This Opening blog is courtesy of Geoff Thompson
I am writing this article for a very selfish reason. In fact I write all my articles and books and films and plays and journalism for a very selfish reason. Everything I am writing I need to read. So when I write it, it helps me, and I know that if I send it out into the ether, not only will it help everyone that reads it, eventually it will come back to me, I will read it again, and it will help me again, because by then I may have forgotten the message.
I am prone to forget the message.
The message it about fear!
We all feel it, and every day that sees us spinning and toiling with fear is a long day.
It is Ok to feel scared. In fact there is a hidden benefit from feeling fear, so if I have caught you mid terror, congratulations, you are probably on the cusp of a great discovery.
At the end of this article I am going to ask you all for a huge favour. I hope you will oblige. — There is a lovely old Japanese metaphor about pain and fear and growth. I always recite it to myself when I am up against a wall of fear and easier options suddenly seem like the only escape. It goes something like – The iron ore feels its self needlessly tortured as it goes through the furnace. The tempered blade looks back and knows better.
When my torture starts to feel needless, I remind myself of how many times I have been through this fire and how true this is, that you do always look back afterwards, and you do always know better.
Iron ore and tempered blades! Inspiring. Great words. But without action they remain just that. Words, with no power.
It took me many years of experience (in the forge) before I truly understood this. Words do not transform us. In the world of metamorphosis action is all.
But words can inspire us to action. And words can weaken fear and better enable us to break free from its bonds. Especially when those words have been tempered by experience. One of the greatest things I learned was from a man of experience who taught me my most valuable lesson; every one feels fear! It’s not just me. This one tutorial above all others inspired me to act. Realising that I was not a coward, that everyone was scared, changed my life.
One of the most debilitating aspects of fear is the false belief that we are its only victim. That for some reason the spiteful universe has decided to give us more than our fair share. I always felt this way as a younger man. But I was wrong, I was not alone, and if I was getting more than my fair share it was not because some Higher Power had it in for me, quite the opposite in fact. The reason I enjoy such a prolific life now is not despite fear, rather it is because I have become an alchemist, transforming the molten ore of fear into the tempered blade of gold.
There are many ways to beat fear, there are a plethora of methods that can hold it at bay, even help you to understand it. The better player actually befriends fear. The aspirant uses it as fuel; the master rises to a level of consciousness where it does not exist because its fire can find no oxygen.
Those that do not develop coping strategies are often cremated by it.
The first lesson in fear is to understand it better. That’s why I write about it, to help others, to help myself (I need to be reminded).
Fear is pandemic. It converses in a universal tongue. There is not a shore where this invader has not landed – I know, I get letters all the time from across the globe. The biggest question I am asked is ‘how do you manage fear?’ Everyone is different of course and each feels they harbour a terror so unique that others might not (or could not) understand. So I try not to be too prescriptive when this question is proffered, I just offer (as honestly as I can) what worked (what continues to work) for me.
I have discovered on my own journey that contrary to popular belief, there are not many fears, there is only one, though it is a master of disguise. When you understand this and you stop being tricked it really helps. Suddenly you are not dealing with an army; you are dealing with just one feeling and if you can become desensitized to this feeling, you can master your fear.
First and foremost to master fear we need exposure, and loads of it, the more the better. With this in mind it might be a good idea to become (what the poet Rumi called) a night traveller. This is what I did. (See my book Watch My back). I went out into the darkness. I hunted down my fears. It is easier, more profitable and less exhausting to attack than it is to defend. The pre-emptive strike is consistently effective in physical, psychological, physiological and spiritual self defence.
I discovered that when I hunted my fears, three dimensional monsters quickly became two dimensional cartoons that turned to sand under my gaze. This continues to be the case.
But, and this is important, I never overcame fear! Another big lesson for me. I was trying to find cure for fear, like it was an illness, not realising at the time the key was not to get rid of it, rather it was to stop myself from being afraid of fear and to teach myself to start using it. As the game got bigger, so did my opponent. Whilst I did overcome individual fears (violence, abandonment etc) and many of them, I found that the moment I peaked one mountain, I was automatically at the bottom of another. You might think this depressing. The opposite is true. I find it exhilarating. Every time the weight starts to feel a little light, my Invisible Supporter slides another disc along my bar.
The universe is talking to us. It wants us to grow, and it knows that there is no growth in comfort. So when the language feels like terror, and my knees are doing an involuntary bossanova I remind myself of this, and I marinate in the fear, I bathe in it until I don’t know where the fear starts and I end. And when I centre myself, when I listen, when I tune into the fear my enemy becomes my engine, my fear becomes my fuel.
The more fear I feel, the better I perform. So when it rears it’s ugly head I go eye-ball to eye-ball, I open the door, I let it in, I sit it down, make it a drink, offer it some food, I sit with it until it dissipates.
Fear feeds on terror. I don’t give it terror, so it starves.
The second thing I did was I wrote about my life, my fears, my journey, and I spun my words across the World Wide Web. Firstly because I know that as a species we all suffer from ‘the forgetting’ so we all need continually reminding. My words go out, they help other people (other night travellers find my notes, it serves them) they come back, they help me. They help me when I write them, they help me when I read them, and they help me when I send them out into the world. The writing is also my catharsis. As you know, fear likes to prey on vulnerable minds, it likes to blackmail; I find that placing my fear in print and putting it out for the world to read stops this from happening.
We all have days when we think ‘what is this all about?’ Days when that voice (or voices) in our head tells us to ‘give up, it’s not worth it.’ This is the voice of ego. It needs to die. It feeds on attention. You kill it when you take attention away.
Here are a few other tips that I have found helpful in relation to fear.
Do the things you most fear to do. DO them. Stop talking, put your bollocks on the table (or a female equivalent) and start experiencing. Now is the time. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year or new year. Now! Life is short my friends and it is later than you think.
Meditate every day, yoga is very good because it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and quietens the adrenals. This will make your fear more manageable.
Train till you sweat. This is also a good trick to take the top off excessive adrenalin.
Physical training is your salvation.
Read widely, read challenging books. Knowledge helps to dispel fear. But it is not the knowledge that you will pick up in a tabloid, or watching a soap on the TV, these will probably only exasperate your fear, because they are laced with negativity, and negativity triggers the adrenals.
Some ideas on reading; if you think you are mobile read Timothy Leary, if you think you are free read Gurdjieff, if you think you’re brave check out the great Mahatma Ghandi, if you think you have integrity read Ayn Rand.
These are just a few of the books that have helped great men and women achieve impossible things.