The negative emotional feeling of fear comes up in a context of *loss of control*. When one becomes out of control of what is happening, then fear comes upon the body. This can be "out of control" of a person, or persons, an animal, certain kinds of dangerous objects, situations, sudden unexpected events like a loud noise of unknown cause. The body's *natural response* is to be in control of it. Fear comes up in *danger* that is caused by being out of control of whatever is happening.
When there is fear on the body, the first thing to look for is the neck and shoulders squeezed up together in intense tightness of the muscles in there.
In gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls told us to be on the lookout for the "coat-hanger effect." That's when the shoulders are elevated, perhaps even pulled up around the ears. If you will do that, you will be able to feel what that feels like now.
That's fear. Of course, it is done voluntarily here. When you are afraid, this same "coathanger effect" happens involuntarily. In all likelihood, if a loud *POP* went off in the room behind you, like a book falling off of a shelf, your shoulders would pop up around your ears immediately like this. That is "the fear reaction." Muscular tensions in this area of the body can happen when you are actually afraid of anything that actually happens, And then you can carry these tensions around in your body for a long-time afterwards, when there is "nothing to be afraid of any more," if you see what I mean. We can carry the tensions of fear around *after the fact*, and go on feeling badly for the tensions of it in the body, as well as having it characterize the fearful hours that are passing by. Better to just feel it, get the message through and through, and be done with it!
There can be other observeable physical reactions to fear, that can be felt inside the body. In some cases, there can be a shivering tickle at the back of your neck, and you can sometimes feel your hair "standing on end." You may have seen this in animals, when the hairs at the back of their neck stand up. I see this with javelinas in the desert all the time. Apparently, fear is a common emotional experience in wild animals. And so it is with homo sapiens. When wild animals are out of control of a dangerous situation, their "backs get up" the same way as us humans.
In a rare phenomenon of very extreme fear, one can sometimes experience a "wasp-waisted" tightening around the pelvis that is quite remarkable--like a two-inch-wide steel packing band drawn tight. I only remember noting this a few times in my long life. The force of it can be so great that one might defecate. I have a hunch this gave rise to the folkloric saying of "having the shit scared out of me."
Although fear is an experience that any human being may have, fear is a characteristic emotion of the Can-Do Person/Dictator. They lead the kind of life that has to deal with fear a lot. The Can-Do Person is brave enough to do many things that the other types aren't brave enough to do. Look, for instance, at the workers atop a building under construction, or the electricians hooking up the power inside, those in general who wear metal hats on the job, or special protective equipment--tough men and women. This type of life calls for a person of great courage because it is so dangerous. It calls for a person who can handle fear, get used to it, and still be very highly competent in what they are doing . . . each step of the way.
The "rationale" of when fear comes up in a human life is *when things, or people, get out of control*. If you fall, if someone who can physically hurt you gets into your face, if your car drifts over onto the shoulder of the road, these are "out of control" situations, and fear will be there. And you will control it, in *some* way. (You have always survived.) Let someone or some thing you perceive to be dangerous to what you hold dear come into your space and fear will be there. You will be spring-loaded to control it, any way you can. If that loud POP happened outside your window, you might rush over to the window to see what happened, to see what you have to do in order to "be in control" again. When you are with other people, if you need to control them (as Dictators often do, even arbitrarily, as a habitual style of relating with people), chances are your body is carrying around some tensions of fear within. When you notice other people behaving in an extremely controlling way, they are likely to be operating out of fear.
My teacher, Mits, used to tell us that our emotional feelings are our friends. They are "messages from our bodies," he said. It always provides us with useful information to *get the message*, be aware of the message. It is *okay* that the body informs us of danger by broadcasting the emotion of fear.
The *message* we are speaking of here is not in the emotional words we are thinking or saying about the situation, or in the emotional behavior we may be doing at the time, but in the *fear itself*. What we are focusing on here is in feeling the perceptible sensations of it when these emotions, such as fear, are in our bodies.
If there is fear in your body, you are very likely to go around being highly controlling in what you do with other people. Is it possible you are being "over-controlling?" If so, the *fear, itself*, which causes that, is the tension of muscles in your neck and shoulders that are tightened up. You can feel this tension when it is in there.
To "process fear," place your awareness in the tensions in the neck and shoulders that you can feel, and just keep experiencing what it feels like there. Mits showed us that "when the body gets it that *you get it* (!) --i.e. that this emotional tension is there--the body doesn't have to keep "broadcasting that message any more." It knows you really, really got the message. You *know*. You know fear. So the body can let those muscles start relaxing now. It doesn't have to be doing that.
But if you don't know fear in this way--awarely, thoroughly--the body goes on and on broadcasting the message in holding the tense muscles of the neck and shoulders pulled up there tight together.
I've experienced this so many thousands of times since those long-ago days with Mits. By placing my awareness in the sensations of the tensions of emotional feelings, like fear, and keeping my awareness there, gradually their tensions begin to dissipate, and then they . . . fade away.
The situation hasn't changed. The surrounding circumstances are all still the same. I know clearly what's going on. And yet *I* have changed, within, *physically so*! The negative emotional feeling is gone. In this, I become freed-up to deal with whatever is going on without having my emotional feelings driving my whole being and characterizing the whole situation.
These emotional feelings, when present, "kick-off" lots of thinking in the thinking mind. If you are uptight about it, you think about it. So when these tensions are processed on through the body this way, all that compulsive thinking and stewing about the problem abates. Similarly, one's ego and personality remain inactive for awhile. By processing the underlying negative emotional feeling, one has cut off the pins from underneath them. One is dwelling in the space then without all that encumbrance of acting-out and reacting to other peoples' acting-out. And, freed of all that, one is likely to be much better equipped as a human being to deal with whatever is going on effectively and even sensitively.
In other words, when we are not caught up, unconsciously, in our negative emotional feelings, and we can become aware of them in our body, we can *do something about it* constructively. We can "process it on through" with awareness.
In this processing, one doesn't attempt to "push" the "unwanted tensions" out of the body. One isn't fighting or struggling with it. That would only add more tensions into the situation!!! One is merely observing it, mindfully, being aware of it in high-relief, "soaking it up in awareness," you could say, "drinking the whole cup of the reality of it."
One might think of this as "massaging the tense area with mindfulness," or "treating the tension by directly applying awareness to it." You can think of it as "bathing the tension in the light of softening awareness." Whatever metaphor you may use, processing feelings means becoming aware of the palpable sensations that are there of it, and then keeping your awareness *right there* for a period of time. And . . . letting it, watching it, dissipate on its own!
If you wish to copy this down, for use with any of these negative emotional feelings that we are studying in these classes, this is how I coach it when I'm here with a person guiding them in doing this:
"Just feel it. Release to it! Let it be! Acknowledge it fully! Keep releasing *to* it. Experience every bit of what is to be experienced there of it! Know it thoroughly. Drink the whole cup down to the last drop of it! And let the tension of it dissipate on its own."
If it is gone in a minute, good. If it is gone in ten minutes, good. If it is gone in twenty minutes, good. Stay with it, with your mindfulness, and it will dissipate.
If you are being afraid, and you can go on feeling the tensions of fear in your neck and shoulders, releasing to it awarely in this way, gradually you may begin to notice that the qualities of the sensations of it are beginning to change perceptibly in some ways. You can sensitively observe this "dissembling" of a block of tensions with your mindfulness.
When the tensions of negative emotional feelings are released in this way, and the body is free of them, the ensuing process is what brings on the sensations of the corresponding positive emotional feeling. The transition from being clutched up inwardly to being opened up and expanding outwardly continues from there. The feeling of fear transforms into the feeling of courage. See if you can remember then to stre-e-e-tch!
In fact, stretch now, if you'd like. Stretch any time. Stretching is always good! *Feel* it when you stretch.
Fear is when your neck and shoulders are clutching up. Courage is when your shoulders are dropped and loose, and you can *feel* your strength is in there again. Courage is the palpable feeling of "being strong enough to do it." -- Imagine, for instance, that you are walking along in the country and you come to a deep ravine that appears to be jumpable, but gives you pause. Courage is the feeling in your body, especially in the upper tier of the relaxed shoulders, chest and back, that "*I can do it*." You know you are strong enough in this feeling! -- If it appears you can't jump all the way across, that'll "get your back up" right away--the neck and shoulders will clutch up. (Think of approaching the edge of the Grand Canyon.)
Go ahead and do it: clutch up your neck and shoulders, and then, just drop it, and see what that feels like.
Again, of course, this is done voluntarily here, so it doesn't feel as inwardly intense as "the real fear." When it *just happens* in life, this clutching up of fear is involuntary and we are usually unconscious of it. By that I mean that although we may know that we are greatly distressed in the situation, we do not know that fear is present. Similarly, when our shoulders *are* let down--being relaxed and strong in there--and courage is actually going on during our ordinary life, we are also likely to be unaware of this.
The "news" in this class is, not that we have emotional feelings--everybody knows that. The news here is that we can actually feel our emotional feelings, and we can do something about them that is practical and healing with mindful awareness.