“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~George Addair
My parents were teenagers when they had their first of three children. I was the middle child. They were uneducated, poor, and had very difficult upbringings.
As I recall my childhood, most of what I remember is how fearful both of my parents were.
They were constantly stressed out about money, the kids, the tattered house, the rusty car, and everything else in their lives.
My mother, my first role model, was so scared of the world. She definitely had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. She was afraid to drive a car, afraid to eat in restaurants, afraid to go shopping, afraid of strangers.
She was completely crippled by fear.
In order to cope with all their anxiety, my parents often turned to binge drinking and smoking.
I remember watching the cigarette smoke form a thick haze throughout the house. My siblings and I had no choice but to inhale the second-hand smoke every day. Even our clothes and school books smelled like an ashtray.
I hated to see them drink because it often led to angry outbursts.
Throughout my childhood, I witnessed many painful and sometimes tragic events. My parents’ reaction to such events was always overdramatized and downright scary at times. They never knew how to cope in a civilized or peaceful manner.
Needless to say, my childhood was filled to the brim with fearful experiences.
I desperately wanted to free myself from all the pain and fear. I just wanted to break free and be happy.
I vividly recall, at the age of eleven, making a promise to myself that I would do my best to get out of that mess. I knew my only escape route would be to study hard, go to university on student loans, and get a good job.
I locked myself in my bedroom, wearing sound blocking earmuffs, and studied every day until I graduated from university at the age of twenty-three.
Graduation day was one of the best days of my life. I finally got my ticket to freedom and happiness. At least, that was what I thought….
After that, everything fell neatly into place. I got a good job, got married, bought a nice house, and had two beautiful children.
But, despite all of these wonderful external experiences, I hadn’t escaped the clutch of fear. It was like a leech from childhood that wouldn’t let go.
I often cursed my parents for saturating me with such fear.
I made sure to hide it, especially from my loved ones and coworkers. I didn’t want my children to suffer like I did, and I didn’t want my employer or coworkers to see my weakness.
But the fear was building. It was starting to beat me up. I wouldn’t be able to hold it in much longer.
I had to figure out how to deal with this fear, and I had to do it fast.
My heart and soul told me to dive deeply into the spiritual aspect of life.
I diligently consumed a huge amount of spiritual/self-help/philosophical literature, attended numerous classes and retreats, and faithfully practiced much of what I had learned.
I was enthralled by it all and genuinely excited. This world wisdom resonated to the core of my being.
I finally found the tools necessary to help catapult me to the other side of fear.
Over the past several years I’ve adopted many spiritual practices. They have not only helped me deal with fear, but have improved every aspect of my life.
Here are the top lessons I’ve learned:
1. The present moment is powerful.
There is so much clarity, peace, and joy in the present moment. To truly let go of the past and stop fearing the future is liberating. It’s the doorway to freedom.
Daily meditation is one of the best ways to fully experience the present moment.
I have a handful of meditation techniques in my toolbox, but I often resort to simple breath meditation for thirty minutes a day to help ground me in the present moment. As well, I practice mindfulness daily.
One way I practice is to eat mindfully for one meal each day. I am fully present while I eat. I eat slowly and I engage my senses. I pay attention to how the food looks, tastes, and smells. I feel it in my mouth and how it settles in my body. I try to experience the food as though it was my first time ever tasting it. With such focus, I inevitably slip into the present moment.
It doesn’t matter if you meditate, practice mindful eating, or turn any other daily activity into an opportunity for mindfulness; what matters is that you create time to practice living fully in the present moment.
2. Awareness is essential.
We are not what we think we are; we are not our thoughts. With this higher level of awareness, you can step outside of yourself and watch your mind as it races from one thought to another. And you can witness your habitual emotional reactions to those thoughts.
You become the empowered watcher of your mind instead of being lost and entangled in the web of thoughts and emotions. You realize that you have a choice in how you react to your thoughts and feelings.
To give you a more concrete description of what I’m talking about here, I will give you an example of how I use a higher level of awareness to deal with potentially stressful situations in everyday life.
I had an important work project to complete and I started to feel overwhelmed because I thought I wouldn’t be able to meet my deadline.
Rather than automatically defaulting back into my fearful feelings, thoughts, and reactions, I stopped myself immediately. I took a few slow deep breaths and focused on the sensations of my breathing. This helped me connect with the present moment and offered space between my thoughts and my actions.
Then, I spoke statements to myself that made me feel better, including: “It’s not the end of the world if I can’t finish this,” “My boss knows I’m a good worker and he may extend the deadline,” and “If I take a few minutes to relax my mind, I will work more productively.”
The simple acts of stopping myself, focusing on my breath, and talking positively to myself brought me to a higher level of awareness. I realized I had a choice in how I could think and react. Within a few minutes I calmed myself down completely and I successfully finished the project on time.
3. Happiness is within.
All of the great spiritual teachers, masters, and philosophers of the world share the same message that happiness cannot be found outside of us, in the external world. There is no person, place, material possession, or amount of money that will bring you true, lasting happiness.
Rather, happiness is found within. You have to spend time taking care of yourself and closely evaluating what makes you feel happy. It will vary from person to person.
My first encounter with true inner happiness occurred during meditation. I had been practicing for about a year at that point.
As I sat in stillness, I felt myself gently go beyond the tangle of thoughts and emotions. I shifted from a baseline of worry to a feeling of peace and happiness. It was wonderful. I finally tapped into a state of consciousness that was hiding inside of me my whole life.
I also feel happier inside when I eat well, exercise, sleep well, practice gratitude, spend time with loving friends and family, and listen to uplifting music.
Shift your focus from externals and you’ll be better equipped to identify the little things that bring you peace and joy.
I was dumped into the depths of fear when I arrived on this planet. But with courage, focus, belief, and desire I ploughed myself a path to happiness.
My life today is quite the opposite to that of my childhood. Now, I enjoy my life. I appreciate and love my family, friends, and the life I have built.
Please don’t get me wrong—my life has its challenges. Challenges are a normal part of human existence.
But now, I have the tools necessary to prevent myself from defaulting back to my old, habitual, negative, and fearful way of thinking. Instead, I try my best to focus on the good in life and consistently reach for the valuable lessons in every difficulty.
Today, when I look back at my childhood, I feel love and forgiveness toward my parents. I now realize that they tried their best from where they stood. They were just human beings lost in the whirlwind of fear and struggle.
In fact, without my childhood, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I feel that my childhood clearly showed me what I didn’t want and, in turn, it forced me to focus on what I really wanted in life, what we all want—to be happy.
Happy brain image via Shutterstock