Fear and anxiety are closely related, but slightly different. Anxiety is mental disturbance or discomfort. Fear is anxiety that anticipates an uncomfortable outcome. An untidy house can make us anxious, but generally not fearful. An aggressive person can make us anxious and fearful, because we sense a possible disturbing outcome.
Fear could thus be described as having two parts:
- Uncomfortable mental disturbance now
- A sense of the risk of a disturbing outcome in the future
Jane is afraid of Clive. He regularly threatens to leave her, picking on elements of her behaviour, getting angry, and telling her that she is ruining his life. Jane feels great mental disturbance at Clive’s negative attitude. It’s like being in a storm. She feels like a ship rolling with waves, with the crew trying to tie down ropes and make things secure in the present. Furthermore, she imagines a future if Clive’s threats come true. She feels the risk of being alone. This makes her fearful.
HANDLING THE ANXIETY IN THE PRESENT
What can Jane do to handle her uncomfortable mental disturbance in the present? Like a ship, she is connected to the waves of Clive’s storm. Jane needs to detach herself from the waves. If she succeeds, then she will feel calmer.
One way is to remove herself physically from Clive’s presence. Another way is to make herself mentally independent of Clive’s presence. If Clive were a loud noise, she could either get some distance, or find some noise-cancelling headphones.
Meditation is the name given to the disciplined practice of becoming unattached. It is the mind’s version of noise-cancelling headphones. If Jane meditates every day, then Clive’s behaviour will have less impact.
HANDLING THE FEAR OF THE FUTURE
What can Jane do to moderate the fear of loss? Clive’s threatening behaviour is designed to make her feel the risk of loss in the future, so that she does not ignore him in the present.
One way is for Jane to try to control Clive’s behaviour, either by appeasing him or by confronting him. Another way is to make herself emotionally independent of Clive’s threats, so that she need not engage so directly.
The second option has the advantage of not depending on Clive’s response. If she works on her own mind, then she can be well prepared for the worst threats Clive can impose.
Again, meditation can be a great help. Some forms of meditation develop the understanding that phenomena are like dreams, dependent on the mind dreaming them. Jane can come to understand that Clive cannot disturb her without her consent. His threats can become like a cloud in the sky.
Over ten years, Jane learned to meditate. She learned to detach her mind from the inconsistent thinking and behaviour associated with anxiety. She learned that inconsistency and suffering are everywhere, but only in minds. She became unsurprised by Clive’s outbursts, and largely immune to them.
Once her fear had subsided, she realised that she actually felt a little sorry for him. She understood he was trapped in an imaginary battle that she needn’t participate in. She calmed down, and was able to simply watch him, without getting disturbed herself.
Fear requires two things in our minds:
- mental disturbance
- worry about future loss
Through mindful practice, we can become independent from others’ mental disturbance, and from their threats. Strong meditation skills enable us to remain calm and peaceful, even when others are losing their heads and trying to bring us into the confusion and worry.
A NOTE ON SELF-CARE
Although it’s good to meditate, there are times when it is wise, for our safety, to remove ourselves from disturbance or threat. Jane may well decide to leave Clive. This article, though, is more about what Jane can do to keep her own mind peaceful, whatever Clive does. Given that we will always have disturbance and threat around us, it is immensely valuable to protect ourselves from its effects.