We are sitting, breathing. Our bodies are in perfect working order. We have everything we need not only to live, but to thrive. And yet, our heart is pounding, our blood pressure rising, our nervous system going haywire, and our mind is racing around like an inebriated monkey.
The power of fear to rule our physiology is fascinating; at times infuriating. Even when we are able to tap into the reality that all is well, our mind’s power over our mental and physiological systems can cause an internal scream simply by imagining a sad, scary, upsetting, threatening situation.
A situation that is not even happening now, in the present moment. Maybe it happened in the past, maybe it happens repeatedly in our imagination, or maybe it is a situation we merely anticipate. Nevertheless, our entire body responds as if it is happening right here and now.
Now what? How do we send the message to our body that we’re not being chased by tigers? Our evolutionary patterning wires us to run or fight for our lives when our well-being or survival feels threatened. What does this mean in our 21st century lives when we have everything we need and more-more-more? But our nervous systems are set to respond to signals of threat, even when that threat is generated by our finely-tuned minds and not by external circumstances.
If we imagine someone we love cheating , a child getting hurt, getting a bad report on our performance or ________(insert just about anything that spikes your fear response), our adrenals react and immediately pour out adrenaline and noradrenaline for our fight or flight responses. This would be less of a problem if we had an unlimited supply of these resources, or infinite capacity to metabolize them away when we realize we are safe, but we don’t. As we deplete them through our constant state of alarm, fatigue, alcohol, and family issues, this life’s traumas kick in, and our immune system is progressively compromised.
So, what to do? We’ve become habituated to living in pychic fear, and our body can become dependent on the cycle of fear and adrenaline. Our cultural addiction to fear is evident in our cultural obsession with news programs, television shows, video games, and movies that evoke the fear response. This is an energetic and physiological addiction. Yet even if we take away these voluntary “triggers,” many of us are still plagued by waves of anxiety, anticipation, scarcity, and imagined threats. Given that this psychological stress seems to be a part of contemporary tiger-free life, how do we move into our fear, look it in the face, and dismantle the stories we carry in our cells that spark this fear response?
Research and common sense tell us that you cannot simply stuff these fear responses in the closet and dress up in a big yogic smile, nor can you sweep them under the practice carpet and pretend everything is wall-to-wall abundance. We might get a brief reprieve, but fears return if not seen, met, and understood from the inside out. While this can sometimes be painful, difficult, and—well, frightening—there are practices within the yogic traditions to help us change our relationship to fear.
When we get hooked into a fear response, an opportunity has come to cleanse our perception. From the perspective of wholeness, triggers are a special form of grace. Not the sort of grace that is sweet, peaceful, and calming, but the kind that is wrathful, fierce, and reorganizing. When it gets tight, claustrophobic, and we are burning for relief, the invitation is laid before you. To carve out a new pathway. To face the disturbing energy and flood it with presence. To infuse the vulnerability underneath the storyline of fear with warm, empathic attunement— and with the earth as your witness—to commit to the radical path of non-abandonment.
These triggers are not obstacles to your path. They are the very path itself. While they feel disturbing, they can catalyze eruptions of creativity and aliveness, and serve as guardians of the threshold. In this way, they are worthy of our honor, our care, and our holding.
While it may appear otherwise, these triggers are only love in disguise, appearing in infinite forms to guide you home. So, we cultivate the courage to turn toward our fears and step-by-step—no matter the myriad of old defense mechanisms screaming for us to turn and run—we walk right into the center of our fears. There, in the eye of the storm, we breathe and allow fear to be what guides us home, to the that place within us we where we can rest in fully.