Posts tagged ‘Dealing with fear’



Has FEAR Taken You Hostage?


Anxiety which is repressed, unacknowledged, driven underground in our psyches, and not dealt with, grows into full-fledged fear. When I read that thought this morning in a meditation passage, I immediately thought of three people: Tom Booker, Gregory Boyle and Jesus.

Tom Booker

Does the name Tom Booker ring a bell? Tom Booker is the title character in the book The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans. If you didn’t read the book, you may have seen the Robert Redford movie. The horse whisperer, Tom Booker, calms anxious, frightened, unmanageable horses. He accomplishes this because he understands horses, we are told, and he is not scared of them. Because Tom Booker feels no fear, the horses calm down around him. I have just synthesized a three hundred page book!

Ibought the book for my horse-loving granddaughter, and when she forgot to take it home, I decided to re-read it and make sure it was suitable for a fourteen year old. I am enjoying it on an entirely new and different level than I did when I read it years ago. Instead of reading for the story, which I already know, I am reading for the psychology behind the story.

The main horse character in the book, Pilgrim, has PTSD, as does Grace, the girl who was riding Pilgrim when the accident occurred. Fear and re-pressed emotions abound in the people and the horses. Tom Booker is the exception. He is intimidated by neither the closed off people or the ill-behaving horses. He simply flows through the story like a leaf gliding downstream on a fast-flowing river. He is self-sustaining and motivated, seemingly, only be being a help. It is his fearlessness which allows him to facilitate unfathomable change in animals and humans.

Ihave long said that FEAR is the most contagious emotion. As far as I know, I made that up. But re-reading The Horse Whisperer makes me think I may be onto something. Because Tom Booker is not afraid of a horse running straight at him or a horse rearing over him, the horse calms down. Because he does not meet the fear of another, either a horse or a person, with fear of his own, the initial fear dissipates. It is almost as if our fear responses have the same effect as pouring gasoline on a fire. Instead, left to its own devices, the fire goes out. It is not fed by additional fear, so it diminishes and finally dies.

Iremember one Sunday morning many years ago when my two oldest sons went off with the car to get a Sunday paper for their grandmother and me. At some point my mother decided they had been gone too long, and she started worrying. Like a good daughter, I joined right in. They were gone too long, the road was too curvy, it had rained last night and might still be wet, they were inexperienced drivers, and on and on we went. When they returned, we attacked them with our fear and anger. They had “made” us worry. They looked at each other like maybe their mother and grandmother had gotten into the moonshine or something. Our fear was totally unwarranted and had grown exponentially because we were feeding each other. Their cold logic and refusal to be guilted into having done anything wrong – which they hadn’t – extinguished the fear, leaving only a little egg on both our faces.

Ihave one long-term client who has been trying to convince me for twenty years that she is crazy. Whenever her anxiety gets fully revved, she decides she must be crazy and comes to find me to get me to confirm her fears. Here I have done a better job than I did with my mother. Here I stand firm and reassure her that she is not crazy. This anxiety of hers will calm back down, and she will feel like herself again. Sometimes she ends up in the emergency room because she whips herself into such a frenzy that her heart and blood pressure get her body chemistry so out of whack that she makes even the medical people doubt what they know to be true. Tests and machines conduct a process of elimination until the only possible cause of her racing heart and high blood pressure is: anxiety.

Greg Boyle

Father Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest and the author of Tattoos On The Heart. Father Boyle works with gangs in Los Angeles and is the founder of Homeboy Industries. His story and book are an amazing chronicle of what can be accomplished when compassion replaces fear. “Terror melts into wonder and then slips into peace,” he says.

He has lost a lot of gang members over the years and has comforted countless families. Overwhelmingly, though, he has turned around thousands of lives because he walked fearlessly where no sensible person would go, answering calls in the middle of the night in the middle of the slums of Los Angeles and into the middle of gang fights. His first step in the whole process was to turn his own fear into compassion. Now he has amassed an army of compassion warriors who are living in dignity, earning salaries, making incredible, worthwhile products which are sold to fund the work of Homeboy Industries. One year I did much of my Christmas shopping on their website. You will be inspired by his book, his vision, his wisdom and his accomplishments.


Jesus, of course, is the greatest prophet of losing our fears. Someone once told me that “Be not afraid,” “Fear not,” and other versions of the message appear 365 times in the New Testament. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the idea is certainly repeated over and over. Spiritual and religious people are asked to give their fears to a higher power and be assured that they, indeed, have nothing to fear.

Ido think a great deal of our fear and anxiety comes from our need to feel like we are in control. We get terribly anxious if we can’t see how something is going to play out or can’t imagine that circumstances will work out the way we believe they should work out.

Idon’t know about you, but I have given up thinking I have the answers to how life ought to work. If life had gone the way I thought it should have gone, I suspect I would never have left eastern Pennsylvania, would have married my high school sweetheart, and would have undoubtedly retired from my career as a high school English teacher. Which would have been a fine life. But I’m awfully glad I got to do things it had never occurred to me to imagine I might be able to do. My life experiences exceeded my ability to conceptualize them. I have to laugh as I write this, because my conclusion is that my life was not my idea. I couldn’t think big enough to have designed the adventures I’ve lived. My fear of the unknown would have stood in my way.


Fear keeps us tight and closed and small. Fearlessness allows us to try things we don’t know how to do and do things we never imagined we could. The convergence today of my reading The Horse Whisperer and my friend, Judy, writing to tell me she had heard Gregory Boyle speak, reminded me of the awesome accomplishments that come into our lives when fear leaves.



If you believe in God, turn your fear over to God. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18 NIVHave a ceremony for yourself and perform a ritual whereby you bury or burn or rip to shreds something that symbolizes FEAR. If nothing else, just write the word FEAR on a piece of paper and tear the paper to bits and flush it down the toilet. Better yet, actually spend some time with pen in hand and make a list of the things you are afraid of: the death of someone you love, losing your job, ISIS, snakes, having a stroke . . . Whatever is on the list, go one by one and see what you can do about each item. For example, there is probably nothing I can do to keep someone I love alive, but there may be a few things I can do to make it less likely I’ll lose my job. I will arrive at work earlier every morning, I will stay off the internet except for business, I will teach my family and friends that I can only receive phone calls during my lunch hour, etc. What can we control? Let’s take control of what we can. What can’t we control? Let’s let it go. Let go and let God, as they say in Alcoholic’s Anonymous.

So, my friends, guess where we’ve landed? Back at the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things
I cannot change, the Courage to change the things
I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Peace and blessings as we enter fearlessly into each new dawn. Susan

My friend and the beautifier of the blog, Mary Ellen, is taking a little hiatus. Tony Winston is kindly filling in and so today’s vibrant and bright blog is his handiwork. How fortunate I am to have such competent help. Gratitude abounds.

More support is yours below:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18 NIV



July 25, 2015 at 8:34 AM 5 comments

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