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Making Friends with Fear

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 202 - January 2013


They were careful as someone crossing an iced over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapeable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.

Lao Tsu translated by Stephen Mitchell


Ice caps

Traumatic and Fearful

Two of my daughters had babies this summer - now I am a Grandma! It was incredible to meet these little people when they were each a few hours old and to hold their soft warm bodies in my arms. Today they are content and happy little girls (teething aside!), but when they were born I was very aware that the birth experience must have been scary for them. Being crushed and expelled through a narrow tunnel from the warmth and peace of the womb into an alien environment where their little lungs drew in air for the first time - it must have been a traumatic and fearful time. And yet the fear they felt was appropriate - fear is a basic and innate response on entering into this strange place - this mysterious world of ours.

At birth we leave a fairly static environment to enter a changing one that we know nothing about. The world we come into is noisy, it has tastes and odours, so many sensations fill our senses - all of them new to us and all of them, at birth provoking a primal fear in us. Then, before we know it, we have carved a way through life's ups and downs; we find strategies to deal with our fear. But these strategies usually involve a degree of suppression; we don't like being in touch with fearful feelings and keep them under wraps. Nonetheless, particularly at times of change, we can feel this repressed fearfulness as a sense of dread or as a low level anxiety that causes us to feel uptight, tense, sometimes even frozen in our tracks. Perhaps we need to take a tip from Daoism and become more aware of this primal fear whenever it arises in life, make friends with it and use it to develop a deep sense of trust within the core of our being.

Coming Home

Daoism encourages us to admit and to be honest about fear - true Daoists still retain their basic innate fear and see it as an opportunity, as Lao Tsu observes in the passage quoted at the start of this piece, to become; “Fluid as melting ice. Shapeable as a block of wood. Receptive as a valley. Clear as a glass of water.” By letting go of resisting and blocking fear, we become fluid, shapeable, receptive and clear - we yield and open. By choosing to be aware that we are fearful, and by accepting and allowing fear, we find ourselves relaxing and so develop trust within ourselves - trust in our ability to handle any changes that life brings.

My father died last month. He had lived for ninety years and at the end was at an age where his brain was ageing and his usual defences had eroded. He now found himself feeling agitated and fearful constantly. For years he had suppressed his anxiety; now finally he could no longer hold back the dam as feelings of paranoia overwhelmed him. My poor father was now not capable of learning how to be receptive; he was beyond relaxing into his fearful feelings. Thus flooded with anxiety, he found it impossible to be aware of that quiet place of trust within himself and his last months were miserable.

If you are starting something new - moving house, embarking on a new career, finding yourself jobless, getting divorced, dying in any sense to an old way of life and beginning a new chapter, use these changes as an opportunity to practise awareness of fearful feelings. Be aware of the fear that has been with you since birth - it is what makes you human and lets you know that you are alive. Yield to the resistance that blocks this strong energy and so align with all that is receptive and clear within you - open to a deep sense of trust.

Fear is simply the energy of Life - the Dao - and as you befriend it, open and relax into it, you will become aligned with a stillness - that place of trust. Fear has then become the path that leads you home - you are coming home to that safe and still place of trust within - from which it is possible to handle all life's challenges. Practise this exercise whenever you feel tense and stressed to help bring your fear into the light of consciousness.

Gently press your fingertips into your lower abdomen 2 inches or so below your navel until you produce a gentle ache that expands into through to your kidneys at the back. Consciously be aware of any fear that comes up and also be aware that your belly and kidneys are relaxing. Breathe from the lower abdomen with calm even breaths as you affirm “Its OK to feel fearful. I trust these feelings and know that I can handle anything that life brings. All is well.”


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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