Working with fear in the body

In our previous post we explored faith as an antidote to fear. Faith usually develops gradually. What can we do in the moment when her fear is stronger than our faith. Working with fear in the body can immediately lessen the hold that fear has on us. I’d like to share two somatic practices that can take us from being lost in anxiety or fear to open spacious awareness.

First let’s look at grounding. Grounding, feeling the abundant support the earth offers, is the energetic lesson that we all needed to learn from the second trimester in the womb until approximately two years old. Even if you had a loving mother like I did, there were almost certainly moments in your early childhood when you felt unsupported or temporarily abandoned or had an accident or trauma or an illness. Fear arose. Fear is the emotion that arises when we are ungrounded, when we don’t feel supported. Grounding immediately and directly cuts through fear. My earliest memory is joyfully crawling across the carpet in the family living room. The pattern in the carpet is still clear in my mind. I found a metal hairpin on the floor. Right in front of me in the wall were two holes, the electrical socket. In my preverbal state I thought “Fantastic! This fits in both holes so let’s do it!” You can guess what happened next. What did I learn? The world is not safe. Following my curiosity can be painful and dangerous. Zero to two years of age is the time we learn to trust being dependent on the support of the ground beneath us, the earth element, our mother, the Mother. A therapist acquaintance of mine once said “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”

Eastern contemplative practices from Hinduism and Buddhism that are so popular now were developed by and for people many centuries ago that were grounded, people who walked around barefoot without an iPhone. These practices assume that we are already grounded which is not the case for many Westerners. For decades I did intensive meditation practice, did many retreats and had remarkable experiences. Integrating practice into my daily life was another story. A few days after the retreat was over I was 99.9% as neurotic as when the retreat began. Only when I finally realized how ungrounded I often was and began to bring grounding into my practice, did the fruits of meditation begin to permeate my life. I’m a difficult case having a PhD in mathematics. Dropping down out of my head that was so good at analyzing and categorizing and understanding into the base, into accepting this grounding energy, was profoundly challenging as well as deeply healing.

Here is the best grounding practice I know: as you breathe out, feel or visualize that you are pushing energy out through the base of your torso into the earth that supports and nourishes, not the earth of dirt and rocks. Let the out breath be full and then with an easy, natural in breath receive this grounding energy. You’re pushing out through the perineum. If you have a hard time inhabiting this part of your energetic body that many of us have at least partially abandoned, then tighten the muscles in the perineum and the upper inner thigh muscles for a few breaths so you can begin to feel this part of your body. This exercise is not muscular but energetic. It is a very direct way to go beyond fear. I’ve had meditation students working on the front lines of medical care in inner-city hospitals who were burning out and contemplating leaving their jobs. Bringing this grounding practice into their work transformed a deeply stressful situation into one that brought them great satisfaction. I hope you find it as healing as I have.

I will leave the second grounding practice to the next post.