Skillful Thinking: Letting Go: Dealing with Fear

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 63-65)

What is fear?

What are some of its characteristics?

  • Associated with a body sensation
  • Associated with a thought that is usually about what might happen in the future.
  • Associated with something that mind perceives as a threat.

Why does fear arise?

There are a number of reasons:

  • Attachment to something such as ideas, beliefs, concepts, feelings, physical objects.
  • Coming into contact with what we don’t understand.
  • A situation where the outcome is uncertain and we are attached to a certain outcome.

As we grow up, we experience fear in different ways (adapted from Being Zenexternal_link by Ezra Bayda):

  • Non-recognition
  • Recognition
  • Adjusting to it
  • Trying to get rid of it by confronting it  For example, trying to overcome fear with an aggressive stance.  (This is replacing one conditioned response for another.)
  • Letting it in and practicing mindfulness

Fear is the result of our conditioning.  Memories arise and spark the reaction.

Like memories, fear is just another phenomenon that arises and falls away.  It has the three characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selfless nature.  Know the distinction between “I am fearful “and “Fear arises in me. “  Rather than admit or say that “I am fearful”, learn to say, “Fear arises in me frequently”.  It is not a permanent condition.

What about courage?

“Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is and grows out of the willingness to experience fear.” (Bayda p. 71)

Dealing with fear

“When fear is experienced in the present moment, minus our beliefs and judgments about it, we will find that it is rarely unbearable.  In fact when we really stay present with the physical experience of fear we might experience a deep and pervasive peace, sensing the spaciousness and love that flower as fear transforms on its own.  As the solidity of fear becomes porous, life’s intrinsic essence simply flows through.”  (Bayda p. 72)

Remember that a bodily sensation always accompanies the thought. (Fear is a combination of sensation and belief).  Get to know these sensations so that they can serve as a reminder of what is arising.  “Here it comes again.  What will it be like this time?”  (Bayda).  Practicing mindfulness, we can pay to attention moment to moment to what is.

“When fear arises for me now, along with the mind’s desire for it to go away, there is also an almost instant recognition of what is going on.  Do I try to let it go?  Rarely.  That would be just another way of trying to get rid of it, of trying to avoid my life.  Instead, I breathe into the heartspace, inviting the fear in with a willingness to feel its texture, its whatness.  But at the same time, I know that it is not me.  My heart could be pounding and my stomach feeling queasy, which are simply the conditioned responses to perceived danger.  But there is also a lightness, a spaciousness, through which the conditioning of fear can be experienced.  With awareness, the solidity of fear becomes porous.  And what remains?  Simply life itself, with an increasing vast sense of being.”  (Bayda p 74)


  • Look in a non-judgmental way to see how much fear is causing your suffering.  Do nothing about it but just look.  What do you find?
  • When fear arises, practice mindfulness – paying attention moment to moment to what is. What do you find?

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