A theme that has been coming up for me a lot recently is the topic of fear. Fear is a loaded topic, but I’ve had a handful of really great conversations regarding fear recently, and it inspired me to write a post about it. Can we overcome fear?
In a previous post I discussed how horses interpret emotions purely as information and biofeedback. Horses do not experience thoughts connected to emotions, they only feel. Emotions are guideposts along the way of life, and they are our environment's way of speaking to us and keeping us alive. That being said, emotions are meant to deliver a message, get processed, and then released just as quickly as they came.
Here’s an example for you. My horse, Kamali, is an Arabian gelding. Arabians have a reputation for being extra sensitive to their environment. In the horse world you’ll hear people speak of horses “spooking easily”, meaning they have a strong reaction to anything they interpret as a potential threat. Most riders see this as a negative thing, because it seems unpredictable to a less sensitive being.
In our little herd, Kamali is the sentinel. He keeps us all safe, and he is always extra aware of his environment in order to do so. Sometimes, the horses and sheep will be peacefully grazing, then all of the sudden Kamali will feel/see/hear something in the distance that he doesn’t have enough information about to interpret. His body becomes erect and tense, his ears perk forward, his tail raises, and he will trot over in the direction to get a closer look (or feel or smell). This is his fight-or-flight response to fear kicking in. But usually, once he investigates what was causing him concern, he realizes that his life is not being threatened. His body quickly relaxes, his breath slows, and just as quickly as he “spooked” he goes back to calmly grazing. He knows we are safe.
This is fear working its magic. Horses don’t have any negative connotation attached to the fear emotion because it simply keeps them safe. Aside from some cases of trauma in horses, emotions don’t live in their bodies for longer than necessary to receive and process the information being offered. Furthermore, horses don’t experience fear based on thoughts because they live purely in the moment. Since they aren’t thinking about the past or the future, they aren’t holding on to an idea that brings up fear.
There is so much more to say about this, I love this topic, but I want to move on to humans.
Fear is a great thing, it keeps us safe. But if fear had its way, we would always stay inside our tiny comfort zone of familiarity. For humans, fear is not a leader, fear does not push us to break through boundaries or grow our comfort zone. Most of the time, we’re not experiencing fear like a horse. Instead, we’re listening to that voice in our head, the spiraling thoughts that bring up fear and to tell us not to pioneer, not to continue into the unknown.
Okay, so that’s clearly an issue. How are we ever going to experience a passionate, exciting, or authentic experience in life if thought-based-fear is always there to tell us NO?
Well, I have a few ideas about this concept. First of all, where is this thought-based fear really coming from? Simply, it’s coming from something that we don’t know – something that seems new & unknown. In the case of Kamali, when he experienced fear of an unknown threat, he simply sought out to gather more information. Once the so-called threat was known, the fear dissipated.
But if that’s all we have to do to make fear go away, how do we gather more information?
Usually our first inclination is to go deeper into our heads. We will research, we will ask others for assistance or guidance or answers, we will “learn” through thinking. I’m not necessarily saying this is always a bad thing, I love cognitive learning and it does sometimes provide a feeling of safety. I only mean to point out that this is still living inside of our thoughts, which can be anything, and not necessarily providing real-time real-life feedback. Sometimes we go digging for answers in this way because it seems like the easiest way to prepare ourselves for something new – the illusion of control & preparedness.
This tends to be my own behavioral pattern. Feeling “in control” through preparation and research is how I like to function. Give me answers, give me step-by-step instructions, I can follow instructions! Tell me how to do it, let me think some more. But does that really work?
Back to the example of Kamali that I used earlier. What if after Kamali heard a rustling in the bushes he ran over to investigate & he found only a bunny. But instead of calming down and going back to grazing, he started pacing the paddock back and forth thinking “well next time it might be a tiger… I bet there is a tiger around… it’s going to jump out at any moment!” Well, luckily, that’s not him. But that’s us. That’s me.
You see, we can create any scary story in our head about anything and hold on to that feeling of fear forever, it’s really very easy to do. We do it with little things all the time, all day long. Just notice it.
Here's my takeaway:
1. Realistically, until we become a horse zen master, we cannot control our thoughts or keep them away. Because of this, we will have to push through fear –even when it feels challenging or scary. Until you’ve had an experience, it will feel unknown, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles, folks. It’s totally fine to feel fear, it just means you’re a pioneer.
2. We must also learn to become more like a horse. How do we get out of our head and into our body? Sometimes simply just breathing and feeling our connection to the earth, to our surroundings, can do the trick. Turning on all of our senses: listening, hearing, seeing… this is how we can practice becoming present in the moment and in our bodies.
3. We learn to ask ourselves: what is actually being threatened? How do we move to a position of safety? Is this a threat we feel inside of us or is it just stemming from a thought?
We're going to be experiencing this shift in feeling & perspective at my upcoming workshop on July 21st. If you're unable to make it, I encourage you to notice your fear – where is it holding you? I challenge you to do something that scares you, and I'm going to try putting my money where my mouth is, too.