The fear reels

Buddhists have a name for the constant chatter in our minds, the reel that keeps playing, pretending to be in the background, talking through our fears – they call it the “monkey mind.”

The monkey mind is the stream from one thought to the next to the next (“what did she mean by that email?…what does she think of me anyway?…I’m not sure I can pull this off…what if we don’t, then what…?…).  But it’s a treadmill – you never get anywhere, never reach any conclusions.

It’s pernicious because it’s pervasive and passive – so you may never confront it head on, and never understand how much it is holding you back.

I’ve found two pieces of advice helpful in taking this on.  The first was suggested by a yoga teacher years ago.  He said, at the start of class,“Take all the things that are worrying you, that are troubling and stressful and on your mind, and leave them outside of class – on the sidewalk.  Just for the duration of class.  I promise you they’ll be there waiting for you when class is over.”

I love this because it’s so practical and it’s actually asking less of us, so it feels possible: don’t stop worrying forever, don’t pretend that you will simply rise above.  Just commit to leaving the worries aside for 90 minutes. By promising yourself that you get to go back to your worries, you discover that it is easier to let go of them.  And sometimes, leaving them aside temporarily can free you from them permanently.

There’s another approach, equally deliberate, which is the opposite of letting go of the chatter: go straight towards the chatter, address the thoughts and take them all the way to resolution.  Instead of letting go of the loop, you break through by moving forward and making a commitment to a resolution.  The circle is broken, and the next time the thoughts start, you have broken the reel, and you’re free.

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4 thoughts on “The fear reels

  1. This is great advise, Sasha.

    I had a guy help me years ago help to process fears in the second way you mention. He had me, in the moment, write down what the sayings were and bring them to him. They were things like “They wont like me”, “I will screw this up forever”.

    He then went over them one by one and told me what he thought the honest truth was about me. I still remember every single word he said.

    Him being an advocate for me taught me to be an advocate for myself in those moments.

  2. Very cool, Sasha.

    I’ve come to personally use “grounding,” a type of meditation (even bring it into my workshops for those who are drawn to it). It’s important that those who want to change the world (or raise the money to change the world) have this power going for them.

    I’ve borrowed from another practice (Shambhala), the notion that when thoughts arise, they are silently noticed as “thinking” — instead of trying to block them or get rid of them. And the focus is simply returned to the breath. A much gentler, appreciative way of treating ourselves.

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