The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the
unobserved mind runs your life.” ~Eckhart Tolle
For a very long time fear has controlled me. It has paralyzed me, kept me
living in desperate situations, and stopped me from living the life of my
It has only been with age and the practice of mindfulness these last few
years that I have come to recognize the fear within me, having finally begun the
process of facing it.
By facing fear I don’t mean that I’ve started
base-jumping, purposely trapped myself in elevators, or allowed tarantulas to
climb all over my body.
I mean that I’ve sat in meditation, watched the fears arise, and
rather than react to them or allow them to become part of the stories that make
up my life, I’ve observed them in my mind from a distance.
I’ve felt how they’ve manifested in my
body, and I’ve moved into that physical discomfort in order to pay attention to
fear in a way I’ve never allowed myself to do before.
When I think about the compulsive and addictive activities that have kept me
stuck in a place of fear in the past, they all come from stories that play
through my head everyday. For example:
Shopping : I shop to feel better about myself. I believe
that the pair of celebrity-endorsed high heels I’ve just bought will make me
glamorous enough to fit in with the goddesses I see around me and therefore help
me feel accepted.
Interestingly, I don’t feel bad about myself unless I’m comparing myself to others. Therefore in the
comparing, I’m looking at others who have what I don’t have and, as a result,
fear that I’m unstylish, lacking in physical appeal, or not beautiful
Overeating : When the new pair of high heels I’ve been
wearing to work everyday go unnoticed, start to slowly destroy my feet, and
still haven’t prompted an invite to the ‘right’ parties, I give up and start to
search the fridge.
I discover a tub of ice-cream or pack of cookies that may not make me more
beautiful or accepted, but help me to fill my stomach up and create a fullness
in the exact place that fear is beginning to dig a deeper and deeper hole inside
Television : When that sick feeling deep down in my stomach
starts rising again, but this time from a mix of cookies and cream and a base of
fear, I sit in the comfiest chair I can find and reach for the remote
Rather than listen to the personal derision that I’ve switched to repeat in
my mind I watch re-runs of my favorite reality show. I can then cheer the
reality star on as I would a friend. Or I can sit and degrade them to make
myself feel better by utilizing the meanest thoughts I have going through my
head now targeted towards them.
Surfing : I would love to say that after this fear based
self-pity and hatred party I would choose to hit the shore with my trusty long
board to work off that ice-cream, but unless that board comes with a qwerty
keyboard I’m more inclined to stay at home.
Only after watching other people live their busy lives does it actually
register that I should reach out and connect with my friends.
And having destroyed my feet in high heels, eaten an entire quart of
ice-cream all by myself, and vegged out in front of the TV in my PJs, I hardly
feel like getting dolled up to go out for some face to face time. Therefore the
next best source of connection is my new best friend—the Internet.
After returning a few pokes, commenting on a couple of friend’s pictures, and
then checking my homepage incessantly to see if anyone online has responded to
my posts, the night drags on.
I continually stare at a glowing screen as the minutes tick by, unable to
disconnect myself from the cyber world and face the fear of being alone with my
self-pity and self-hatred.
Reality check time
Can you believe that this entire fear-based cycle of self-pity and hatred
grew from a simple comparison of what I was wearing to those around me?
Unbelievable right? Not really.
Having observed my mind, I’ve come to understand that a good amount of my
daily fear-based suffering starts by making comparisons and then creating
stories in my head.
Encouragingly, I am not unique in what I do. However, it is unfortunate to
realize that many people, who suffer in the same way I do will never learn how
to curb their own suffering. They will never give themselves the time to sit,
reflect, and watch what comes up in their minds without becoming involved in the
If you would like to take more control over your mind and your
suffering, the best practices I know are meditation and
1. First, accept that in order to become more mindful, we must recognize that
we are solely responsible for the thoughts our minds produce. While we can’t
stop our minds completely, we can take control over them and create moments of
peace for ourselves.
2. Second, when thoughts or fear arise, try to do the following as soon as
you are aware of what’s taking place in your mind and body:
a long, deep breath in and out. In your mind say “in” as you breathe in and
“out” as you breathe out in order to ground yourself in the present
feel the ground beneath your feet. Notice the way your clothes feel against your
skin, the wind against your face, the sun on your cheeks. Listen to the birds
singing, the rain falling around you or the ticking of a nearby clock.
All this will ground you in the present moment. Even if thoughts want to drag
you away with them, coming back to recognize the breath will give you the
control you need to prevent this from happening.
Follow these steps until you feel that the thought or storyline in your mind
has moved on, or until you feel that the pull of your thought or fear has
At this point you can return to whatever you were doing, and hopefully you
will have prevented yourself from suffering in that moment.
Unfortunately these steps are by no means a quick fix in saving you from the
suffering we all encounter every day. In fact, at first it will take all your
energy and resolve not to react to what your mind and ego are doing.
It’s also quite possible that even once you’ve covered these steps you will
still get lost in your thoughts and fears by comparing yourself to others.
Whether you do this or not isn’t the point. The point is that you’ve finally
managed to sit back and look at your thoughts and fear. Once you have done this,
you’ve begun the process of taking back control of your mind and your life.
No doubt, occasionally you’ll also stop and find yourself right in the middle
of buying something you don’t really need or switching on the TV without
thinking about what you’re doing.
But, as long as you notice you’re mid-way through handing your credit card to
the lovely sales person at the cash register, then you’re on your way to
conquering your mind.
The more you practice the better you will get. The key to all this is not
I’m not saying you’ll be able to climb to the top of the Burj Al Arab on your
next trip to Dubai, or take a shower with eight beady spider eyes hanging out on
the shower head above you.
But you will be able to stop the stories in your head instead of feeling a
pull to distract yourself from all the pain they cause you.
So why not give it a shot. Can it really hurt? Well it might, but it’ll hurt
for all the right reasons.