There are times in life when intrusive, fear based thoughts latch hold of us, filling the mind with swarming, buzzing thoughts, distracting us during interactions with others, muting the sensory richness of each moment—the sounds, body sensations, aromas, feelings and on. Such dire visitors—generally based on past resentments or speculative fears—can easily bait and hook us, threatening us with annihilation, repeating constantly; given how constant the messages can be, releasing such thoughts can feel like ignoring ‘the world is going to end’ new flashes on CNN or city sirens announcing impending hurricanes. The mind can really play tricks that make it all to easy to abandon the present, which is, of course, the only place of true safety and utility.
When we find the mind latching onto these narratives, images or moods, and we can’t reassure, reason with or let go, sometimes the only solution is to give up the battle and actually write down what our fears are trying to tell us. If we’ve tried to replace the fears with reflections of gratitude and meet little success, the next step is to write—or type—out whatever the dread and foreboding wants us to know. In such an exercise its essential to not edit or resist, but give full permission to the fear, allowing it to express every last negative prediction in its article. Indeed, when the fear narratives begin to dry out, ask them: “And then what?”
Once we’ve finished writing it out, take a series of long, smooth rewarding breaths, relax the body, move to a different location to flood the mind with new sensations and impressions.
Its worthwhile to give our fears, cravings and depressions names to greet them with each time they arise: the Buddha called his inner demons, his desire to quit the path, “Mara.” I’ve greeted my demons with many names over the years, but I never give my fears negative or condescending titles; the point of greeting each visitor is to avoid identifying or believing fear, anger, sadness, etc to be ours; in naming these impulses we give them permission to arise without resistance or clinging.
If, after we’ve journaled, a fear returns with some energy in persistence, remind it that we’ve given it time to vent, now its our turn to enjoy life for a little while, until our next journal session.
After a few days pass its worthwhile rereading our fear (or anger or sadness) writings from a fresh perspective. A little removed from the thoughts, we quickly see how unlikely or overblown most fears are in retrospect. Generally, our fears are where that ‘inner child’ resides for, like the very young, fears believe that every new change or challenge in life will lead to abandonment and disaster. While we’ve grown up to be adults, our fears still view the world from the perspective of a frightened infant, seeing annihilation around every corner.
This is where Metta practice comes in handy; if we can feel the presence of this frightened inner experience—perhaps as a tightness in the abdomen, or an unsettled quality of mind—we can send it thoughts of good will: “I love you, keep going, I care about you, I’ll take care of you.” Eventually we learn to reparent these feelings of vulnerability. It’s a lovely practice that helps us move through life with far greater inner resources.