Overcome What Scares You with Mindfulness

I was sitting in meditation this morning and realized how much fear I had overcome through the practice of  mindfulness (namely, present moment awareness without judgment and with kindness and curiosity).  In particular, I was thinking about the pumpkin soup I made as soon as I arrived home yesterday from an overnight airplane trip back from Brazil.

After traveling for 24 hours with very little sleep, you might not think that the first thing I’d do is cook a fresh pumpkin and make soup, but that is exactly what I did. I really wanted to feel like I’d arrived home after 2-1/2 weeks away and nothing does that more for me than cooking something nourishing in the kitchen. I looked around to see what was possible to make and there sat that pumpkin (which had been there for a little too long) on the counter. I immediately knew I needed to cook that pumpkin.

Not that long ago I was intimidated by cooking fresh pumpkin and the reasons why are exactly the same reasons that have produced fear for me in other situations I avoided or found uncomfortable in the past.

First, not knowing how. I didn’t know an easy way to cook pumpkin. 

Second, thinking it would be too hard.  I had the idea that it was going to take a long time and be an exceedingly onerous task. I mean, how does one easily peel a pumpkin?

Third, not getting it right. This was a common reason that made doing new things uncomfortable. My inner perfectionist was afraid of not getting it right the first time and then have to listen to the criticism (mainly from myself).

Fourth, I should already know how to do it. This underlying belief is obviously delusional but keeps many people from exploring new things and from learning. We engage in learning because we don’t know, not because we already know it all.

Because I have worked on these distorted beliefs, I have been able to cook pumpkin, make speeches, present workshops, travel to Costa Rica and Brazil to teach yoga and mindfulness, jump out of a plane, sing in front of others, and many other things that I initially found frightening. None of these things came easy at first. While you may not believe it if you know me now, I used to plan for months before giving a presentation and would still be nervous and scared.

So, here are some mindfulness tips to help you overcome your fears.

1. Use a beginner’s mind. Mindfulness asks that we show up in the present moment without knowing. Sometimes it’s called the “don’t know” mind. This moment is fresh and we can only discover what it has to offer if we come without expectations or opinions.

2. Be curious. Be willing to take a little time to explore the answers to your questions. All I really had to do was use the internet to look up how to cook a whole pumpkin. The recipes that asked you to peel the pumpkin before you cook were only offering one way and, as always, there is more than one way to look at things (or peel a pumpkin).

3. One step at a time. Do the one thing in front of you. Hard, scary things are often made easier when you focus on just the thing you need to do right now. Take one step and the next step will take care of itself. When you find yourself thinking about the whole problem or situation that you find fearful, just come back to the moment and take the next right step.

4.  Make it easy. When something seems too hard to do, someone else has often found a better, easier way to do it. I discovered this when I finally got tired of using a peeler on ginger and slicing my fingers every time. Who knew all you had to do was scrape the ginger with a spoon! Ginger is now a regular ingredient in my cooking but I had avoided it because of how hard it was to peel.

5. Feel the fear and do it anyway. The only way you get better at something is by trying. There might be fear, but what’s the worst that can happen? You can’t ever learn anything if you aren’t willing to make mistakes or even fail. For instance, the first time I went to Brazil to teach felt unfamiliar and a bit daunting, but the third time I arrived it felt like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.

I sometimes ask people in my classes to answer the following statement. If I weren’t afraid, I would ___________________. So, what are you not doing because you’re afraid? What’s holding you back? I hope you find some encouragement here to give whatever it is a try.

By the way, the easiest way to cook pumpkin is to put a few slits in the pumpkin with a sharp knife and stick the whole thing on a roasting pan and cook it for 45-60 minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, you can easily cut it open, scoop out the seeds, and peel off the outer skin. Voilà! Easy peasy. I had pumpkin soup in no time. And, it was a very delicious return to my home.

Try something new and a little bit scary and see how alive it makes you feel!