Coming Into Right Relationship With Fear

I’m teaching three Fear Cure workshops this year, first, a one-day workshop at the New York Open Center in March, then a five-day workshop at Kripalu in May, then at 1440 Multiversity in Santa Cruz in September. These workshops combine content and transformational processes that touch upon my book The Fear Cure, as well as my new book The Daily Flame. The ultimate Fear Cure is really about making contact with the part of you I call your “Inner Pilot Light—” the divine spark inside of you that is wise enough, mature enough, and loving enough to love and heal all of your scared parts so they can relax and let your Inner Pilot Light take the lead.

Kripalu just interviewed me about coming into right relationship with fear as a way to invite in the workshop participants that resonate and feel ready for this kind of paradigm-shifting transformational journey. With their generous permission, I’ll share the full interview here.

Fear, it seems, can be helpful or a hindrance in our lives. How can we distinguish between legitimate fear and unfounded fear?

From my point of view, all fear is helpful, but in different ways. In my book The Fear Cure, I distinguish between true fear and false fear. In other words, true fear would be the legitimate survival-based fear of falling off a cliff or fear of getting chased by a tiger. These fears are meant to activate the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous system to fill your body with stress hormones so you can survive the real threat. False fears are the ruminations of the mind, the imagined potential fears in the future, like fear of running out of money or your partner cheating on you or your friends turning on you or getting passed over for the promotion.

The true fears are a blessing. People born without the ability to feel fear don’t survive very long. But false fears tend to plague people with anxiety, obsessive ruminations, and the “monkey mind” that torments meditators. The problem is that people are either in denial of their false fear or they write it off as the more socially acceptable “stress,” which can be worn like a badge of honor. “I’m busy and stressed, therefore I’m productive and valuable and deserve to exist.” It’s almost like people view fear or anxiety as a weakness and feel ashamed to admit how scared they are. But fear is not the enemy, and it’s certainly nothing shame-worthy.

Learning to get curious about your fear in the way I teach in The Fear Cure book and workshops is a portal to great peace, fulfillment, and connection with the part of you I call your “Inner Pilot Light,” which is the ever-present spark of divinity within us all, which is the master healer of all fear. Once this connection to your Inner Pilot Light is strengthened, you’ll feel safe to get curious and become intimate with your fear so your Inner Pilot Light can heal what lies at its root, rather than trying to push it away or obsess about its content.

Can you give some examples of how fear, when we give into the unfounded kind, can compromise us—physically, mentally/emotionally, socially, financially, spiritually, etc.?

The problem with turning away from our fear instead of leaning into it is that the body can’t tell the difference between true fear and false fear, so any untended fearful or anxious thought triggers a threat response in the nervous system, which lights up the amygdala and activates a whole cascade of hormones preparing you to fight or flee the danger. These stress hormones, like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, weaken the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms and predispose you to almost every kind of disease, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and chronic pain, but especially the #1 killer—heart disease.

We’re supposed to only have stress responses when a real threat to our survival is present, but the average American experiences over 50 stress responses per day, and every time you’re in a stress response, your body can’t heal itself. Then there’s the impact of these stress hormones on the emotional, mental, spiritual, and energetic body. When we’re locked into the vibration of fear, we’re skidded out of the natural flow states that can activate creativity, life purpose, intimacy with our loved ones, financial ease, seamless connection with those in our soul tribes, and states of spiritual awakening, insight, Divine connection, and healing.

Of course, the parts of you that are raising the alarm bells all the time don’t know how much inadvertent harm they’re causing. They think they’re helping you! False fears are usually just traumatized inner children that are trying to keep us out of danger, so they can feel safe. They’re stuck in the past when such obsessing was necessary for survival. Of course, they’re little inner children, so they don’t realize that their chronic stressing causes serious problems in present time. They are innocent, and they know not what they do. But the wise Inner Pilot Light can see what’s really happening—the impact that chronic repetitive stress responses has not only on the physical body, but on mental and emotional health, the health of your relationships, your capacity to find and fulfill your true calling, and your spiritual development.

How can we know if fear is running our lives?

If you trust your mind to make your decisions and you think you’re able to control life by strategizing, analyzing, striving, making it happen, efforting more, and micromanaging every little detail so you can avert danger, then fear is probably running your life. If you’re living a trust-based life, you tend to feel very trusting, peaceful, and relaxed, even when you feel intense emotions because things aren’t going your way. There’s a fundamental paradigm shift that happens when you cede control to your Inner Pilot Light and let go of the handle so the river of life can guide you into alignment with the highest good for all.

What are the four fearful assumptions?

I posit that most false fear stems from the four fearful assumptions.

1) Uncertainty is unsafe.

2) I can’t handle losing what I cherish.

3) It’s a hostile universe.

4) I’m all alone.

Gosh, if you really believe you’re all alone in an uncertain, hostile universe where you can’t handle losing what you cherish, fear would be the only natural response!

You believe fear can ultimately heal us and heal our lives. How so?

Yes. I’m a big fan of Internal Family Systems (IFS), the trauma healing modality developed by Richard Schwartz, PhD. In the IFS model, fear (or any painful emotion, physical symptom, or memory) is simply a trailhead we can choose to walk down in order to become more intimate with the wounded parts inside of us that need the love, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, and acceptance of what I call your Inner Pilot Light and what Dr. Schwartz calls “Self.” When we choose to lead an Inner Pilot Light-led life rather than a mind-led life, we take control of the bus of all our inner children and guide them with our mature, spiritually attuned, adult selves. The inner children don’t have to get demonized or exiled. They’re allowed to stay in the bus, but now they’re relaxed and trusting that a grown up is at the wheel and can make good choices to keep them safe, so they don’t have to incessantly chatter to get your attention. Most fear is simply a sign that your wounded parts don’t trust you. It’s possible to earn their trust and then they sit back and can reclaim their naturally valuable roles as the magical children who can help you get back in touch with your playfulness and glee.

What is The Fear Cure? Can you define it simply? What does it entail?

The title “The Fear Cure” is a sort of a misnomer. It’s not that we need to cure fear. It’s more about letting fear cure YOU. The real Fear Cure is about becoming intimate with your false fears and using your fear as a trailhead to get to know yourself better so you can heal whatever trauma might lie at the root of these fears. The Fear Cure is ultimately about coming into right relationship with uncertainty.

What are the four courage-cultivating truths (and how can we shift from holding fearful assumptions to cultivating these truths)?

These are the antidote to the four fearful assumptions, the turnarounds to these limiting beliefs.

1) Uncertainty is the gateway to possibility.

2) Loss is natural and can lead to growth.

3) It’s a purposeful universe.

4) We are all One.

Wouldn’t we be naturally less afraid if we believed the second set of beliefs? Imagine if you really had a direct, felt experience of a purposeful, benevolent universe where we are all interconnected, where uncertainty means anything could happen, even miracles, and where loss is something we can handle, and it might even be the portal that deepens our spiritual connection, strengthens our resilience, and guides our life purpose. My favorite word was coined by Rob Breszny—“pronoia,” the opposite of “paranoia,” the belief that everything in the universe is conspiring to support you. What if you had a raging case of pronoia? What might be possible then? This doesn’t mean you suddenly throw all caution to the wind and become reckless. It simply means you trust your Inner Pilot Light and the wondrous, awe-inspiring organizing intelligence to which it is connected more than you trust your wounded inner children.

Can you offer up some practices to help people cultivate courage?

Practice #1 IFS Meditation: Let one of your fears become a trailhead to deeper intimacy and healing.

Identify something you’re worrying about. Just close your eyes and open your heart and let your fear know you’re here to help. Ask which scared part wants to show itself. See who arises and notice whether the fear takes any shape, form, or image. Reassure it that you’re glad it’s here and you’re here to help it relax. See how it responds. It may not trust you, but that’s OK. Stay present with it. Ask it what it’s afraid would happen to you if it quit doing its job. Listen generously to what it wants you to hear. Tell it you appreciate its care and how hard it’s working to try to keep you safe. Then ask it how old you were when it got its job. See if it answers your question or even shows you a memory. Tell it you get how important it was for it to do its job back when you were young and appreciate it for how long and hard it’s been working to protect you. Let it tell you or show you anything else it wants you to know. Let this part know that you get how tired it must be from trying so hard to keep you safe. Ask it what it might rather do if it didn’t have to do its job anymore. It may resist—so stay with the resistance. Let it know you’re not going to make it quit its job and it doesn’t ever have to go away. You’re just offering to let your Inner Pilot Light take over its job so it can do something more fun. See if it will tell you what it would rather do. Ask this part how old it thinks you are. (Chances are that it thinks you’re less than 18). Tell it how old you really are. If you have any sense of your Inner Pilot Light or your “Self,” introduce this part to your wise divine spark inside. Let it know that this inner parent is going to do a great job keeping you safe and it doesn’t need protection like it did when you were young. Your job is to be a “hope merchant” to your protective parts. Let them know healing is possible, if only they’re relax enough to let you get intimate with them. If you’ve made some contact and gotten to know this part better, express your gratitude. Tell it you’re grateful it trusted you enough to reveal itself. Let it know you’ll come back and check on it again and that deeper healing is possible, if it’s willing to let your Inner Pilot Light take over the job of keeping you safe.

Practice #2 Let your fear write you a letter.

Clear your mind and sit down with a journal or piece of paper. Without thinking about it, grab a writing tool and let your fear write you a letter. Dear You, blah blah blah, Love, Fear. Don’t think! Just let this be an automatic writing process. If you feel inspired to do so, respond to what Fear wrote, only write back from the loving presence of your Inner Pilot Light. Dear Fear, yada yada yada, Love, Your Inner Pilot Light. Go back and forth as many times as necessary. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Practice #3 Draw your fear.

Pull out all your favorite art tools and go to town. Ask your perfectionist part to relax and give you some space, since this is not about making pretty art. Make it playful and stay open. See what arises from this space of emergence. When you’re done, use it as an oracle. What can you interpret from what fear has shown you?

For extra credit, try drawing your Inner Pilot Light too!

What do our fears teach us about who we really are?

Our false fears are protector parts that just want to be loved and known and nurtured. They’re usually exhausted from trying to get your attention and keep you safe. They’ve been doing this most of your life and they’re weary and lonely and trying too hard to make sure nothing bad happens. But they’re not the enemy! They don’t like it when you call them the “monkey mind” or try to shut them up. Once they trust you, they just want to crawl on your lap and let you take over the wheel of the bus.

So really, fear can cure you by allowing you to really know yourself, including all of your wounded parts. People talk about self love and self care, but this is the HOW of self love. Your fears give you a gateway to knowing and loving all of parts of you that went through hard stuff. And all of us have been through hard stuff. Even if you never experienced any of the big “T” traumas, like childhood abuse, sexual violence, abandonment of a parent, living with substance abuse in the home, or growing up in a war zone, every one of us has been shaped by the traumas of everyday life into something that is not our true shape. If we become intimate with our fears and let our Inner Pilot Lights heal them, we can become who we truly are at our divine essence, informed by all the experiences that made us who we are but not defined by them. Then our unique parts—our preferences, quirks, idiosyncrasies, values, and talents becomes gifts with which we can play, rather than prisons in which we are stuck. This is a journey—and on the other side of this journey lies true freedom, the freedom to make life a playful, mysterious, magical, miraculous dance.

When we heal our fears, how do our lives begin to change for the better? What can we look forward to?

When our scared parts get healed and integrated in the “internal family system,” all the valuable, sweet, childlike aspects of our being are reclaimed, but in a healthy way. You can expect more laughter, more creativity, more capacity to connect with others, Inner Pilot Light to Inner Pilot Light. You can expect to feel guided to your true purpose, to have an inner compass you can trust, and to feel the sweetness of realizing that you are the one you’ve been waiting for, that there’s no need to earn the right to exist, that at the deepest level, you are always safe, even when you die. This doesn’t mean you won’t make wise, mature, responsible decisions to anticipate the future. It doesn’t mean you won’t take the guidance of your protector parts into consideration when making choices about your finances or your children or your spouse or your career. It just means that your sense of protection comes not from a whole band of wounded children but from a deep trust in a benevolent guiding force that is connected to a symphony of life that includes you and yearns to help keep you safe in the most ultimate way. Then your sense of safety is not conditional upon x, y, and z outcomes. You’ll know you are safe at the most fundamental level, even if things don’t go the way you wish they would. You’ll long to surrender any attempt to control you life so you can live in alignment with Divine Will, which means bowing before this great mystery and surrendering your personal will to a power greater than yourself. This doesn’t mean you won’t still have preferences and yearnings and desires. You’ll still cast your vote for how you want things to go, but you won’t be a slave to your inner children’s often irrational anxiety and panic. Those inner children will relax and take a nap in the back of the bus, because now they’ll trust you as the bus driver, and over time, they’ll see that you’re driving them to a glorious, magnificent, limitless destination far grander than any they could have anticipated given their limited capacity.

Anything else you’d like to share?

For those who feel a yearning to deepen your connection to your Inner Pilot Light, I have a new book that just came out, a daily devotional designed to guide you to deepen connection, The Daily Flame: 365 Love Letters From Your Inner Pilot Light. I’ve also developed an online program Connect To Your Inner Pilot Light, which includes some of the nuts-and-bolts, super practical ways you can deepen your intimacy with the divine spark that animates you and helps you heal your fear. We’ve also developed a Healing Soul Tribe of people on a healing journey who are committed to living an Inner Pilot Light-led life, instead of a fear-based or mind-led life. Attending the Kripalu workshop The Fear Cure will take this material even deeper and give you a direct experience of what it feels like to be in a soul tribe of people healing, thriving, and connecting in this way.

Also, if you get one thing out of this, I hope you anchor this: Don’t demonize your fear! It’s just trying to help you, and there’s a way to restore it to its naturally valuable state. Don’t try to meditate it away; instead, love it into relaxing and giving you space during your meditations so you can bask in the glorious peace of your Inner Pilot Light. Your fear will relax and give you space once it knows you care, you’re listening, and you’re ready to do what it takes to love, heal, and let your scared parts be guided to an even safer, more majestic future than your parts could possibly orchestrate. Sign up for Lissa’s Kripalu Fear Cure workshop in May 2019 here. Space is limited so plan ahead!


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