengthening these muscles. And by doing so, we broaden our capacity to love.
I maintain the awareness muscles every day with meditation. I’m sure it’s possible that someday the fear muscle could take over again. But now that I know how to return to the ‘is-ness’, I’m not worried about that. I can always find my way there. So can you.