How can Courage and Compassion help us over come our Fear and reduce Stress?

Diving into the depths....

Why discuss this now?  Well the element of Water is very much associated with winter.  It’s also associated with emotion and fear as well as the dream time.  Fear is one of the strongest and deepest  emotions we can experience.  It also can propel us into the abyss with which the element of Water is also associated.   Fear exists for primarily a good reason, in its simplest form to keep us alive.  It goes back to the basic animal instinctive behaviour to help the hunted escape and to keep us safe.  Stop us from falling off a ridge that’s too high, walking on something that’s too brittle and might break, burning ourselves, as well as hunting down food and keeping us safe and alert to stay alive so we don’t go cold and hungry.  In this simple and direct form, it serves a sound purpose and is clear to see how it works and why.  In that form we have two simple reactions, fight or flight.  These two are still working today although how they express themselves and how they are triggered is much less direct or easy to track.  However no matter whether it’s obvious or not when fear kicks in, we go into the primal response of producing adrenaline, which is a chemical to aid swift response and is produced at a time of danger, or perceived danger.  Enabling us to either run fast or fight hard.  Problems start where that adrenaline is not then used, or that fear response for some reason is being triggered far too often.  The other (hormone / chemical) associated within auto-response is Cortisol which gets produced during times of stress, again to heightens one’s ability to respond.  However, constantly producing this again can lead to health issues, not to mention impacting on relationships due to perhaps inappropriate or aggressive reactive behaviour.

Fear is often underlying a lot of personal, emotional issues and even blockages within places and spaces therefore how to transform it or move it aside, comes up again and again in Shamanic Healing.

In our modern, more “civilised” world how fear presents itself becomes considerably more complex.  There are endless tomes out there about fear and the reaction to fear; the flight or fight syndrome.  However, there is perhaps less about what could be termed a sub, or intermediary reaction – Freeze.  For a while I was beginning to question whether this was actually a third way to react to fear.  As someone wisely pointed out to me recently, actually it’s a non-action.  It is simply disengaging.

Perhaps the simplest example, of this freezing in fear in nature is the cat and mouse.  When the mouse freezes he waits till the cat gets bored or forgets what they were waiting for.  For a while the mouse becomes “invisible” to his predator, the cat.  Sadly for the mouse the cat’s concentration span seems to be usually a lot longer than the mouse’s! :-(!

Freezing does occur within us, in fact in society, where most of the time the triggers which are causing our fear, would not require either the full fight or the flight reaction are actually requiring us to fight and flight in a much more subtle  way, in-fact often calling for a much more courageous or intelligent action.

In most situations our fear reaction deep down has been triggered, this is most often on a subtle level you understand, it’s still causing our bodies to go into a “fight or flight” chemical reaction, yet our brains are having to sort through what’s actually going on and come up with either a smarter or more rounded reaction to the situation.  Often this requires us to go into freeze mode for a while, even if it’s only for a short time.  However, the chemicals are still being produced in our bodies, and we are not using them necessarily in a way that allows them to be properly discharged.  Most circumstances in modern life, calls on us to write something, say something or reach a compromise.  Most of the time, in the long term, this will lead to a better result for the job in hand, our career prospects, the business and even society as a whole.  However, what often has not been address is our own internal process, the chemical process that we have had to go through and most importantly the release of that now possibly redundant chemical.  Where does it go?  Most often as a minute toxin into our muscles or body, causing stiff necks, shoulders, backs and a multitude of other places with a multitude of ailments.  In more extreme circumstances, over the years when emotions have not been released somehow, somewhere,  they build up and can cause more serious health issues, either in the body or in the mind.  What I am describing here, in a slightly piece by piece way is of course the stress reaction.  Stress is today one of the industrialised world’s biggest health issues and often underlies most of the more serious illnesses around.   CIPD report suggests that percentage of people on sickness benefit due to stress has risen from 20% in 1997 to 40% in 2006.

Fear is present even our more peaceful civilised society, sometimes creeping up on us in ways we don’t even realise it is fear and more importantly miss-placed fear.  For example; fear of not succeeding, fear of being made redundant, fear of not having enough (i.e. knowledge, money, wisdom, savvy, the list is endless) fear of our reputation, our standing and respect in society.  We feel threatened, by others around us and clearly in many of these circumstances it will not serve us to either directly fight or keep fleeing from one thing to another.  So in many ways we can find ourselves in freeze.  Having to either let something pass, don’t realise we have been affected by the situation or as some choose go a long protracted passive aggressive behaviour against those we feel threatened by.  This does not even touch on the fears that come from deep childhood programming, of course the biggest and often least well owned, the fear of not being loved, or of even being hated.

This is where Shamanic Healing along-side many other complementary health therapies, good exercise and healthy diets can really start to redress that balance for a person.

While fear keeps us alive it often sadly also stops us from doing many things, and if too prevalent, becomes a barrier to enjoying and fully experiencing life.  It also can cause us to come from a place of reaction rather than conscious strength and compassion.  Out of fear we want to remain safe. How often have you felt you’ve been on the other end of someone inadvertently lashing out at you; or (perhaps tougher one to admit) how often have you been accidently more cruel or short with someone then you meant to be or needed to be?  If you look closely you’ll find a whole pile of good reasons and lurking and in the very dark corner under that pile of reasons – Fear of [?????].

Even anger, they say is the child of fear, it may be expressed for very, very, sound reasons, but when you look deeper, perhaps you will uncover what you were actually afraid of.  It might be quite justified, but it was still fear that drove the anger.

Fear creeps up on us when we least expect it, expresses itself in a multitude of ways and often leads to disharmony within ourselves or others around us.  So in the interests of living more consciously, connected and contented it’s an interesting one to look at and explore within ourselves.  Yes the challenge here is to look at yourself first before pointing the finger at another’s fear.  As George Bernard Shaw rightly points out, the faults we perceive in others, we recognise them because they are often the very faults we struggle with ourselves.

So are we supposed to go straight to fight or flight?  In most circumstances clearly this is simply neither acceptable nor progressive.

Someone also recently reminded me how important it is to stay neutral in as many circumstances as possible, as it simply uses less energy and provides the space for a better solution to come forward from perhaps a difficult situation.  This is not, though, an invitation to stay in “freeze”.

The freeze does enable us to stay to some extent neutral, which can be a good thing, it gives us space to move towards a much more productive and supportive result.  What it does not do, is allow our emotional self to be expressed or our bio-chemical self to be cleared.  In this area Shamanic Healing and working with elements teaches us so much.

So returning once more to the elements for a moment, to come out of any of these fearful watery states it requires some fire.  The fire of Adrenaline in the case of flight and fight.  To unfreeze, well you have to warm yourself and sometimes even the situation.  Just think of the times where an awkward situation has been broken by humour.  However, be warned this does have its risks too – still it does tend to get things moving!

The two emotional energies that are most warming and generally bring the best results are Compassion and Courage.

It takes courage to move past one’s own or another’s fear.  Courage is not just mindless bravery and pushing through at any cost it is a hearty, warmed bravery.  One that is built on heart centred honesty.  The first step in that honesty of course – yes you’ve guessed it – recognising and owning your own fear.  Then warming it, holding it and watch it melt away as you shine a light onto it and understand why and where it came from.

The key to doing this successfully is Compassion.  This is bigger than sympathy!

You cannot look fear, particularly your own, in the face without a lot of compassion especially if you want to understand and heal why it is there in the first place.  Without compassion you cannot start to forgive others who might have caused it.  Compassion is needed to go on and release both the blame and the pain to yourself for having carried it for so long.  All of which is a key part of healing your own fear.  If you doubt that courage and compassion come into this, just think of bullies.  It’s widely recognised bullies are cowards because they have gone far away from this brave step of looking at their own fear, they deny they are scared and transfer it through abusive behaviour onto others.  That includes those who call others “chicken” just because they may be pausing, halting, or reconsidering their own actions.  For they are bullying the one who is pausing from hearing their own internal voice and receiving their own internal guidance by trying to force “pauser” to simply follow the “bully’s” direction in order to prove themselves not to be “chicken”.

Compassion is also very essential for the days ahead after one has chosen to rather look deeper and face one’s own fears and for a life time ahead of constantly being vigil that you don’t go back to old habits and ways that no longer serve you or anyone else.  Fear is just like other watery pests, such as fungus it needs to be given a good drying out – turn the light out and let it get moist and it will fester again!  Of course ripping it out or what it is growing on might well be necessary in some cases, however, don’t forget we are talking metaphorically here and therefore, that’s also apart of you.  Therefore shining a light, warming and drying it out is by far the better way than causing further injury by hacking away at oneself, usually a far more damaging option.  Just like fungus which grows on some decaying matter, fear often grows on an injured part of the host, which is in need of healing and renewal not further injury.

If someone can come truly through such a healing process and come to terms with what lurks in their deepest darkest closets, they usually become more rounded, compassionate and can go on and recognise and actually help others in this kind of pain, if they choose to change.  The alternative I’ll leave to the words of George Bernard Shaw  “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”

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