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  • Writer's pictureRoberta Scirea

How to best manage and ease the Fear of the Unknown

We are living in an uncertain situation, where one day the worst seems to be gone and the day after everything is all up-side down. Since the day in which the coronavirus was on our mouth, we are all living in a state of questioning on the unknown future. 


This is the time that we need to bring all our wisdom at use and make our best not be taken away from fear, exhaustion and discouragement. Uncertainty about our health, our lifestyle, our work and our financial state, make us feel scared, ungrounded, anxious and disconnected.


We can’t control the outside world but we can work through ourselves to give us the chance to better navigate this further big alarm that COVID-19 is creating and make our own situation the healthiest possible not just for our body but for our mind and spirit.


Different ways to stimulate a self-empowering attitude are suggested by mental health experts, like exercising or journaling for example. I would like to share some of my own tips here that come from one of the best books that I have lately read, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Here are some of the major lessons that I have taken from the book that could be perfectly suited to help manage this uncertain situation:


1. This very moment is the perfect teacher.

We are used to interpret feelings like fear, irritation, disappointment and anger, as bad news, as something to stay away from and that tells us something “wrong” about ourselves or the others. Actually, they are precious pieces of information, clear moments that teach us where we are holding back. Under this perspective each day is an opportunity to open up or shut down. Which is the practical tool to facilitate this attitude? Mindfulness. This practice invites to notice what is going on inside (with our thoughts and with our emotions) and it guides us to let them go. I repeat, “let them go”. This doesn’t mean to avoid them or pretend they do not exist. It means to choose what to keep, discerning between what serves us and what does not. And be curious about them.

2. Relax as it is.

Pema in her book refers specifically to a type of mediation taught by a famous Tibetan Buddhist, while here I translate this instruction into a daily attitude that can be done even if you are not a meditation student or an accustomed practitioner. The suggestion is to direct your concentration to your posture and then put a light attention to your out-breath. The Buddhist describes this breath as the closest way you can come “to simply rest your mind in its natural open state and still have an object to which return”. This means that the point is not to try to achieve a particular state. Rather, the encouragement is to relax more completely in our environment and to appreciate the world around us as the ordinary truth that takes place in every moment. The point of this relaxation is the fluidity in letting the breath go out, without conceptualize anything, but simply to return to the mind just as it is, clear, lucid and fresh.

3. Six Kinds of Loneliness

Usually we think about loneliness as an enemy. This feeling is not something that we like to have in our heart. When we are in this state we react with a hot desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. Pema talks about a “cooling loneliness” which means we have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness. It becomes relaxing and it completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down. How is it possible? How can we do that? She talks about six ways to describe this cool loneliness:


Less Desire. It is the willingness to be lonely without concentrating on or looking for something to cheer us up and change our mood


Contentment. This state can be translated as the perception of being here and now without feeling the fear that we have a lot to lose. It is beautifully described by her saying that if we draw a line down the center of a page, we know who we are if we are on the right side and if we are on the left side. But we don’t know who we are when we put ourselves on neither of the sides. Contentment is when we give up believing that if we escape our loneliness is going to bring any lasting happiness or joy or sense of well-being or courage or strength. The moment in which we can be content to be right here with the mood and the form of what’s happening.


Avoiding Unnecessary Activity. When we are lonely in that “hot way” we are looking or something to save us. Could we stop trying to escape from being alone with ourselves and as the Japanese poet Ryokan says “If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.”


Complete Discipline. It means that at every opportunity in which our mind tends to looking for an outer way to escape, we are willing to come back to the present moment. To sit still and just be there.


Not Wondering in the World of Desire. It means not to look for alternatives and seeking comfort (through food, drink, people). It does not mean to neglect our natural social nature, it means to not look for an addiction that “fix” the situation, not to grab or grasp for something to make things ok.


Not Seeking Security from One’s Discursive Thought. She describes “cool loneliness” when we don’t look for security from our own internal chatter, which is what Mindfulness teaches us to label as “thinking”. This kind of loneliness is when we are able to drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, want to be or think other people think we want to be. We give it up and we just look directly with compassion and humor of who we are. Then loneliness is no threat or punishment.


I consider these excerpts from Pema’s book one of the most effective tools in this uncertain and discouraging situation. I see them as a practical guidance because they are able to help us in changing the direction of our perspective and our habitual thoughts when these don’t serve us at all.

Now is the time that we have. It is how we relate to it that creates the future. Our present positive aspiration and action is the power that we have today to have a more joyful future.


Have a great day and week,

Roberta

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