“Be daring, be fearless and don’t be afraid that somebody is going to criticize or laugh at you. If your ego is not involved no-one can hurt you” Mahala Punateer
Do you sometimes find that there’s something stopping you from trying new things, from overcoming obstacles, from speaking up, or from doing something a little crazy or out of your comfort zone?
Have you ever asked yourself what it is that’s stopping you?
I propose there’s one thing common to us all that holds us back: it is fear.
OK if you’re faced with a situation where your physical or emotional safety could be compromised, fear is probably a healthy reaction.
But beyond that, fear becomes debilitating.
What’s making you scared?
This fear is about being scared we’re going to be judged, criticised or laughed at by others. That we won’t fit in. That we’re not good enough.
But why fear? Because our ego is driving this reaction: our ego-mind is telling us we should be perfect, that actually we’re better than everyone else. The fear comes from the thought that we might fail to prove ourselves to be superior to those around us.
So our fear of being criticized stems from our ego telling us that we’re better than everyone else … The mind is a funny thing; you’ve got to laugh at yourself haven’t you?!
Does this make sense to you?
Think of an example when you stopped yourself from doing something because that voice in your head said you couldn’t do it or that you’d look stupid. What were you scared of? Why? What was the worst that could have happened? Why would it have mattered if you’d “failed”? What’s looking stupid anyway?
Is there an element of pride or vanity or ego in your answers?
A few of my challenges
In a spirit of honesty here are some of the things that I find difficult to do that, in a perfect world, wouldn’t bother me:
Wheel Pose – I’ve never done it and haven’t tried for a while. Perhaps my spine isn’t quite flexible enough but I’m also well aware there’s a big dose of fear in there. Fear I’ll hurt my back (unlikely as I know how to move safely); a sense of fear as the back bend and throat opening this pose gives can feel quite vulnerable.
And then the ego kicks in: I’m a bad yogi because surely by now I “should” be able to do it. And now the pride kicks in: but I understand the depths of yoga so much better than all these other people so I’m still the best yogi… Ha ha!
Solution: I practise a gentler back bend supported by a bolster or cushions and gently allow my body to open and soften; and affectionately laugh at my pride.
Using escalators – I experience a real, visceral fear I’m going to fall. My palms start to sweat, my heart starts pumping and my breathing goes shallow. I panic. And no amount of breathing, visualisations or affirmations seems to get me through it. Faced with using the London underground … well, if I can’t use the shallow Circle or District lines then I’ll walk or get the bus.
And then the ego kicks in: why I am being so ridiculous. I should pull myself together and force myself to get on the escalator – what a wimp for getting the bus instead. People must think I’m so silly. And now the pride kicks in: if all these lesser mortals can cope with something as ordinary as an escalator why can’t I?! Tee hee!
Solution: stop being so hard on myself! Buses are great. Walking or taking the stairs is much healthier. And take baby steps. And I went on a small escalator yesterday and was fine 🙂
Speaking up in groups – faced with a large-ish group of people I tend to hold back in group discussions (whether at work or amongst acquaintances and friends). I find myself a bit intimidated by other people’s ability to articulate their thoughts clearly. I fear that if I speak up I won’t be able to express myself clearly enough.
And then the ego kicks in: they’ll think I’m stupid or won’t agree with what I’m saying. And now the pride kicks in: because actually I am more intelligent than most of these people so I should be able to argue them into a corner and browbeat them into accepting my opinion. Nice.
Solution: next time I notice these thoughts, take a deep breath, listen to what others have to say and speak up myself, with confidence and without attachment to the outcome or worrying about what others will think.
Shine your light
So how do we deal with this ego-driven fear?
We notice it and name it.
Awareness is the light which we can shine into the deepest elements of our self to be able to see and understand what is driving us.
We need courage and discipline to do this, but it’s worth it. We need to show ourselves some love and acceptance.
And our yoga practice can help us to develop this discipline by encouraging us to draw our awareness inwards. To feel our bodies as we move. To notice our breath and how it affects our mood. To see how shifting emotions lead to particular thoughts, and vice versa.
And to be OK with whatever we experience.
This helps to get in touch with our thoughts and encourages us to be aware of their effects.
And this connects us to an inner, silent observer who can name the thoughts without getting pulled along by them, thus creating a space where we can choose how to act rather than continuously repeating cycles of unhealthy reactions.
The antidote to fear is love
Ultimately we can begin to see and understand for ourselves that we are guided by two basic instincts: fear and love.
Fear leads us to separation – from our self and others.
Love leads us to connection – to our inner wisdom, to each other and to a sense of infinite love which binds all living things.
Connect to your inner guide and choose love.
So here’s a recent example when I over-rode my ego’s voice and did what I wanted, with joy.
I was at a work do where there was a great live band playing some of the music I love (shout out to Threepenny Bit). My foot was tapping all night, my shoulders dancing.
Apart from the set dances, nobody was getting up to free wheel and go for it. I was itching to get up and throw some moves on the empty dance floor. But something kept stopping me. All those eyes watching me. What if they thought I looked like a prat?
Then it came to the last set of the evening. And I thought, sod it. I love to dance, I’m going for it!
So I did. I got up and danced – with a massive smile on my face, feeling totally alive, and completely in the flow of that moment. Even with a whole room of people watching me. And I loved it … despite the people watching me …OK, all right then, that was fun too because I let my inner show-off shine through!
I let myself be me.
But when I got home a little voice inside felt embarrassed that I’d done it, that people thought I was silly / looked stupid / was drunk / am a show off / am conceited.
Then a deeper intuition noticed this fear-driven voice and said, that’s OK. Even if anyone did think that, does it matter? No-one was hurt.
I’d followed my instinct to move, to be joyful, to enjoy the moment, to feel the music and express it in the most natural way possible. I felt in love with life. And it felt so much better than not doing something because I was worried about what others would think.
So dance as though no-one is watching you.
Show true courage and strength.
Live your life with love and joy.