The other day I listened to this great Tim Ferriss interview with Jim Dethmer.

There was so much in this podcast about developing the self, more loving and empowering relationship, about leadership. I would just like to point you to it if those subjects interest you. I am not assuming you’ll agree with all of Jim’s ideas – I am not sure I did – but they will certainly challenge you to evaluate what you believe and why, which is a healthy exercise for a person on a mastery-of-life path. 

One line that caught my attention with much depth for exploration is this:

“The antidote of fear is acceptance.”

Inside I feel both drawn to and conflicted with that statement.

Some fear is false and an obstacle to what we want or need to do, while some fear is good, protecting us from something that could cause harm. Would we always want to get rid of it any way we can, every time we feel fear? 

No. One thing this statement says to me is that, no matter the kind of fear, sitting with it, learning about it and from it is important. Fear is an emotion that comes from the body and the body has great wisdom which, for whatever reasons, many people end up ignoring and experience consequences in life, consequences that possibly outweigh the risks of a life that fear is keeping them away from. Taken alone, the message behind one’s fear may not be the best or the complete information one should base her decisions upon, but to deny this input from the body and not have that added to the greater board of internal advisers could be a big mistake. 

An interpersonal neurobiological view of trauma therapy would have us find a safe practitioner, a safe inter-personal space where we can let the body rest and eventually let the wisdom of the body come up where it can be honored and learned from and gradually allow the trauma to be resolved and integrated. 

A mindfulness-based stress reduction approach would have us sit with the body and its fear and observe the sensations, and let the body work through it in an curious, accepting way that avoidance and mere cognitive discussion could not. 

A mindful form of athletic training would have us also sit with the body and observe the sensations of the fear in similar way. We don’t merely ignore and push past it. We learn from it, develop skills and understanding and more inner harmony, and gain more strength and freedom as a result. I propose that accepting fear and learning from it would enable a person to much higher performance than if they did the opposite. It certainly would set the stage for healing since ignoring fear will not help with that. 

A person could feel fear about submerging his face and holding breath underwater. A person could feel fear after running XX number of miles, farther than she has gone before, and far deeper into exhaustion and pain than he has gone before. A person could feel fear at exposing her body as freely as other people do on the beach. A person could feel fear at going out to swim away from other people. A person could feel fear dangling by a climbing rope or standing on the edge of a cliff. It does not matter if the fear is true now or not, irrational or not – the body still needs its message to be heard and responded to in a compassionate way. 

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

An underlying view to my thoughts is that the body is programmed to stay alive and keep the organism safe and moving forward on its growth and development. When an alarm is tripped that means that very ancient, experienced and reliable mechanisms of survival in the body have been awakened to do what they have done well to bring our species this far. The body is working hard for each organism using the resources it has on hand, not against it. Fear is a messenger of the body not an enemy. Fear is a message that something is threatening that survival, growth and development, or in the case of trauma, something was threatening that in the past and is still believed to be threatening although that may not be true any more. Again, the fear message is not the only message that should be listened to, but it is one that should be understood and included in our deliberations on what is the best course of action for our self. 

So what do we do with fear that is strong enough we notice it is causing us problems, hindering us from where we’d like to go if otherwise it was not there? 

First, I would highly recommend finding someone who is safe, supportive and (seemingly) infinitely patient – someone skilled in the ways of being present and attuned to a person experiencing ‘dysregulation’ or inner distress. The presence of another, in a particular kind of interpersonal environment, will make the exploration of troubling sensations and emotions in the body go a lot better.  

And, if you don’t have much experience in observing the sensations of the body, of listening while refraining from interpretation and judgment, then it would be helpful to learn from a body worker, somatic therapist or coach, or mindfulness-based technique practitioner to develop skills and approach for this.  

Obviously, this is not ‘self’ help because one of the messages underneath the message of fear is that we need reliable, frequent connection to safe others.  But that is another topic for another day… 

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