Irish Poet and Philosopher John O’Donohue observes how desperately we hold on to what makes us miserable. Fear, worry, judgment—our emotional pain—become perverse sources of pleasure. We hang on to them because they give us a sense of normalcy and control. We know what to expect, even if we don’t like it. And when we cling to negative emotions, over time they warp our identity. They trap us.
Fear is a negative emotion that occasionally grips me. Fear I won’t please my clients. Fear a loved one might die or leave. Fear the bottom will drop out of my life’s bucket in some shape or form.
Fear sometimes drives me. It takes on its own energy. I can feel it gurgling inside my stomach like acid ingestion.
Most of my fears are illusion. They’re what 12-step programs define as: future events appearing real. The worst I anticipate usually never happens, and if it does, I know deep down I can ride the surf until the ocean calms again. But I still let fear clench me in its fist.
It’s time to let go of being trapped by fear. So, I asked myself, “What’s on the flipside of fear? What’s fear’s antidote?”
Fear’s antidote is inner peace—that deep sense of knowing I’m safe. Even in times of disorder there’s still a divine order, a loving thread that runs through the tapestry of life. Life works. It unfolds. And each of us have been given the innate ability to ride the waves of life’s ups and downs and land on the beach in one piece.
With this in mind, I determined I’d practice peace. Each time I notice fear taking hold of me like a riptide on Lake Michigan, I try to avoid panic, swim with the tide, and connect with my Inner Wisdom. Here’s some things the Divine Peacemaker is teaching me along the way to help me practice inner peace:
According to O’Donohue, one reason so many people suffer from stress—which is rooted in fear—is not that they’re doing stressful things, but that they allow so little time for silence. Silence allows us to reconnect with Inner Wisdom. It allows us to see reality as it is without the mask of fear. Silence allows us to find direction by quieting our noisy minds so we can listen to our gentle hearts. Committing myself to set aside at least 20 minutes each day to meditate, sit in the Silence, and connect with my Soul is teaching me bit-by-bit, day-by-day, how to practice inner peace.
Living in the Present Moment.
Fear is usually the result of our projection into the future, our concern that something’s going to happen down the road that’ll cause pain or suffering. To pull ourselves back into the Present Moment, it helps to stop and ask ourselves, “Am I safe? Do I have food, water, shelter, a handful of people that I love and who love me?” By asking ourselves that question we often realize, we’re loved. Protected. We’re not only safe, but most of the time, we’re abundantly blessed. So, when fear grabs a hold of me, I’m trying to train my brain to remind me, I’m safe. And I confirm that by looking over my shoulder at the evidence in my life and how I’ve gained perseverance because of life’s challenges. Staying in the Present Moment lets me “in-joy” life’s gifts. It reminds me to laugh.
Will It Matter in Five Years?
A lot of my fear and stress rises out of daily irritations. Somebody pulled out in front of me on the road, took my parking spot or said something mean. By asking myself, “Will it matter—or will I even remember it—five years from now?” I’m learning the fine art of letting go. Let go, let God becomes the new motto.
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
Fear often arises when I feel overwhelmed, when I get scared there’s not enough time in the day to finish my “to do” list. It’s then I try to remember the wise saying about how to eat an elephant—one bite at a time. Focusing on one task at a time, prioritizing my list into what has to be done today and what doesn’t, helps that sinking feeling of being overwhelmed melt away. Besides, I remind myself, what needs to get done usually gets done. So, how about I pull up my sleeves and do what I can today, and leave the rest for tomorrow?
Practice the Flow.
The root word for breath is pneuma which means spirit. When we breathe, the Jewish tradition teaches, we’re breathing in the breath of God—God’s Spirit. So, a buddy who’s a physical trainer recently reminded me that the easiest way to release stress and breathe in peace is to stop and take three long, deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose to the count of seven. Then hold the breath gently for four seconds. Next, slowly release the breath through the mouth and suck in your stomach to the count of eight. Try this three times, my buddy told me, and you’ll find your body relax and your spirit calm. And, he’s right! This simple exercise unblocks the negative energy in me and reopens the natural flow of calm. So, if you see me holding my breath the next time we meet, just know I’m practicing the flow.
“Peace I give to you,” was what Christ offered us before he left earth. How about we take him up on his offer by dropping our tendency to practice fear, and instead, practice inner peace? It might be contagious, even life-giving.
Peace be with you.
—brian j plachta