Fear: Recognizing the Underlying Gift

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It was an early Saturday morning, with a dewy mist still hanging over the green foothills of my Los Angeles suburb when my father drove me up to the ballpark in our tan ’67 Plymouth. I really wasn’t that young, maybe 11 or 12, but when I look back to those striking moments, I feel as though I was much younger. That little trip up the hill was the first time I remember being afraid.

Yes, I felt fear many times before that particular day, although not in the same way. After all, my parents had gone through a less than amicable separation, followed by a jagged divorce. They just hacked it out, minus the attorneys and mediators of today. My mom and dad yelled at each other, each with their own conniving strategies. Mom used Biblical scripture and high-pitched tones as her weapons; Dad employed common sense and domination, fueled by a bottle in a paper sack, usually hidden under his car seat or in the freezer at home.

Yes, those were scary times, but I didn’t feel vulnerable in the same way that I did while we were driving to the ball field with just my dad and me in the car; before this, at least they were both there with me, despite their attention directed toward one another. During the ride, as I nervously dug my fingers deeper into my baseball glove, I felt incredibly alone and on my own. I couldn’t help but to fantasize that I would soon be alone and on my own in the outfield when the ball was hit my way; no mom or dad would be at my side, fighting one another, or not. My body did a good job of reinforcing how I felt between my ears and nervous stomach – butterflies – and the unpredictable sensations of heat mixed with tingling crept up my legs and arms, like monkeys up a banana tree.

“We should turn around Dad! Maybe we can go to the beach instead, and I can ride my new yellow surfboard?” No, that’s not what I said. Nothing came out of my mouth, because I didn’t want to disappoint. I could think it, but if my dad heard how I felt and what I’d rather be doing, he’d respond with some sensible retort like, “Sports will get ya into college, John!” He encouraged me in his own way, “You’re bigger than half the kids and smarter than the other half!” I suppose his encouragement might have helped, but first I needed him to hear my feelings. It was important for me to know that it was okay to be afraid and that I shouldn’t try to deny it.

How we learn to manage psychological fear when we are young will influence how we deal with what scares us later in life as well as how much stress we are able to manage from day to day. In other words, if we learn to develop a healthy ability to manage fear, we can lower our stress response. This has far-reaching effects in our lives as adults.

Reflecting on this, I am reminded of a teaching that has been shared in many forms: Beneath every negative belief, experience, or situation, there is a positive intention, lesson, or insight. I believe this wisdom can be applied to fear — physically, when we become aware of it in the body, and – emotionally when we become aware of it in the mind. As we gently remind ourselves that this allegedly negative event that causes suffering has something profoundly positive to show us, fear loses its grip on our attention. An awareness of our experience moment to moment is key to this shift, as it enables a quick redirection of our attention toward a deeper reality without suppressing the negative physical and psychological sensations.

The next time you feel the surge of that familiar, unwanted, fight-flight-freeze response try the following simple practice: Take three long, deep, and slow breaths to activate the Relaxation Response and stabilize the body. Direct your attention toward what yogic philosophy identifies as the wisdom center between the eyebrows, as though you can now see the insightful and profound lesson and positive intention of what your situation is teaching you in that moment. You may discover that being present within yourself and developing the ability to be with what is, moment-to-moment, changes everything.

John Sahakian is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Counselor and sees clients daily for all stress related issues, via Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, and in his west Los Angeles office. This article is based on the short film “Into Being,” featuring John and his son Bodhi, and was a winner at the Patagonia Short Film Festival. Please visit: http://www.johnsahakian.com
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10 Steps For Sleeping Soundly

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Black dog bodhi & John

Do you wake up in the middle of the night?

It is believed that our sleep patterns are created when we are infants, but it might be difficult for you to go back in time to establish new patterns. Instead, we can influence today’s sleep cycle by actively managing our approach to rest and eventually undesired patterns may begin to change. Sleep preparation is a mindful technique for reducing the frequency of restlessness between the sheets.

Keep in mind that our sleep cycles can be affected by many variables, including but not limited to age, diet, stress levels, lifestyle and general health. You may already know, as we grow older it is very normal to wake up two or three times a night. If we consider this seriously and add stress to the mix or a stimulant (even some medications), naturally our sleep interruption scenario may be more pronounced. Also consider that the nervous system can change over time and metabolize what we put into our bodies differently. For example, although you may have been a coffee drinker for years, with body chemistry changes the effects of caffeine can become delayed, causing us to experience restlessness hours following our cherished cup of java.

Regardless of the cause(s) of sleep interruption, it is important to not worry about how you’ve been sleeping, as the stress of worry doesn’t help. I encourage you to work with your body and mind as a system whose main objective is to feel good. Acknowledging that your body wants to feel good and pointing your attention toward healthy practices that support this objective lets your body and mind system know it is safe and there’s no reason for sleep to be interrupted.

1. At a very low volume, play steady rain, or white noise. Avoid intermittent rain forest sounds, as sound variations can be disturbing.
2. Make sure there are no sharp lights that are visible from your bed.
3. Do not use the iPad, computer, or iPhone at least thirty minutes before sleep.
4. Do not watch the news, action or violent television before sleep and avoid loud or agitating conversation.
5. Have a glass of red wine or a small cup of herbal tea one to two hours before sleep.
6. Take a warm bath or shower.
7. Wear soft clothing, specifically for sleeping and treat yourself to high thread count sheets.
8. To sooth the nervous system before bed even more, place a large folded blanket near a wall and with your rear pressed up close to the base board, put your legs up the wall. Once positioned, take ten long, slow comfortable breaths extending the exhale naturally without force through your nose or mouth. Remain with your legs up the wall for five to ten minutes or until you feel very relaxed. When bringing the legs down lie in fetal position for couple of long breaths and repeat to yourself, “It is time to sleep soundly.” If you are physically challenged and cannot do number eight, simply sit and say a prayer for your family and loved ones or silently acknowledge everything in your life that you are thankful for. Gratitude has a soothing effect.
9. In bed, lights out, eyes closed, say to yourself, “I am safe. I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. It’s my time to rest.”
10. Draw seven long, slow and comfortable breaths. For each breath visualize a body part and allow that body part to give into gravity a little more and let go. Start with a relaxing breath for your face. One breath for your right leg and one for the left. One breath for your right arm and one for the left. One breath for your torso and spine and one breath for your head.

It is a good idea to place a note pad by your bed and a small glass of water. Many times the sub-conscious mind will wake us up, simply because there is a thought or idea that we need to become conscious of. Write down the thought or idea, take a drink of water and go back to sleep, taking a few breaths to settle again, not forgetting to allow the body to give into gravity. If you awaken and there’s not a thought or idea in your mind, repeat step number ten and enjoy the fact that in the middle of the night you don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. It’s your time to rest.

Please visit: http://www.threecircleflow.com

With love,

John Sahakian C.Ht.