Monthly Archives: December 2016

Fear is Your Friend.

fear-is-your-friendIf you’re new here, welcome! I invite you to check out my Abbey of the Arts guest post to read about connections between New Cosmology and New Monasticism.


There’s a lot of fear going around these days, especially for those of us who got blindsided on November 8th.

We’re wired for fear. It’s how our brains work, and it’s not our fault.

However, if you’re feeling afraid and you’re not in actual physical danger, your fearful feeling is what’s actually dangerous.

Feeling afraid activates our sympathetic nervous system, also known as “fight, flight, or freeze.” Your sympathetic nervous system activation is a good thing when you’re actually being chased by a bear, or when staying very still could save your life.

But when you’re feeling afraid in a situation you can’t actually do anything about, your sympathetic nervous system stays consistently activated. This causes a cascade of stress hormones that create wear and tear and disease.

Feeling afraid about something you can’t change creates suffering. A negative goal is unattainable. Period.

You’re like a car in neutral, and the driver has his foot on the accelerator. All revved up, unable to move.

You’re like a tethered runner in a race. The starting gun goes off and you can’t move.

It’s a no-win situation that will only cause distress and disease.

The only thing fear is good for, if you’re not actually in physical danger, is as a sign that something’s asking for attention. Something or someone you value is threatened.

“Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood,” according to John Mayer. Fear tells us what we care about.

So, how do you handle fear about something you can’t fix, now or ever? Use your fear to point the way to positive action.

You need a positive goal and a way to get there.

Here’s how to do that.

1. When you recognize that you’re feeling afraid, stop and breathe. Deep, rhythmic, steady breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and its healing hormones.

2. Give love to the part of you that feels fearful. Thank it for its vigilance and concern. “Thank you, fear, for wanting me to be safe. Thank you, fear, for your concern.” Allow yourself to feel the fear you feel.

3. Investigate this fear you feel. One way to do that is with this worksheet, which guides you to a positive goal and related actions in loving response to your fear. I’ve filled in the first row with one of my biggest fears in a Trump administration. You can download a pdf for your use here: using-fear-to-make-a-plan


Turning Fear into a Plan


Fear In my control?


Value(s) threatened What do I want to happen? What can I actually do?
Sarah Palin as Sec’y of Interior No Intact healthy ecosystems


Sacredness of land


Lives of innocents (trees, whales, wolves, bears, cougars, etc.)

I want protections for public lands, plants, and animals to be increased.


I want the land to be cherished.






Get arrested, if necessary.

4. Disentangle yourself from the fearful feeling. Remember that you are not your fear, and you do NOT want to let it drive your bus. You want your values to determine your actions, not your fears.

Fear is useful as a call to action. The action might be to do nothing. That’s okay. The point is to use our fear as a pointer to what we value that’s under threat, and to identify ways to take positive action.

We’re going to get really good at turning our fear into positive action, friends.

Just think how wise, powerful, and effective we’ll be in four years!

(This podcast from Buddhist teacher and psychologist Tara Brach goes deeper into how to handle fear and anger. Tara talks about “limbic hijacks” and how to get out of them.)