Courage Facing Fears – 2023

Fran Miller, Ph.D. ©

There are many circumstances in life which cause us to experience fear. Sometimes in the face of an imminent emergency we don’t feel fear because we act or react so quickly in the moment that there is no time for fear. But often when an emergency suddenly occurs, fears rise up and we are forced to act in spite of fear. Sometimes we experience fear about circumstances that may never happen. However, often we experience anticipatory fear about something that could happen such as fears about the wellbeing of family members, about job security, political or social circumstances, about financial matters, health, illness or even death.

Morinaga Soko is a Buddhist monk who trained at Daishu-In in Kyoto, Japan. He trained Western students there and later in Northern California. In an article called, “My Struggle to Become a Zen Monk”, he stated, “Real courage is enduring and holding firm in the face of one’s own faint-heartedness.” Throughout our lives, in many circumstances, we are challenged to be strong and determined in the face of fear, and to be able to meet the sudden unexpected events life presents to us.

In the workbook, Thoughts and Feelings, by Fanning, McKay, and Davis, they discuss the importance of mobilizing one’s energies in order to work with depression. When we are depressed and also when we are fearful, it is helpful to think about mobilizing ourselves and our resources, to reflect on goals, and to make detailed plans to implement them.

One important and preliminary effort in dealing with fear is to make emergency plans. We know emergency planning is recommended, but sometimes we haven’t actually taken that action. So it is helpful to put together an emergency kit. If we are literally prepared for an emergency like an earthquake, heatwave, blizzard, or storm, we can rest assured that we have taken precautions, and are prepared in a practical way.

There are other practical actions that we can take regarding fearful possibilities. So it is important to name the possibilities that concern you and plan for each one. For example, regarding financial concerns you can plan for and take steps like saving for specific needs, getting financial advice, or making financial investments.

Anxiety always accompanies uncertainty and also fears. There are many actions we can take to help with anxiety. I have an article on this website called Reducing Anxiety With Surprising Results, so I won’t repeat those recommendations here. However, in addition to psychotherapy, the two activities that can help us the most with anxiety and fear are exercise and meditation.

In older age, after some amount of reflection and investigation, I began to train in Tae Kwon Do. I had spent ten years in my youth studying ballet so ballet, plus regular exercise and stretching, made Tae Kwon Do a possibility for me. In October, 2022, I received my Black Belt. I mention this because with regard to fear, a martial art has two specific benefits. First, and obviously, it is strengthening. In an emergency, and in many circumstances in life, strength is extremely advantageous. Also in Tae Kwon Do training, there is a “black belt philosophy” for each color belt. For example, focus is the black belt philosophy for white belt. Perseverance is the black belt philosophy for brown belt. Another is goal-setting. It can be invaluable if we identify values that can help and guide us. Focus, determination, discipline, patience, goal-setting, perseverance, and endurance are extremely beneficial values to develop. A fighting spirit, strength, and these values can help us combat fears.

Meditation may seem like a challenging or difficult effort, but with training, meditation can be a regular activity in your daily life that can help reduce both anxiety and fear. Through formal instruction at a local Buddhist group, as a part of psychotherapy, or possibly through books that provide meditation instruction, you can begin and maintain a regular meditation practice. The research on the effects of meditation is extensive and impressive. Research shows that there is reduction in stress, depression, and anxiety even with a limited amount of meditation practice. With regular and consistent meditation practice there are many effects including less reactivity, actual neural and structural brain changes, and increased relaxation, calm, and peacefulness (Goleman and Davidson). With a long term and consistent practice, spiritual qualities can develop like generosity, zeal, compassion, and wisdom (Robert Aitken).

If we have an emergency preparedness kit, if we plan for specific areas of concern, if we enter psychotherapy or develop a meditation practice, and if we exercise and literally develop our strength, then we can know that we will be able to endure and hold firm in the face of our own faintheartedness. When we conquer fear we can come to appreciate and value to the fullest – life in the present moment.

The Buddhist Sutra called The Heart Sutra states:

The Boddhisatva lives by prajna paramita, With no hindrance in the mind
No hindrance and therefore no fear.
Far beyond delusive thinking,
Right here is Nirvana.