Staying fearless

“ In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but what it is to be human…we really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humour can give us the strength to settle down…so whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay!”

Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Fear and Love

I was drawn to this quote in the midst of all this Coronavirus generated fear. Not that I imagine there is nothing to fear, just that amongst the swirling possibilities we can lose sight of what is actually happening, and how we are. Staying present with how things are is the practice. Nothing is certain and sometimes the path to wisdom is through difficult lands. During these periods of fear arising I remember that I am alive. I tune in to my body, my breath, the rise and fall and I remember those I love.

That’s all very well, but how about you? How do you respond to difficulty and fear arising? Pema reminds us in the quote above that gentleness and a sense of humour support you when fear and restlessness arise. Your initial desire to run away – that may manifest by leaving your seat, distracting yourself or imagining that things are different – arises and you first have but one thing to do. Stay! Stay with the difficulty. Notice it playing out in your mind and tune in to how you are in your body. It always helps to return to the breath. If your difficulty is physical, it will help to breath into the discomfort. Breathe in compassion for yourself and breathe out the discomfort or pain. Stay!

If it is fear arising – maybe that the difficulty is too much, that you do not know what to do next and you fear how you will be in the future – continue with the breathing, but breathe out love for another and breathe in compassion for your discomfort. Cultivate this feeling of love by bringing one person you love deeply to your mind. Imagine they are with you, holding you and breathe out your love for them.

Love is the most powerful antidote to fear. There is actually a chemical reaction in your mind that achieves this: love produces oxytocin, the body’s antidote to the cortisol generated by fear. Love will squeeze the fear from your mind and body. You can read an accessible article about this here.

Resources that can help

Firstly, I will share a Mindful Photography Practice I have shared before but you may have missed. This practice is designed to support you through a time when you are experiencing thoughts and feelings that you do not like. You may be angry, upset, annoyed, frustrated, fearful or confused. Whatever it is that you are finding uncomfortable this practice is for those times.

Feel the Photo

  1. Set up your camera in a shooting mode that you can use instinctively. Auto is fine, or if you prefer a little more control use aperture priority (choose f8 and ISO auto).
  2. Turn off your view screen so that you cannot see or review what you are creating. If you are not sure how to do this tape a piece of card or paper over the view screen, taking care not to cover any essential buttons. You can create photos by looking through the viewfinder or just shooting blind, from the hip!
  3. The purpose of this is to tune you in to what you are feeling and release the control you may experience about creating photos.
  4. When you are experiencing strong emotion, set your camera up as explained above, and go walking with your camera.
  5. Choose any location you feel drawn to.
  6. As you walk do not look for a photo opportunity, just walk, paying attention to what you can see.
  7. Notice the thoughts and feelings that relate to your difficulty.
  8. At some point something will catch your eye. Stop and consider what it is.
  9. Move closer. Frame tightly. Create the photo and move on.
  10. Do not look at any photos.
  11. Do not delete any photos.
  12. Repeat this, paying attention to your feelings and the visual feast before you.
  13. Act instinctively and release your attachment to what your photos look like.
  14. Finish when you feel ready.
  15. Return home and DO NOT LOOK at your photos! Leave it a day.
  16. Next day review your photos and notice the feelings you experience.

It you find this practice helpful please share with your friends.

Talks on Fear by Tara Brach

Tara Brach the American psychologist, author and meditation teacher shares many talks on fear. I am listening, reflecting and re-listening to these talks and as I am finding them very helpful. I thought that you might too.

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 1

Tara Brach Talk on Fear 2

The Photo

This photo was created to reflect experiencing fear. It is all achieved in camera and uses a defocused prime lens and the multi exposure setting. I am particularly interested in how multiple exposure in camera can be used to create abstract documentary photos that share emotion.

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