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  • Writer's pictureMarc-Henri Sandoz

Sit with your fear

Here we are in the heart of the storm with this pandemic!

And yet each one of us was confronted, just two weeks ago, with all kinds of reactions which now seem so irresponsible and out of reality, in the light of crowded hospitals, dead people and semi-containment? Who hasn't said, heard from someone, or tried to convince themselves that it was just the flu, that road accidents killed more people each year without anyone worrying, that this epidemic would go away on its own, like the previous ones, or disappear with the return of sunny days, that it would only affect the old and very sick people anyway? Who should not have attended a work meeting with a colleague coughing and sneezing, saying that it was only a small cold? Who has not grinned or laughed at a stupid gag minimizing or denying the relevance of the warnings that were starting to come from the health and political authorities? (Maybe posted by the same people who, from one day to the next, began to loot shops and accumulate toilet paper, boxes of ravioli and bleach!)

The reminder of our fragility is painful. There is even something scandalous about it. Our whole society is largely built to try to hide this fragility as much as possible, and now this virus comes to bring it to the core of our concerns. It is scary.

We are all made of the same dough, and if we dig a little below appearances, we find in us the same tendencies to try to protect ourselves from this reminder of our fragility, even if these trends tend to manifest yourself differently according to our different personalities and stories.

I myself was radically challenged by this reminder two years ago because of serious health problems, and I had to learn to live with this fear on a daily basis. An important part of this learning was to recognize my spontaneous tendencies to deal with this fear in bad ways, and to understand why they were not going to help me, on the contrary.

Here are the main ones:

1. To deny the obvious, pretend that the threat does not exist, does not concern me, or cannot reach me.

2. To blame myself for my fear, to feel guilty, to criticize myself for feeling it, to tell me that I should be different, more courageous, more serene.

3. To try to suppress my fear, to repress it, to suffocate it, to forget it, whether by toxic use of food, meditation, prayers, alcohol, drugs, work, Netflix.

4. Give in to my fear and merge with it, and then go into a panic, put myself under its orders as before a divinity that we should try to appease by total submission.

None of these strategies support life. None of them helps us to cope with the crisis we are going through, or any other crisis. None help us connect to our own resources. None of them make us grow.

They all have the effect of making us deny and distance reality: the reality of the situation and / or the reality of what we are.

The psychiatrist Christophe André writes (quoted by Rosette Poletti in this Sunday’s newspaper): "Refusing the real is almost always toxic and causes an additional dose of suffering which is a double punishment: the suffering of the real which strikes us and the suffering that we inflict ourselves by not accepting it! "

When illness brought me to the wall, I understood my weakness, I felt that death could happen to me at any time, and I was terrorized. Paralyzed with fear. So I started to do what I had been practicing and teaching for years: I started to focus my attention on my inhalation and my exhalation. I sat down and meditated.

I didn't expect much, just a little space to cope, just a little momentary relief, just to calm down the panic that was overwhelming me.

But I experienced something far beyond anything I could have imagined. I found there a real space of peace and rest that was waiting for me and welcoming me, and I could sit there with my fear. Like this space in the eye of the cyclone where everything is calm. And from there, I could day after day watch my fear, listen to it, stay with it, sit with it. These moments produced decisive effects in me, which helped me weather the storm and grow through it.

These effects, I will try to describe them to you. By sitting down with my fear, in this space of peace that had been built in me over the years of meditation, this is what I saw growing in me:

- lucidity, and this lucidity helped me to see my automatic reactions to fear, these bad ways of dealing with fear that I describe to you above, and then to assess the situation as it really was, and to make the necessary decisions that contributed to my survival and my healing,

- courage, precisely to make these decisions and to face with dignity all the difficult moments which have appeared numerous,

- vital energy, to support me day after day, and to support all the recovery and healing mechanisms that my body and my mind had to mobilize,

- love for life, that I have never felt so precious and that I have never cherished so much, even though I saw all its fragility,

- the awareness of my connection with my human tribe, near and far, by realizing how much I needed others, my relatives, caregivers,

- the call to contribute for what I could to this same tribe, born from this awareness of my connection,

- joy, joy of living in the present moment, sometimes simply to breathe, to hold my beloved in my arms, to savor the moment

- the ability to treat me with respect and tenderness, to take good care of myself and to grow in my self-esteem and the sense of my own dignity,

- the sense of the divine, of the Great Mystery, and of its supportive and welcoming presence day after day to accompany me on my way, help me to face difficulties, support me, protect me, make me grow, smile to me.

Here are the gifts my fear gave me when I took the time to sit with it, breathe with it, listen to it and take care of it.

This is why I am so keen to invite everyone to discover this space of peace and rest. It does not happen overnight, this space is built through regular and determined practice, and it is the work of a lifetime. But from the first moment you sit down and close your eyes, you can already find help and support there.

Even in the middle of the storm.

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