Buddha%27s statue near Belum Caves Andhra Pradesh India.
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We all know the feeling of fear...
The Trance of Fear
It is the jittery feeling of hard tension in our stomach, the uncomfortable, strangling tightness around our throat, the pounding of our heart and our shallow breathing. Sometimes it means waking up terrified that we can't go on.
The basic function of fear is to ensure survival. We know that our body chemistry shifts. Blood flows to our extremities; this prepares the antelope to run away and or to challenge the predator. Freezing and remaining motionless is another response: an animal may crouch and appear smaller than they are. A human being may try to protect the places they are most vulnerable, dropping the head forward and contracting the chest. When this response is chronic and maintained when no threat exists, it is described as "body armor."
Some research suggests that forms as primitive as insects and reptiles may experience fear. (A distinction can be made between affect and emotion, which is beyond the scope of this article.)
Many researchers believe that only in mammals do cognition and memory interact with affect, to create the emotion we call "fear." This is shaped by our accumulated experiences of personal history. In many cases where we feel fear, we are, consciously or unconsciously, expecting a repeat of past traumatic events or anticipating loss of something we think is essential to our life and happiness.
However, there need not be an immediate threat to our well-being; the emotion of fear often becomes an ingrained habit. It can arise in relation to a present challenge or any circumstance that we associate with a past threat to our wellbeing - physical, emotional, or mental.
Fear can alert and motivate us to respond in a healthy way to a present danger. However, when it becomes chronic, we can refer to it as entrapping us in a "trance of fear." It can become the core of our identity, even if we deny its existence (out of fear). When this occurs, fear can radically constrict our ability to live fully.
In the latter case this emotion works overtime: even when there is no immediate threat, our body feels tense and on guard. Chronic fear not only creates habitual contraction in our body; our mind, too, becomes trapped in rigid patterns. This one-pointedness, which can serve us in responding to real threats, morphs into obsessive thinking, some of which can be suppressed.
Our mind, in creating associations with past experiences, produces story after story in the attempt to avoid negative outcomes. As we try to find the cause of the problem and its solution, we urgently seek to control the situation. We may feel powerless or like a victim; we often point our finger, ragefully accusing others or ourselves. It is not uncommon to feel a sense of terrified isolation. Commonly, the trance of fear is sustained by our strategies to avoid fear.
What to do?
Clearly, the first step is being aware that we are feeling afraid. Denial will just dig our hole deeper. We can observe the workings of fear as it manifests in our body, thoughts and emotions - and seek - as one meditation teacher advised, to neither: "cling, condemn, or identify with the passing show [of the contents of our consciousness]." That is, to remain fully conscious and aware of our experience without attaching to it. This, most certainly, takes practice.
In the face of fear, we can choose to consciously breathe deeply and slowly. When fear becomes chronic, we can exercise or seek out massage and other forms of bodywork. We can also develop our emotional intelligence - since, if we don't know how to read our own and others' emotions, we are strangers to our own heart and lack social awareness that allows us to connect, manage fear, and be assertive. Without a capacity for empathy - a brilliant brain can be useless and even destructive in relationships.
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