The Joy of Fear

Years ago, I realized that I feel fear a lot.  Not necessarily bone-shaking, run-from-the-tiger terror, but low-grade, knotted-ball-in-the-tummy fear.  Most of the time.  I even got it diagnosed:  generalized anxiety.  This basically means I’m afraid of everything.  Or, more precisely, I am fearful and I often cannot identify the object of my fear, or if I can, my fear is out of proportion with its object.  (Readers who saw last week’s post may remember me being afraid of becoming abandoned and homeless when my feet started to hurt.  That, my friends, is out of proportion.)

We need fear.  Fear protects us and keeps us from danger.  Fear tells us that there is something important happening.  I was feeling it so much, though, that it started to take over.  I found myself walking through my life feeling contracted and obsessive.  When I feel anxious, I tend to get controlling.  As if controlling everything will help me avoid the fear.

Recently, I had an insight:  Fear is to the emotional body what pain is to the physical body.  As a Nia teacher, this makes fear more tangible instead of infuriatingly amorphous and elusive.  This insight, in combination with Nia Principle 1, The Joy of Movement, is helping me shift my relationship to fear.

White Belt Principle 1:  The Joy of Movement.  On the surface it seems simple:  movement feels good and when we move we feel joy, right?  Well, right…and it’s not just that.  The Joy of Movement is about “Joy” with a capital “J.”  Capital “J” Joy includes but is not limited to enjoyment and pleasure.  The Joy of Movement invites us to be present with and curious about everything that happens when we’re moving.

Part of Principle 1 is about receiving pleasure and delight in the moving body.  The Joy is most definitely about the precious magic in the moving human form.  Principle 1 is also about being present with the frustration of not finding a step or hating the music, feeling a foot cramp or a pang in the low back.  The Joy of Movement is about both the pleasure and the pain and our ability to be present with both.

Fear is to the emotional body what pain is to the physical body.

Pain is important.  We need pain.  Pain tells us that something important is happening and that we need to pay attention.  Principle 1 invites us to slow down and notice all sensation, including pain.  The Joy of Movement asks us to investigate pain:  Is it dull or sharp? Is it throbbing or steady? Does it hurt only when I move or also when I’m still?  What kinds of movement intensify or lessen the pain? In some ways, The Joy of Movement is also The Joy of Pain.

Many of us were taught to avoid pain at all costs.  When something hurts me, my reflex is a speeded-up impulse to make it go away.   As soon as I feel it, my urge is to cover it up and do whatever I can to separate myself from the sensation.  Other times, I can get lost in the pain and let it define me.  Pain can spiral into an exacerbated manifestation that may not reflect the actual situation.  A low back pain trembles into my awareness and I can (either in my mind or in actuality) immediately be looking for the pain killers and a ride to the ER.  Principle 1 suggests that there is as much to learn from pain as pleasure.

At the risk of sounding insufferably woo-woo, I often tell students who ask me about their pain or injury, that one of the most helpful things they can do is to get quiet and listen to what the body has to say.  This kind of inquiry can be invaluable and it is something that only you can do.

Fear is to the emotional body what pain is to the physical body.

Fear is the same.  Many of us have been taught to believe that fear is bad, weak and gets in the way.  Like pain in the physical body, our reflex may be to either ignore it or to spiral out into exaggerated stories.  Ignoring the fear often literally sends the emotion into the body where it will show up in strangely out-of-proportion reactions and/or in generalized anxiety (as it did for me).  Spiraling into terrifying tales of homelessness and gruesome death leave us distracted and exhausted.  All worked up about things that never happen.

[Serendipitous Note:  Completely coincidentally, my incredible therapist, James Yates, is offering a free seminar on Thursday, Jan 19 called Face Your Fear.  I cannot recommend James and his body-centered work highly enough.  In fact, you might find some of his ideas in my posts and my teaching!]

Meanwhile I’m missing the opportunities that fear offers.  Whether it is the immediate danger of a car pulling out unexpectedly or a decades-old fear of embarrassment stemming from that harrowing book report incident in 5th grade, fear is telling us something important and is asking us to pay attention.

Since fear is simply emotional pain, one helpful avenue of investigation is to go to the body, with the intention of feeling what is actually happening and of staying in the present moment (rather than mushrooming into the moment that you move into the box under the bridge).  Simply slowing down and taking the time to feel the sensations in the body, can give lots of information about what is happening and what is at the core of the fear.  Whether the object of the fear is known or not, simply listening to the body can reveal volumes.  In some ways, The Joy of Movement is also The Joy of Fear.

Fear is to the emotional body what pain is to the physical body.

Nia Principle 1 offers a radical approach to pain and fear:  two things that we are culturally encouraged to avoid.  The Joy of Movement invites curiosity about everything that happens in the body.  Inviting that same curiosity into the emotional realm, we can investigate fear – whether immediate or free-floating – to get to its source and to be truly present.

This presence then gives us choices about how we want to respond to pain or fear.  Nia Brown Belt Principle 7 proposes that all choices come from either love or fear.  All choices.  Every single one.

Ah, and that’s a post for another day.

For now, experiment with Principle 1:  The Joy of Movement and see where the inquiry leads you.


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