Fear Shedding

One day – after a dark bout of depression – I realised that all my big dreams were hiding from me.
They were hiding just behind a wall of fear.
And I also knew that it was time for me to smash the wall down.

Let’s talk about fear.

When we engage in any regime of self improvement, especially one as ambitious as sovereignty over the self, we will certainly encounter this deadly duo. We will experience bodily reactions that are uncomfortable and frightening and if we do not find mastery over these feelings, we will be defeated by them at every turn.

Most people that fail in any endeavour, do so because they have no understanding nor tolerance for discomfort. And yet discomfort is manageable if you understand its nature. And fear – when harnessed – is the friend of exceptional people. Our Warrior journey then is about becoming exceptional, firstly by collecting vital information, and secondly by using that information correctly and courageously.

Like a climber on a high ascent we will sometimes feel disorientated, we will often experience doubt and we will regularly as a matter of course become breathless. The air on the mountain is very thin. So it is best to be informed and forearmed at the start of your journey – this advice is rudimentary but vital – with savvy on how to deal with your own bodily reactions to confrontation; how to control anxiety and how to become a master of fear. As I said, the feelings associated with fear are unpleasant, let us be in no doubt about that, and looking for comfort in this arena will only lead to confusion and more anxiety, which drains vast amounts of vital energy.  It is better instead to find a change of perspective and become comfortable with discomfort by embracing the things we fear. Doing so will create a paradigm shift that is very empowering.

Whilst the right information regarding fear will help – because knowledge can dispel fear – I have to warn you that there is no quick fix, there is no magic potion and neither should there be. We need to respect fear and remember that it is there as a survival imperative, fear is a biological necessity, and if we want to master our bodies and our minds and sculpt an amazing life with our thoughts, then we should, as a matter of course, be prepared to find, face and embrace the things we dread most. And you will not master monsters from your cosy bed neither from the safety of your local YMCA gymnasium. Therefore we should not seek comfort. When ascending to great heights, ease is a luxury that only the naïve expect. Whilst we do need to be respectful of fear, we certainly shouldn’t become hypersensitive to its effects, scuttling cravenly away every time we get a drop of adrenalin.

I remember watching a wonderful documentary about a super-fit athlete who wanted to climb Everest, but like many people he wanted growth without discomfort. He trained his body in the gym to humming perfection; he was sinewy and conditioned, in fact he was everything that an athlete should be. All the guy lacked was actual experience on Everest. He’d climbed a few hills to get the feel for it, but he’d never set foot on the mountain itself. His colleagues on the expedition were a group of craggy, mountain savvy, veteran climbers, all of whom were conditioned to the harsh realities of The Mount. On his first day at base camp, when his chest was as tight as a fat kids T shirt and he couldn’t get a full breath of air, he turned to one of the stalwarts for advice. ‘The air this high is thin,’ he was told, ‘it is always hard to breathe and a tight chest is the norm when you are on the mountain.’ The next day our neophyte, full of unrecognised adrenalin and still unable to get his lungs full complained again, ‘I’m super-fit’ he said, ‘I run marathons, I do hours on the weights, I shouldn’t be feeling so uncomfortable. I can’t breathe properly.’ Again the old lag said to him, ‘look, you’re on Everest, the altitude is high so the air is very thin, none of us can get a full breath, if you wake on the mountain feeling shit, it’s a good day. It’s a normal day.’ Still unable to take good advice and becoming ever more fearful of his bodily reactions to the mountain the beginner complained once again that ‘something is wrong with me. I must be ill, I can’t breathe properly and…’

The veteran – tired by now of the constant whining – cut him dead and said (eye ball to eye ball), ‘listen to me. You are at altitude. The air is thin. If you want more air climb a smaller mountain!’

To succeed it helps to understand that attempting high ascents (confronting the things you fear) will stretch you, it will be intimidating and your bodily reactions will let you know about it. This doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong place; on the contrary, it means that you’re in the arena. If it is not at least a little daunting, you can be sure of one thing, you are on the wrong path.
Here are a few tips on mastering fear;

•    Knowledge.
The right information takes the sting out of fear. If you understand the workings of the human body, specifically the adrenals, you will be far less intimidated by it. I did a masters degree (and 270 page thesis – Stressbuster) on the affects of adrenalin, and techniques in controlling fear, just so that I could get a better handle on it. So gem up. When you can put a name to something, it allows you a lot more control.
Further Reading – Stressbuster by Geoff Thompson.

•    Palate.
What you eat and how much you eat can make you very fearful. The wrong foods and the wrong eating habits trigger adrenalin. Most people are perpetually anxious because they have poor diets. So get your food right, and your fear levels will fall markedly.
Further Reading – ShapeShifter by Geoff Thompson.

•     Breathing.
Simply by changing the way you breathe will have a profound effect upon the levels of fear that you are experiencing. Many people breath too shallowly, others hold their breath unconsciously when they are working or tense. Shallow breathing (in and out from the chest) is a major cause of anxiety. It is associated with fight or flight and signals to the brain that there is an external threat (often even when there isn’t), which automatically triggers the Sympathetic Nervous System (adrenalin). If you breathe diaphragmatically – deep breathing, filling the belly and the lower lobes of the lungs – the body falls back into homeostasis (natural balance), or the Parasympathetic Nervous System, slowing the adrenalin down and then switching it off.
Further Reading – Stressbuster by Geoff Thompson.

•     Exposure Therapy.
As a fledgling I lived in fear of life. I had a list of dreams and dreads that excited and at the same time terrified me. Every time I stepped into the arena with either dream or dread I was well and truly trounced. I made the common mistake of allowing my failures to blackmail me. They caused me untold sadness and fear. The failure to act upon my great ambitions because of fear created a pestilence in me that caused depression after depression. After one particularly nasty bout of ‘black plague’ I finally decided to ‘man up’ and fight back. I exposed myself to the things that scared me most, by writing down all my fears on a piece of paper (a fear pyramid) and confronting them one by one, until I became desensitized. I also wrote down all my ambitions and set out to achieve them.
Prove that fear has no existence by facing it down.
Further Reading – Fear the Friend of Exceptional People by Geoff Thompson.

•    Presence.
Fear and anxiety largely exist because we allow ourselves to be dragged out of the present moment by past regrets and future fears. These untamed projections leave us bubbling in the caustics of present moment anxiety. Staying present is a skill that needs much practice if perfection is to be attained. One (of the many) methods of practicing presence is meditation.  This not only strengthens your focus so that you can hold yourself in the moment, it is also very good at triggering the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which shuts down adrenalin release.
Further Reading – The Power of Now – by Eckhart Tolle.

•    Explosive Physical Training.
There is no substitute for getting a sweat on if you want to shed a little fear.
Adrenalin is a physical syndrome that needs a physical release. If you work a stressful job or live a stressful life, your body will be releasing adrenalin into the bloodstream all the time, but not finding any behavioural release for it. Which means it remains in the body. This is bad for you. It acts as a caustic on your insides. To stop unutilised stress from harming you, it is best to find a surrogate release for it. Explosive physical training is perfect for this because it collects up all the trapped adrenalin and uses it as a fuel. It is important that that your physical exercise of choice is not too stressful otherwise you will be replacing the spent adrenalin with a fresh supply, which would defeat the object.
Hitting the punch bag, sprinting, martial arts training, biking – anything that gets you sweating is good.
Further Reading – Streetwise by Peter Consterdine.

•    Deceleration.
When you start rushing and racing around and trying to multitask and get everything done at the same time you trigger the adrenals. If you do this often enough (most people live is a state of perpetual hurry) you become (what is known as) ‘Sympathetic Sensitive.’ This means that your sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight syndrome) becomes more and more sensitive to stressful stimulus. Eventually even the ring of your telephone can be enough to get trigger adrenalin and leave your nerves in the wind.
Don’t worry, this can be reversed.
Slow down. Slow everything down. Slow your breathing down, slow your eating down, slow down in the car, slow your whole life down. And make slowing down your life habit.
Further Reading – Slow Down, enjoy life and live longer by Elisabeth Wilson.

•    Make a Decision.
When I was studying for my master’s degree on stress I discovered that one of the biggest causes of anxiety and fear was lack of decision making. My time as a bouncer brought into sharp focus. In a violent situation you are either deceive or you are dead.
The state of perpetual indecisiveness creates masses of stress and fear. It eats your reserves like a plague of locusts and can quickly leave you mentally exhausted, even broken down. It is better to make any decision, than no decision at all. And the longer you deliberate the more your stress and fear will grow. The great novelist and spiritual mystic Paulo Coelho said that if his life had taught him one thing it was to make decisions (especially regarding facing fears) sooner rather than later.
Further Reading – Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers.

•    Cry you eyes out (especially you men).
Crying is a great release of trapped energy. As a young guy I would never allow myself to cry because I was brought up to see it as feminine and weak. In fact crying was something to be ashamed of. Later in my life I had the privilege of working with some of the toughest men walking planet earth, and they cried their eyes out when circumstance called for it. I found their example massively inspiring.
I have also read that after great historical battles it was very usual to see warriors sobbing – or ‘fear shedding’ as it was known. There was no shame attached to their weeping, as hardened fighters they understood its purpose.
Crying is the bodies’ way of shedding residues of fear from the system.
So….put on a sad film and some weepy music and let it go.
Further Reading – Watch My Back by Geoff Thompson.

One day – after a dark bout of depression – I realised that all my big dreams were hiding from me.
They were hiding just behind a wall of fear.
And I also knew that it was time for me to smash the wall down.

Because I didn’t have the information I waited three decades before making the decision.
You have the information….how long will you wait?

Be well.

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