Are you missing these mindfulness ingredients when dealing with fear?

Written by Maisie Loh
4 mins read
Published on Dec 13, 2023

TLDR: ‘McMindfulness’ is a term for describing commercial mindfulness divorced from its Buddhist roots. You are missing a key ingredient of mindfulness if you are using the practice as another tool to get rid of unpleasant feelings such as fear.

Mindfulness is the key word for stress reduction in today’s world, so much so it has been given the term “McMindfulness” where the practice has become commercialised and departed from its roots. In its ancient form, mindfulness is for overcoming fear and getting to know ourselves deeply, and not just a wellness tool.

There are different types of fear such as financial loss, losing reputation and our lives.

The last fear is something that drives most of us – the need to make a name for ourselves before we die, or seek comfort for a long life. However, all fears are existential.

What underlies most fear is the fear of being rejected. The fear of rejection by society can lead to survival problems (not being in a herd means we are more easily attacked, or have less assistance from others when we need help), threatening our existence. Unfortunately, we seldom contemplate such matters until a serious challenge in life forces us to look within.

What Drives Fear?

Fear is a strong human instinct and is a healthy natural state for survival.

However, in our society, corporations have created an unnatural psychological fear in our pursuit of profits.

For instance, we fear not looking beautiful, not having enough and not being healthy. Do you see how all these fears are driven by beauty, investing, and get-fit personal training advertisements we see everywhere?

Different mindfulness techniques for working with fear

One of the powerful techniques in mindfulness for overcoming fear is to befriend fear. Befriending fear is a wonderful technique for overcoming fear. When we treat someone as a friend, that person cannot antagonise us and it is the same way with negative feelings.

However, the technique of befriending fear may not be useful for all situations, especially if one’s mind has no clarity or concentration.

Learning to be with fear is another way to get to know it deeply by watching fear arise and subside on its own. This takes a strong mindfulness practice because most times we react to fear as opposed to just observing and being with it.

Another powerful method for working with fear is to accept the situation (things we cannot change). To accept is to run towards the fear instead of avoiding it.

It is by running towards it, as opposed to turning away from it, that the energy of fear is able to flow. 

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Life itself is a constant flow. It is our resistance that causes stress, which blocks the energy flow of these different emotions in our bodies.

But isn’t mindfulness a technique to get rid of fear? This is the biggest misconception of mindfulness. 

Unlike going for a massage to relieve pain, mindfulness is not about getting rid of feelings we dislike. 

This misconception is significant because it highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of what mindfulness truly entails. Mindfulness isn’t a tool for erasing or suppressing uncomfortable emotions like fear. Instead, it encourages us to acknowledge and understand these emotions, fostering a healthier relationship with them. 

By embracing our feelings, including those we dislike, mindfulness empowers us to navigate life’s challenges with greater resilience and inner peace. It offers a path to coexist with our emotions, ultimately leading to personal growth and emotional well-being.

Overcoming fear by letting go of control

Since fear is a natural biological instinct, we can learn to trust that it is there to help us. However, since we humans are also a part of nature, we need not fear the feeling of fear when we are facing possible death of the self because death is natural. 

The key ingredient that is missing in secular mindfulness practice is confidence or faith.

This faith isn’t a blind belief but a trust in the process and the wisdom of the Buddha and those who developed these practices over centuries.

A lot of people reject negative emotions and use meditation as another tool to get rid of them.

For example, a practitioner who is feeling lonely may start to watch the breath so as to forget feeling lonely. However, this is just another form of distraction. True mindfulness encourages us to confront and understand our emotions, even the uncomfortable ones, rather than simply using it as a distraction tool.

Faith in the process can help practitioners stay committed to this transformative journey.)

Mindfulness is not meditation

Meditation is the deliberate act of training the mind to be collected and stable. When we place awareness on the breath in meditation, it can alleviate unpleasant feelings. However, the same unpleasant feeling may return when we come out of the meditation practice.

It is as if we have used a rock to cover the moss (unpleasant thing) instead of uprooting it. Once the rock is removed, the moss remains there.

Meditation is a support for mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a tool to distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings. First, we learn to steady our minds with meditation. Then, we use this strength of the concentrated mind to observe and accompany unpleasant feelings. Why?

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With mindfulness, we can become familiar with what comes after unpleasant feelings such as fear. Watching how the fear fades and the next emotion that arises strengthens our understanding of feelings and their nature to fluctuate. It cannot stay forever. Just like musical notes. Music is made of both high and low keys. 

When we learn over and over again to be with fear, we realise there is no need to push away fear as it arises and passes away.

We can also gain confidence through the practice that fear or any painful feeling is also followed by different emotions which can be relief.

I leave you with some techniques you can apply to managing fear.

What are some techniques i can apply?

Here are 3 techniques for overcoming fear:

  1. Befriend: When the feelings of fear arise, welcome the feeling by mentally noting “Hello my friend, there you are again.”
  2. Being with: Stay with the feelings of fear means to feel its sensations (knowing the body temperature has risen, there are more sensitive vibrations in the body) in the body and not reject them by wanting to feel something else.
  3. Run towards: When the fear comes, see it as an adrenalin rush, run towards it and tell yourself it is good to have more of this energy because you can use this excess energy to exercise or to dance your fears away.

Wise Steps:

  • When facing fear, stay present with the feeling in the body, don’t run – if you are a mindfulness practitioner.
  • Notice what comes at the end of fear when you stay present with it mindfully. Know the end of fear again and again, because the end of fear is the same gap between thoughts and all feelings.
  • Know the difference between meditation and mindfulness; find different ways we can incorporate them into day-to-day life.

Author: Maisie Loh

Maisie enjoys the practice of mindfulness amidst distractions and sharing it through writing, and teaching as a mindfulness coach at Mindful Breath

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