Sit With Gut-Quivering Fear

Sit With Gut-Quivering Fear #feelings #movingforward

Last night I had nightmares.

Really terrifying, horrific ones, where the most primal of fears rose up from the depths my brain and delivered what felt like hours of horror movies straight to my amygdala. Except I was in the movies, and I’ve never seen a film this scary.

It started out in a post-apocalyptic ‘Walking Dead’ kind of world, but progressed into a terrifying scene where my grandmother was the caretaker of a house full of ghosts. A silvery hand appeared out of nowhere to drag me into the icy blue netherworld and things spiralled from there. I only woke up once Madonna arrived, dancing ‘Thriller-style’ down a corpse-strewn street. Even I was annoyed with my brain by then.

But when I woke, with all intentions to get up and write for a couple of hours, the memory of my nightmare came rushing back and I found myself paralysed by fear. Literally. I couldn’t will myself to get out of bed because I was terrified.

It’s been so many years since I’ve felt this kind of gut-quivering fear, I had no idea what to do. So I lay in bed desperately trying not to focus on the eerie visions still moving through my head, and instead checked my email, looked at Twitter – did anything not to think about the fear.

30 minutes later I was still there. Still paralysed. I understood it was just a dream, but I kept having to fight off the feeling. The fear was still there, hovering over me.

Then I remembered something Leo Babauta once wrote:

“Let it be. Stay present with your uncomfortable feelings instead of running or hiding from them. Try to really feel those difficult emotions. Observe them. Don’t fear them or seek to run from them. Instead endeavor to live with them and learn from them, knowing that the time you spend doing this will help to heal you. When you do this with serenity, as much as you can muster, you will discover your strength and over time you will notice the bad feelings start to soften and melt.”

I decided to let myself really feel the fear. I let it settle over me like a blanket. My chest relaxed, my head cleared and I just let the fear be. I observed it. I didn’t run from it and I didn’t try to drown it out with Twitter.

And do you know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as fighting the fear.

I allowed myself to feel afraid, to experience whatever emotions I had tied to the nightmares, and I was able to move on.

I still felt afraid as I was getting out of bed. I still used my iPhone as a torch as I moved through the dark house. I still double checked the office for any sign of paranormal life before I sat down to write.

But I sat down to write anyway.

I felt the fear, but I didn’t let it stop me from moving forward.

Feeling and Doing

And not to get too woo-woo on you, but I think this is something that can be applied to so many areas of our lives. We can allow ourselves to really feel and absorb the feeling – be it fear, anxiety, cravings or something else – but stop it from moving us off our intended path. We can still:

  • Feel the emotional pull of decluttering sentimental stuff, but don’t let it stop you from simplifying.
  • Feel the desire to stay in bed, but don’t let it stop you from getting up and going for a run.
  • Feel the need to buy clothes to keep up with fashion, but don’t let it stop you from living a more mindful, less materialistic life.
  • Feel the hankering to watch another hour of TV, but don’t let it stop you from getting 7 hours sleep.
  • Feel the cravings for junk food, but don’t let it stop you from eating well.
  • Feel the anxiety of trying something new, but don’t let it stop you from moving forward.


Have you allowed yourself to really feel something uncomfortable? How did you react? Did you try to run away, or ignore the feelings, like I did? Or did you meet them head-on?

4 Responses to Sit With Gut-Quivering Fear

  1. My first reaction is always to fight it. By nature I always try to be upbeat, happy, relaxed…to experience only the “good” feelings. I’ve learned over the years that there is value in experiencing all of the emotions that come to us. As you imply, you don’t have to lay down and wallow in them or give in to them, just experience them.

    Dan @ Zen Presence – Ideas for Meaningful Living.

  2. Bravo!! That is real, meaningful progress!

    I have to say that learning to let myself feel uncomfortable emotions instead of running away is sort of a life long project for me. It’s also been life altering. I truly believe that most of the problems we encounter are really just manifestations of our own unwillingness to face ourselves.

    I used to suffer from terrible nightmares. I spent years doing Gestalt dream work – basically in this school of thought each thing is the dream is a part of yourself. The things that aren’t you are really just emotions that you haven’t been able to own yet. After doing months of intense work on my dreams, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was a dream of a different sort, and it was really a pivotal experience for me. Here’s a poem-like piece that I wrote about that dream in case you’re curious:

  3. Looking anything in the eye seems to give it less power, than denying or trying to avoid it. And I’ve realized that fear is fake–it’s all in our heads, so it can’t hurt us. It’s definitely not something that should keep us from moving forward,

    Good post, and glad you were able to face your fear and understand it better. :-)

  4. Love this post! I had a similar experience the other night, only it related to intense worry instead of fear. Some things had happened, and I may have had some reason to worry, but I fought and fought to make it go away, to rationalize it.

    I’ll try to remember this and Leo’s post next time and just let myself feel it… I know how well that’s worked in other areas of my life, and yet I didn’t think to apply it then.

    Thanks for the reminder!

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