How to work with different shades of fear

Last year I set the intention to let courage guide all my decisions.

It took me from Thailand to Berlin, on El Camino de Santiago and onwards to Valencia, Spain, where I live now. It led me to say no to many more things than I would have in the past and to increasingly be real in my relationships.
And then it led me to fear.
If you look at what courage means, the definition is the ability to do something that frightens one. 
It does not mean to be without fear. 
Fear is natural and omnipresent in our lives.
But if we explore and even befriend our voices of fear, then we have the ability to let courage be the ruler instead of fear.
In other words, we can work with fear wisely.


When I recently began reading the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr I was intrigued by the two types of fear that she introduces: Pachadand Yirah (these actually derive from the Old Testament).
Pachad is defined as “the fear that often speaks to us through the inner critic” (the voice that tries to protect us from any real or seeming risks). This type of fear will often be overreactive and can trigger our fight-or-flight response.
Yirah is “the feeling we have when we suddenly come into possession of more energy than we are used to, or when we inhabit a larger space than we are used to, and when we are in presence of the divine.” (If you don’t resonate with the term divine, she also talks about the sacred part of ourselves. We can think of the most authentic and natural part of us. Your creativity, curiosity and pure sense of being.)
What I found truly illuminating was the notion that yirah is a feeling of fear solely related to expansion. 
She writes: “We experience this kind of fear when we intentionally change our state of being. … Experiences of sharing one’s true voice, honoring one’s soulful longings, speaking up for oneself, exposing one’s creative self all bring yirah."
"Moving from playing small to playing big means being less and less run by pachad and becoming more and more comfortable living withyirah.”
These two concepts help us create a distinction between what is life-giving fear versus our more reptile brain protective-mode of fear.
You can practice identifying and differentiating between these types of fear.

The simplest way is by sensing your body when fear is present. In both cases, you’ll probably experience a heightened state of alertness or adrenaline, but if you go deeper you can investigate; is there a sense of closeness/ contraction/ tension? Then you’re more likely to be experiencing pachadIs there a more open/ fluid/ expansivesense? Then it’s most likely yirah.
By exploring and getting to know these two shades of fear, we can find the right tools to use in the moment.
Tara Mohr explains that "our work with pachad is to quiet and manage it, because pachad-type fear often misleads us, causing us to retreat from any emotional risk or potential harm." If we let it rule, it can hold us back.
Whereas "our work with yirah is to notice it and welcome it for what it is."
With pachad we’ll need to soothe ourselves to help us step out of its space so it doesn't limit us. Whereas when we experience yirah we can take it as an invitation to lean further into the experience. Yirah is an indication that we are expanding and stepping up in our lives.
I personally found these notions really useful. I wonder if they resonate with you? I’d love to hear if you’ve experienced a sense of yirah at some point in your life, let me know in the comments below.


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