Smiling at Fear by Sophie Wolfe
Smiling at Fear (inspired by Pema Chodron)
There are always going to be times when we are forced to step out of our comfort zone and experience fear. The physical practice of yoga teaches us to embrace these moments despite the uncomfortable feelings that often arise.
Lately, I’ve been practicing taking a different approach to situations when I feel anxious, uncomfortable, embarrassed, awkward, or any of the other emotions that stem from fear. Something I recently read that stuck with me was “When you learn to smile at your fear, to be with your fear, you become an authentic friend to yourself and thereby develop confidence.”
I’m exploring the idea that we do not overcome fear by acting fearless. Instead, the way to overcome fear is to feel fear. As I strive to find my authentic self as a new yoga teacher (and in other facets of my life), I embrace the anxiety and fear that arises, remembering that “fear is the natural reaction of moving closer to the truth.”
By allowing ourselves to face fear head on and to deeply feel our fear, we have the wonderful opportunity to discover our authentic courage. We practice this during our yoga practice by pushing ourselves past the point of comfort to find a place where we can grow. And, when we exercise running towards fear as opposed to running like crazy the moment any form of pain presents itself, we immediately find new places of comfort. Soon these become the new norm, and we will have the opportunity to grow even more.
On a physiological level, there are real changes happening in the brain when you learn to remain calm in stressful moments, to smile at your fear. Our brains have been trained to react automatically with a stress response when we experience discomfort. This further increases our fear and anxiety in that moment which even further activates the stress response. By repeating this pattern our whole lives, it is continually reinforced. However, when we practice calming the mind and body in uncomfortable moments, the brain and nervous system are retrained. When you set an intention to relax into fear during your practice, you begin to reverse the habitual patterns of stress both on and off the mat.
During this process, we recognize that we have no control over the next moment. Thus, it does not serve us to spend all of our energy on constantly searching for predictability and comfort. Accepting this uncertainty, this “non-knowing,” is liberating. We rest in the uncertainty of each moment and find stillness in chaos.
Imagine yourself in the next situation where you are challenged to step out of your comfort zone (which is most likely right around the corner). How will you react? Will you automatically run the other direction away from your fear –or will take a step back and then smile at your fear, inviting your fear into the serenity of the present moment?