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“The passage to wholeness and interior freedom is made through many deaths: death to our self-image; death to what we thought we understood about good and evil; death to what we thought we understood about faith and love. Finally, there has to be a death to the old way of living from fear and insecurity. And the only way for this death to happen is to be filled with love.”

Ann Yeong

What are you afraid of? Not having enough money for life’s necessities like food, shelter and healthcare? Physical pain? The loss of loved ones? A terminal diagnosis? Watching people you love suffer, and not knowing how to help? Violent assault? Rape? Having your freedom taken away? Being taken advantage of? Rejection? Abandonment? Being overlooked? Depression? Feeling helpless to repeat behaviours that harm you and/or other people (addiction)? The damaging effects of climate change? Natural disasters? Loss of control? Cruelty? Injustice? Fascism? Torture? 

[At this point, I can hear my husband urging me to keep it light!] 

In this moment I feel no fear about any of these things. But I’m pretty sure, when it comes to most of them, if I thought they were imminent, fear would rear its ugly head. And when I think about other people going through dreadful things, I’m filled with horror. 

What do all these scenarios have in common in my mind? I’m convinced that if they happened, I would feel horrendous. I think that I would be so consumed by distress that it would be impossible for me to enjoy life. And so, if they occurred, I would resist what was happening because I wouldn’t be able to conceive of the possibility of being at peace in the face of such horrors. 

We don’t choose fear; it chooses us. It seizes our bodies and overtakes our minds. Before we know it, our thoughts are racing and our muscles are tense. Our experience of life narrows into a laser focus on the perceived threat. Our cognitive machinery goes into overdrive, trying to figure out how to get out of danger. There is no time for rest, no space for pleasure. 

All this internal mobilisation can be very helpful in emergencies when our survival is on the line. However, when fear continues after the threat has passed, it becomes a very uncomfortable, unpleasant, draining experience, which cuts us off from the joy of being alive. It also severely hampers our ability to think clearly, act sensibly and respond to life with creativity and enthusiasm. It can turn life into an ordeal. 

On my journey to recovery from disordered eating and obsession with the appearance of my body, I have reflected deeply on what the fear driving the whole problem was really about. What I came to realise was that I wasn’t afraid of what I thought I was. I wasn’t actually afraid of eating too much or being fat, but rather I was afraid of the horrible emotional experience that I thought those circumstances would inevitably generate within me. After all, fat can’t possibly create emotions. Emotions can only ever come from within, from the thoughts that look true to us. I was convinced that if I gained weight, I would experience self-loathing because I always had in the past. I would sense other people’s disapproval, and feel the pain of taking on their judgments. And I hated that experience. In truth, I was afraid of feeling feelings I didn’t enjoy. 

And I’ve come to see that that is what all my fears boil down to: I don’t want to go through a horrible emotional experience. And what does such a horrible experience comprise? A tight clinging to the belief that it’s impossible to relax, feel good and enjoy life in such circumstances. It’s the conviction that love is not accessible, nor would it be sufficient to make life worth living, given the dire situation.

Our minds have been conditioned to have a very limited sense of what is possible: they tell us we can’t be at peace or feel love unless certain boxes are ticked. But what I fail to see when I’m gripped by fear, is that it’s the belief that peace and love cannot be felt in certain situations that makes them so intolerable. 

But is that really true? Are there wounds which love cannot heal, places it cannot reach? My, albeit limited, experience so far is that the answer is no. Love has the capacity to right all wrongs, bring light to the darkest places, and restore peace and ease to our troubled minds. This may not manifest in the circumstances we want for ourselves or others in this lifetime, but love gives us the ability to deal with whatever happens with more grace, joy and peace. It makes it possible to enjoy life even when events don’t align with our preferences. 

Since getting clearer about the enormous potential for love to help us navigate life’s challenges, I have become less afraid of what life might throw at me. I’m pretty sure I’d still freak out for a while, and maybe a long while, if I got unwanted news, but I’m no longer convinced that despair would endure. I can now envisage the possibility of my mind settling down, and finding joy in whatever situation I found myself in, even if it took a long time. After all, that is what my spirit craves, and moves me towards. I am guided in the direction of love like a flower turns to the sun, as we all are.

When we let go of the belief that love can fail us, it will be there, a trusty friend to keep us company. It may show up as humour, courage, ingenuity or resilience – it can take the form of whatever we need in the moment. And when we realise we can rely on love, fear looks less scary. 

Sometimes things will happen in life that will scare us. That’s part of being human. But I find it very reassuring to know that we can love ourselves through those times. The comfort, kindness and encouragement we need is what our whole being leans towards. We can rely on that. We just need to look away from the tales of doom our minds are spinning long enough to spot the light beckoning us home.


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