The other day I was on the phone with a client and the subject of our world’s ongoing economic and financial crisis came up. She told me that a friend of hers had called her, in a panic, after last Friday’s precipitous plunge in stock prices. The value of her 401-k account had dropped by a substantial amount and she was awash in fear about her future.
I suspect she was not alone.
Fear is a near-constant companion to many people these days. It’s virtually impossible to stay even remotely connected with current events and not feel a sense of frustration, foreboding or out-and-out panic. And yet, as normal a reaction as fear might be, it is remarkably unhelpful.
I’ve written about this before – in fact, it was the financial market collapse in the fall of 2008 that prompted me to pen my first book, “10 Ways to Find Peace Rather Than Panic (When the World Has Gone a Little Crazy.” But I don’t think the message can be repeated too often, since it’s one that is vitally needed and yet so difficult to embrace. And the message I’m talking about is this: fear cannot solve problems, it can only create them. Every time we allow fear to distort our minds and close our hearts, we move further and further away from the fresh insights that can yield solutions to our challenges. And we move further and further away from the peaceful minds that can create a world where fear does not rule.
And let’s be very clear that, at its core, this crisis is fueled by fear and all of its offspring – competition, greed, denial, gross materialism, the objectification and worship of money, making ourselves right and others wrong… the outgrowths of fear are many and varied. They are also deeply entrenched in our consciousness (and, apparently, in our Congress). And no wonder – our entire economic system is, in a real sense, grounded in fear: the fear of “not enough.” The allocation of scarce resources is the very definition of economics, and “scarce” is but a stone’s throw away from “not enough.” And “not enough” is scary.
Of course any given physical resource is ultimately scarce in that there is a finite amount of it currently available. Yet by focusing only on the scarcity of our material or even human resources – and by failing to perceive the great wealth of our intangible resources, and how they can often meet our true needs without resorting to pillaging our planet – we see a finite number of those resources; we see limitation. Limitation breeds fear of not getting or having enough, and so the scramble to get our share, to get more, begins. Yet in this zero-sum reality that we’ve created, more can only be had at someone else’s expense.
And this fear of “not enough” goes far deeper than our economic theories and policies. It lies at the core of our consciousness: we misperceive ourselves to be separate from each other, from nature, from God or Source or however you name the Life Principle. And that fundamental misperception of our separateness gives rise to an existential fear of aloneness and “not enough-ness.” We may not always be aware of that fear, but we’ve been conditioned by it for so long that it profoundly influences our beliefs, thoughts and actions. It shapes the world we live in.
And I think most of us would agree that the world we live in is in a bit of a shambles.
Which brings me back to the basic message that got me started: Fear got us into this mess; it certainly cannot get us out. The much-repeated Einstein quote is particularly clear on this point: We cannot solve a problem at the level of consciousness that created it. We must lift ourselves out of fear and look at ourselves, and our lives, through new eyes.
But how, exactly, are we to do that? First and foremost, I think we start by being willing to see the truth that fear is making our challenges worse, not better. In these uncertain times we have a responsibility to connect with our innate goodness and creativity and clarity of thinking, and that means we have a responsibility to navigate through fear rather than cave into it. And in the absence of being able to wave a magic wand to make the fear go away, I’d like to suggest some things that can help us on that journey. I’m not offering solutions to our economic crisis. I’m offering ways we can each get our heads above the deep waters of fear so we can breathe, see and think more clearly. So we can find solutions together.
But before I do, let me say that the ways I’m suggesting are simple, and I’m writing them with a light hand. That’s part of the method behind my seeming madness: to bring lightness into a subject that is heavy and laden with fear.
But please do not mistake lightness for inconsequentiality. Just as every choice you make to put down the fork if you’re no longer hungry, when you’re holding an intention to eat mindfully, counts – so does every choice you make to connect with love rather than fear. Every choice, small and large, counts. And with that brief reminder – here are my suggestions for navigating through fear without caving into it:
• Breathe. Deeply and often.
• Get on the floor. No, really. When panic or anxiety begins to make its presence known, it creates a real felt-sense of being ungrounded. So get grounded. And breathe while you’re down there.
• Take a look at your fears. Right in the eye. Put pen to paper (or fingertips to keypad) and write down everything you’re afraid might happen. Just start with, “I’m afraid that…” and make a list. It might include things such as, “I’ll never be able to retire.” “I’ll end up on the streets.” “I’ll get sick and won’t be able to afford health insurance.” Get it all down. (You might feel better already, getting them out of your head and onto paper.) Now challenge each and every one. Ask questions about them such as:
o Is this really true?
o Can I know for certain this will happen?
o What else might be true or possible?
o What resources do I have to deal with this uncertainty, tangible and intangible?
o Do I really want to dwell on this thought? Is it serving me in any way?
• Breathe deeply again. Notice that your heart, your creativity, your humor, your friends and family, your intelligence and resilience are far stronger than your fear. Now burn the list of fears.
• Deepen your connection with your own heart of hearts, and with whatever you know as Source or God or the Life Principle. Spend quiet time in nature, contemplating the enormity and magnificence of the Universe and Life’s insistence on living. Think of grass pushing its way through those tiny cracks in the cement. Think of the Berlin wall falling and communism crumbling in the former Soviet Union. Think of stars and babies being born, day in and day out. Think of your cat purring in your lap.
• Call people you love. Get together with like-minded others and brainstorm – no, heartstorm – possible ways to deal with the challenges you are facing.
• Breathe. Deeply and often.
I realized as I began writing this list that it could go on and on and on; I’ve barely scratched the surface. And that’s a very good thing. Just remembering things I’ve done that have helped me shift from fear to love made me feel lighter with each keystroke. I hope reading them has had the same effect on you. And I hope you’re inspired to create your own list of ways to navigate fear – and that you actually do them. Remember, fear cannot solve problems, it can only create them.
Let me close with a quote from Julia Cameron which, itself, has helped me during times of great fear. You might want to add it to your list:
“There is no circumstance immune to the power of love.”