During this time of uncertainty, fear has been wreaking havoc on our physical, emotional and spiritual states. I cannot recall any other time when we have collectively allowed the lower vibrational energy of fear to usurp our true essence.
It’s human nature to catastrophize. It’s human nature to zero in on the worst case outcome out of an infinite number of potentialities. Some say this is a coping behaviour that we adopted. But fear is also contagious. Just as a smile can light up a room, fear can also dim it.
Fear is a projection into the future that takes us away from the present moment. We believe that what we project into an illusory time – the future – is really going to happen, and so we become afraid and anxious.
Fear also keeps us in the past, another illusion. Some events, especially traumatic ones, can be deeply lodged in our mind and body, and can colour our perception.
I’ve had an intimate relationship with fear – so intimate that I had called it a friend. I turned to it for comfort because it was oddly familiar to me. Better the devil that I know. It was my friend when my brother and father passed; when I got sick; when I lost my job; and when my long-term relationship ended. But underneath its facade, however, was something nefarious – it was up to its no good ways to keep me delusional, miserable and separate from my true Self.
At the apex of its purpose, fear aims to disrupt our well-being to keep us out of the present moment, and ultimately separate from who we are. It wants us to forget that we are beautiful beams of light, love and joy – our core essence once you shine away the illusory flesh and bone.
This COVID pandemic is a trigger for some of us. If we’re not grounded in the practice of mindfulness or if we rely on what’s outside of us as our source of happiness, fear can become acute. The coronavirus, as with other crises, will unleash ingrained fears that we’ve buried or have forgotten. At the center of it all is our fear of death. Well obviously, you’re thinking, because the coronavirus can literally kill us, specifically, our physical nature. But other events, not health related, can also surface a similar fear – death of the ego.
Whether it’s a fear of a physical or personality death, this and other heightened fears can influence our decisions, mostly for self-preservation. It can make us panic buy and hoard. Fear can bring out hate, anger and vitriol behaviour directed at those who pose a threat to our survival. Fear can drive a wedge, not only physically, but also spiritually between people. And most devastatingly, fear can splinter our essence from our Source.
Shift Fear to Love
So how do we move our state of fear to love or at the very least, to a state of calmness, in a time of chaos and uncertainty?
Practice Mindfulness (or Concentration)
Mindfulness is a tried and true method for any situation where there is fear or discomfort. When we concentrate on what is happening at this very moment, without judging it, creating personal stories, projecting into the future or looking back in the past, fear loses its gravitas.
For example, at this moment, I am sitting in a chair, and I am typing away at my laptop. Right now, there are no thoughts of fear because I’m concentrating on this task. If I’m not anchored in my mindfulness, it’s possible that I could let my mind wander, and I could allow thoughts to distract me.
I can get caught up on a stream of thoughts, without realizing that the context of the thought from one to the next gets more disturbing. I could latch onto one of the disturbing thoughts (e.g. pandemic related) and let it hijack my focus, let emotions rise, and disrupt my current state. This typically happens if I buy into the fear.
But fortunately, I have mindfulness to help me set roots in the present moment. I’ve also learned to lean into curiosity of what’s happening, instead of taking my thoughts as facts.
Now it’s your turn to practice mindfulness:
- Pick a task or activity and try to concentrate on it.
- If a thought comes up, feel free to acknowledge it (oh there’s a thought). Try not to push it away nor ignore it. I equate thoughts to children who want attention. In my experience, if I try to deny or ignore the thoughts, they tend to persist or become more intense.
- Then gently shift your focus back on the task.
- Keep your focus on the task, observe the thoughts as they bubble up, then concentrate back on the task.
The above can be applied to a meditation practice. When meditating, I like to use the breath or a mantra as an activity to focus on. I like the analogy of sitting on a shore watching passing boats. Our thoughts are the boats, and the goal is to stay on the beach and observe, but not jump on a boat.
Questions You Can Ask Yourself to De-escalate Fear
What if we get on one of the boats of fear? If our mindfulness muscle is still weak, then this can happen…a lot. It’s a challenge to not get pulled in by our thoughts. If we get reeled in by a fearful thought, we can stem the panic by evoking a sense of curiosity. Try asking yourself these questions:
- Is there a threat to me right now?
- Is this scary thought really true at this very moment?
- Am I afraid or am I adopting someone else’s fear?
- Am I buying into the fear that’s in the media? Can I get more information that is based on facts?
If we’re able to answer these questions with honesty, we will receive clarity around our current situation; diminish our state of anxiety; and act from an empowered place.
Practice Spiritual Oneness
Social distancing doesn’t mean we turn our backs on others. Some of us may be holed up in our homes, but we cannot let the physical distance dictate our spiritual proximity with each other.
We have been given a windfall of opportunity and time where we can take this moment to extend our love and compassion to not just ourselves but to one another, and to mother earth. At one of the precipices of human history, do we turn away or towards humanity and our home?
Instead of electing to raise our arms of hate and fear, we can choose to lift each other’s spirits during a crisis like no other. Yes we are in unprecedented territory, but in all of us is something that is much more powerful that transcends time and space, and is invulnerable to any crisis you throw at it, and that is our capacity to love.
Exercise: Metta (Loving Kindness) Meditation
Here’s a loving kindness guided meditation you can practice:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Serenity prayer
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
Mindfulness is acceptance. To observe without judgement is to accept what we are experiencing without the need to change it, especially if we’re feeling unpleasant. I gave acceptance it’s own section, because it requires emphasis.
The COVID pandemic is bringing up a lot of discomfort and fear, and included in a range of irrational behaviour that it spurs is the thought and feeling that the world is out of control. We are experiencing a drastic change in the environment, which has a rippling influence in all corners of our lives:
- We’re required to social distance or self-isolate
- We’re working from home or are out of a job
- We’re financially stressed
- We’re worried about our health and those of our loved ones
- We see empty shelves in the supermarket
If the world is out of control, then we too are not in control. And this thought sends us into a panic. Self-criticism and attack can occur. Or we feel helpless, incompetent or incapable of anything. I reached out to a friend of mine who lost his job because of the coronavirus, and he echoed what a lot of people are going through:
I just feel stuck and paralyzed like everyone in the world now.
But the reality is that we were never in control in the first place. Control is an illusion. We can’t stop change from happening. However, we can control how we respond to this and any situation, and the first step is to accept that the world right now is not what it used to be.
Acceptance also means we give ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling now. And when we recognize that we are suffering, then we can apply self-compassion and kindness. Through the practice of acceptance, there’s a sense of calm and stillness that follows, and from this empowered and genuine place we can begin to act.
Exercise 1: Acceptance & Releasing Control Meditation
Exercise 2: Read Radical Acceptance Book
One of my favourite books that I keep on my nightstand is Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance. It contains sacred truths around worthiness, and acceptance of self, others and our experiences.
This is also a wonderful opportunity to take stock of our lives. Acknowledging and being grateful for who and what we have in our lives help to move the needle of a lower vibrational energy of fear into a higher state, like appreciation and love. Studies have proven that practicing gratitude regularly positively changes the brain and our mental health.
Is it even possible to see anything good about the pandemic we’re in, you ask? It’s challenging because fear obscures our perception. Which is why the practice of gratitude is powerful because it can help to shift that fear to a more positive state.
Exercise 1: Three Things You’re Grateful For
Start where you are, at this moment have a look around you and point out 3 things that bring you joy or that you’re grateful for.
- Is it a cup of tea?
- A favourite blanket?
- A loved one?
- Your pet?
- Food on the table?
- Your home?
Exercise 2: Gratitude Letter
- Think of someone in your life that has helped you or has had a positive influence on you.
- Compose a letter and address it to that person.
- Describe how they have impacted you.
- Thank them for what they did.
- Optional: Send the letter (via email or post).
I love Eckhart Tolle’s rephrasing of an ancient Sufi quote:
When an ego weeps for what it has lost. The spirit rejoices for what it has found.
Sometimes what appears to be negative on the surface really has a purpose we are yet aware of. I remember vividly certain events in the past that changed the trajectory of my path. When I was in the eye of the storm, I was terrified and couldn’t make sense of what was happening. There was strong resistance to change because I didn’t want to lose my identity – the superficial me that I clutched on to. And I was afraid of the unknown path I was being forced to pivot to. But it was only when I accepted and surrendered, did I see what was required to come out of it.
Those events gave me an opportunity to deeply introspect and audit myself and my part in this world. I asked myself difficult questions, like who am I, what can I do better and how can I be better? Which led me to looking fear in the eye…mano a mano. And when I became intimate with my fears and I understood how they didn’t serve me, I was able to release them.
Those pivotal moments were sacred and precious because it allowed me to awaken to the truth of who I am. It is not a coincidence that we’re in this pandemic together. It is asking us collectively to awaken. And we can accept this challenge and go within, and discover who we really are.
I would love to hear from you. What is helping you be grounded in love and calm? Please share in the comments.