After ten years running Samovar Tea Lounge I’ve experienced many highs and my fair share of low points. The worst times were the periods of fear, uncertainty, and doubt–the three demons that eclipse goodness and hope, consuming everything in their path as things that once seemed so sure and solid crumble to pieces.
Over the years I’ve had plenty of opportunity to look Fear in the eyes, and while it’s never been easy, with the guidance of mentors, friends, family, and a whole lot of reflection I’ve learned to stand my ground. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Face it down. Look it in the eyes. Call out what you feel: Fear? Say it. Anxiety? Say it. Anger? Say it and identify it. Running or squirming away from the feeling will only make it bigger.
This moment is the only moment. Do whatever it takes to become present. I like to pay attention to my breath. Inhale for an eight-count. Exhale for an eight-count. Repeat three or four times, increasing the length of both the in- and out-breath.
Seek the root.
What is causing this feeling? Is it a person? Is it money? Is it a predicament? By looking at the root of the fear, it naturally becomes more manageable, less nightmarish, and less emotional. It’s just a “thing,” not an all consuming emotion.
Ask yourself, “If this fear comes to fruition, what’s the worst that can happen?” Imagine it playing out fully, breathing slowly through it. See it through to the end. I find that the unknown is often the worst part of an experience. By acknowledging the absolute worst thing that can happen, and then recognizing that it has not happened yet, I am free to choose my course.
Focus on at least three things you are grateful for. Anything! Your health, your car, a moment with a friend or family member, the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the rain, the complexity of a warm cup of Maidens Ecstasy Pu-erh. Gratitude is a powerful attitude adjuster. In fact, I often start the day by making a list of all the things I feel grateful for, and it feels really great.
Fear causes tunnel vision, and tunnel vision makes the future seem inevitable. But the future will never arrive. Instead you will still be you, your thoughts still rumbling through your head. You cannot escape yourself. Understand that the moment or situation you fear will happen in this very moment. If you can open adjust your attitude in this moment to one of openness and trust, then the moment you fear will likely never arrive.
I believe the body and mind are intimately joined, two sides of the same coin. If you don’t believe me, think about biting into a lemon, your teeth bursting the capsules of lemon juice which shoots into your mouth. Can you feel it? That was your mind triggering enzymes in your mouth. Now, set aside your fear for a moment and imagine in precise detail the best possible outcome–your ideal future. As you picture this perfect situation, imagine how your physical body would feel in that awesome state of perfection. Inventory your whole body: your forehead, your eyes, your shoulders, your back, your hands…everything. When I first tried this exercise I was blown away by the results. But I’ll warn you, it can take concentration and regular practice.
I find that including a daily ritual helps dealing with fear, as well as helping to cultivate a sense of resilience and focus. In addition to the exercise above, I like to meditate for a few minutes first thing in the morning. I also regularly exercise which not only helps to relieve stress, but it makes me stronger and more ready to confront what lies ahead. Even a little bit can help! A few minutes of sitting quietly and a few sets of push-ups can make a big difference. And don’t forget the tea! I love the ritual of brewing and drinking tea. The richness of such a simple act helps me feel grounded in the moment and provides needed nourishment.
Did I mention that I read a lot? I love books and jump at the chance to tear open a new read and unlock the wisdom trapped inside. My approach to wrestling with fear, uncertainty, and doubt owes a lot to the great books I’ve read. Here’s a short list to get you started. And please send me your recommendations as well!
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by Michael Bungay Stainer