Responding in the Face of Fear

This past week, there was a shooting in the neighborhood adjacent to my sons’ school.  The school was placed on lockdown, and parents were sent an automated voice message stating the lockdown was active, without giving any details as to why.

I happened to just miss the call that came from the school, and rather than listening to the message first, I decided to call the school. The receptionist answered, and I shared that I just missed her call, and that I was guessing one of my boys needed something. She said that it was an automated call, and that there had been a shooting nearby, but all was well and the shooter was in custody. Then she said she had to go because the phones were ringing off the hook.

I was a bit stunned when I got off the phone, and yet noticed that I was calm. I listened to the automated message, with its vagueness, and immediately realized why so many people were calling the school. The automation, combined with the vagueness of the message, set people up to be afraid. How can one not be afraid when a person-less voice broadcasts on an automated message that your child’s school is in lockdown? There is no soul there to offer comfort like the beautiful soul of the receptionist, there is no person to share the details, and there is the knowing that the situation is significant enough to warrant a mass automated communication.

Sadly, in today’s automated, high tech world, filled with limited and often sensationalized information provided by the media, fear is something that is epidemic in our culture.

We often hear of methods to “eliminate fear” or “be fearless.”  I believe it is important to understand that these promises are impossible. Fear is something we as human beings face. We all have fears within us, unique to ourselves, yet similar to those of others. If we focus our attention on never having fears or becoming fearless, we will set ourselves up for failure, and perhaps even magnify the fears by suppressing them, or beating ourselves up for not being able to get rid of them.

It is not the fear itself that is the issue. It is how we act in the face of fear that is important. I am personally grateful that I am afraid to get between a mother bear and her cubs. I have a certain discernment and awareness that allows me to make wise choices when I’m out in the woods where bears may roam. Fear helps to inform us in a situation, but if that fear paralyzes us or causes an irrational reaction, we cannot make wise choices.  So how can we allow fear to inform us and ensure that we are able to be discerning and aware enough to act wisely in the face of fear?

How can we act with courage and bravery, rather than with foolishness or cowardice?

I can imagine that there were some parents calling the school in calmness, simply asking questions about what was going on, while others may have been calling in complete panic over the message they had heard. There were others who chose not to call the school, and perhaps did some research as to what was going, such as searching online for news information. And still others may have simply waited to hear more from the school, trusting that all was ok.

Some people reacted, which is an action whose conditions usually include sedating or controlling the inner discomfort at any effort. Some people responded, which is an action focused on taking charge of the inner discomfort and being with it responsibly.

What is it that might support us to respond with presence and peace, as opposed to reacting with anxiety and fear?

There are many tools for working with and through fear, but I would like to share a couple of critical keys to begin cultivating a greater capacity for true courage. No matter the situation, if we want to respond and act effectively, we must first get centered and grounded. These two tools alone are so valuable, as they allow us to effectively use all other tools we may have for supporting us on our life journey.

If we are not centered, and not grounded in our being, we cannot be present to the experience, which means we cannot effectively respond to it.

You might think of being centered as being in neutral. Think of a standard transmission car. One must shift through neutral in order to shift into another gear, whichever gear is appropriate for the terrain, speed, situation, etc. It is the same with our being. In order to choose what “gear” we need to move into, we must first shift our being into neutral so that we can discern what the situation is, and what is necessary and called for in the moment.

Additionally, we must be present to the moment. This means being in our body and not disconnected from it and all that it is experiencing. Fear tends to hijack our bodies, sending the wiser part of ourselves right out of our body, disconnecting us from our heart and what is needed for our highest good, and the highest good of others and the situation. Grounding helps us to ensure we are in our bodies, connected to the earth and the present moment. Once you have shifted into the space of center, you can then ensure that you are grounded.

Try this simple process for getting centered and grounded when faced with not only fear, but any situation that requires discernment, action, or understanding.

  1. Breathe – Take a long, slow, deep breath.  Receive a few more if needed, until you feel you are becoming more still.  To be centered is to pause.  Let this breath bring pause.
  2. Notice Your Body in Space – Are you wanting to move forward? Are you wanting to retreat? Do you want to connect with someone or something on either side of you?  This noticing connects with whether you are leaning too far forward, falling backward, leaning to one side or the other, out of your body above you, and/or too heavy in your body below you. As we notice, we become aware of where we are in space, rather than locked only in the realm of time, which is where reactivity lives.
  3. Adjust Your Body – Based on what you noticed in step 2, adjust so that you are truly neutral.  For example, if you find yourself wanting to move forward immediately, try to relax into your back space, feeling the support of faith and trust. Breathe into this adjustment.
  4. Ground Your Body – As you breathe into neutral, feel your feet on the earth, or the weight of your body on the chair if you are seated. Feel your hands and fingers. Feel your heart. Tune into the crown of your head. Become tall in your spine. Breathe into this grounding.
  5. Acknowledge What is Before You – From the stillness of grounded neutrality, and breath, can you name the fear? Can you see options? What choices do you have? What is possible from this place?

Once you have centered and grounded, you will have the capacity to act wisely in the face of fear. You will see the situation through a lens of neutrality that is not colored by anxiety or panic.

Taking just a short minute or two to center and ground when presented with any situation can save you tremendous heartache and time spent making rash decisions and dealing with their consequences.

Be sure to practice centering and grounding in everyday experiences, and not only when presented with fear. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes to do this, and the quicker you will be able to center and ground yourself in more challenging situations.

If you wish to have a deeper practice of centering, please download this free ten minute centering meditation audio. 

I would love your feedback, and to hear about any methods you have found helpful when faced with the need to effectively respond in the face of fear.

May you be brave and filled with peace.

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