An Australian friend came to stay with me this week for a few days. We hadn’t seen each other for years and as we did what she likes to call “chin wagging” (talking non-stop about anything and everything), we picked up right where we had left off. We shared our world views that had been informed by our different life paths and I recalled who I was and how I felt when we knew each other way back when. I looked at what moved me in the past and what moves me now. I looked at what mattered then and what matters now. Most of all, I reviewed what what was scary in the past and what is scary now, how I felt about fear in the past and how I feel about it now.

When someone admonishes you, “Stop being afraid. You have nothing to be afraid of,” they’re trying to be helpful. But those comments invalidate our human feelings. I used to see fear as a negative quality. If I felt afraid, I thought I was failing in my efforts to be a courageous person. I used it to chastise and exert pressure on myself when I needed compassion and understanding more than anything.

Many of us received messages when we were children that being afraid was shameful. I certainly got that message but as the years have passed, my interpretation of fear has changed. I see that having fear is part of being human and if we cut off difficult feelings and reject ourselves, we are cutting off our loving feelings as well. In order to avoid paralysis, we have to embrace fear and face it with an open heart. We have to get comfortable with it. When we learn to smile at fear and just be with it, we are spiritual warriors. This is how we become an authentic friend to ourselves and develop self-confidence.

Myth: The way to overcome fear is by acting fearless.

Truth: The way to overcome fear is to feel it.

There are so many triggers for fear: rejection, betrayal, aging, illness, unreasonable expectations, miscommunications. The list goes on and on. But whatever thrusts us into a fearful state, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, the path to transformation is moving into fear instead of moving away from it. Accepting it instead of rejecting it. Opening to it instead of shutting down. My experience tells me that if I abandon myself when I’m afraid, it only gets worse. When fear arises at this point in my life, I practice opening my heart and seeing it as a valid emotion. “Hello fear. I know you well,” I tell it. “And I’m right here to deal with you. I’m not going anywhere.”

Myth: Avoiding fear is the only way to feel safe.

Truth: Being with fear is the way to feel safe.

The Dalai Lama suggests that the opposite of fear is trust and warm-heartedness, qualities that boost our self-confidence. Compassion for others and for ourselves reduces fear and increases our commitment to well being. This is how we heal ourselves and attract real friends. When you hide fear, it gains momentum. When you acknowledge and share it, it dissipates and becomes a conduit for love.

How do you feel about fear? What do you do with it?