Fear is an odd thing. Of all emotions it tends to illicit a very irrational response. That reptilian part of the brain kicks in and suddenly we tend to 'forget ourselves' entirely.
There are two things underlying this, both of which we are entirely ignorant of.
The first and most significant is the belief we hold that we are located and limited in this body and mind. Anything that in any way threatens the continuity of this body mind complex is seen as a threat to our very being. As if we might entirely vanish should it end.
Thats our root misunderstanding, our avidya, from which all other misunderstanding arises. There are all sorts of logical reasons and all sorts of meditations in many traditions, such as that of neti neti, that address this and serve to enlighten us from this mistake - i wont go int them now but Ill come back to it in another newsletter.
Fear then is a reaction to anything that we feel either threatens this being or even threatens the certainty we have about our environment. After all the less certain we are about our environment the less certain we can be about the survival of this body, That threat may be as insignificant as an unwanted comment (threatening our acceptance by a group or society); or it might be a perceived threat to our livelihood, earning potential or similar - again, we miss what is happening here - we mis-perceive it as threatening our very existence - or at least threatening the certainty of our environment.
Secondly, all fear has a felt component, that is to say, we feel fear in the body. It feels unpleasant. How that unpleasant feeling presents itself will be different for each person, but there is one common feature - we don't like that feeling and we want to get rid of it.
The irony here is that we don't even see the reaction as being a result of the feeling, simply because we completely overlook it.
These felt sensations are so very familiar to us, right in front of our face in every moment - not just with fearful situations - that we totally miss the reason for our reaction. We mistakenly believe that we are reacting to the original 'thing', the comment, the anxiety about our health, the email and so on. If we are practitioners, be it of yoga or any other sort of self development, this is a fundamental slip up. We have been graced with an opportunity to see with clarity, to erase misunderstanding and we have missed that opportunity entirely. There is no need to beat yourself up about that, in fact you probably can't because you will be entirely unaware of it.
This reaction stage is largely irrational. We are in fight or flight mode. All niceties go out of the window, we simply want the physical feeling (that we don't actually consciously register) to go away. We will at this point do anything, act in almost any manner, appropriate or not, in order to regain a pleasant felt sensation. So is established the next stages of misunderstanding - craving and aversion - raga and dvesha.
If we were aware of what was happening, if we were aware of the unpleasant sensation, we would have a moment to break the chain and act with wisdom, from a grounded place of logic. Of course the more often we miss the opportunity, the more we strengthen the chain of reactivity to sensation.
So how do we practice better noticing, better awareness?
Observation of the breath and the body are the key. We can do this in a formal or non formal setting. Formal would be time allocated to breath observation or body sensation observation, in other words - a meditation centred on awareness of breath and body. Nothing to do, simply observing. Letting awareness rest on observation, without processing, without adding anything or taking anything away from the experience. Simple, open awareness of body and breath. Becoming familiar with how it fluctuates when a noise or a thought or a feeling arises.
Once we have established some little understanding of this, we are then able to extend it into a non formal setting - i.e simply living our lives with presence. We will mess up, we will forget and we will not notice...but every now and then we will notice, we will see that we are feeling in the body and breath and we will see that we are about to react to that. It is at these moments that we have an opportunity to stop the chain of reactivity before it reaches its reactive conclusion. We can take a step back, draw breath and act with wisdom rather than reacting with ignorance.
We do have a choice. Whether you take it or not is up to you. One thing is sure though, don't pretend that you are practising yoga simply by doing asana and practising odd breathing patterns - thats just moving the body and breathing weirdly, its not yoga.
Yoga is to know the self, to understand the self, the breathing, the moving, they are just tools, if you don't understand what a tools purpose is it becomes entirely useless. Trying to open a screw top on a glass bottle with a hammer is going to be frustrating and probably result in some broken glass. Likewise, go through the motions of yoga as much as you like, but without correcting your fundamental misunderstandings you are pretty much just killing time.