If you are wondering what’s the best way to reduce your fears, you may be asking exactly the wrong question.
A team of researchers at the State University of New York at Albany studied the meditation practice of 98 undergraduate students. The first group (58.2%) used meditation to manage, control, or avoid difficult experiences. The rest of the participants used mediation to open up and simply accept whatever emotions arose.
Guess which group enjoyed all the benefits we like to think meditation offers?
Before you answer, let’s break this down a bit.
The first group essentially set an intention to push stress and fear out of their lives. They were very clear regarding what they wanted. In many respects, this is the way we are taught to operate: be very clear about what we want.
The second group opened themselves up to any emotions or experiences that came up. They meditated to meditate, rather than to banish their anxieties. A cynic might argue that this is the equivalent of wandering aimlessly through life.
And yet, the purpose of meditation is not be an extension of your logical mind, to surgically eliminate every negative in your life.
That is a pretty big hint.
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The second group, the one that opened themselves up, enjoyed the benefits of meditation. In the first group, those benefits were rare.
These are the exact words of the research results: Participants using meditation with control-based intentions reported greater worry, anxiety, depression, negative affect, and lower mindfulness relative to their acceptance-guided counterparts. After controlling for level of anxiety, viewing anxiety as a problem increased the likelihood of using meditation with control-based intentions.
To paraphrase the research results, viewing fear as a problem reduces your ability to use meditation to handle your fears.
This leads us to a simple but powerful principle: never run away from your fears or your emotions. Be willing to feel what you need to feel, but do so with a calm openness.
It’s impossible to bury one or two of your emotions. If you try to subdue your fears or anxieties, you will also subdue your ability to be happy, joyful and passionate. A far better strategy is to feel everything your body wants to feel, but to do so with a sense of acceptance.
As you embrace your fears, they lose their power over you.