fearless living

Fearless Living — 7 Tips

Fear­less liv­ing: Many peo­ple wish to put their fears aside and to cre­ate and live a full and ele­gant life. In Zen, we say this is sim­ple, as in “Sim­ply Sit.” Or, “Pay atten­tion!” Or, “Wake up!”

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Intro­duc­tion to Fear­less Liv­ing

Many peo­ple wish to put their fears aside and to cre­ate and live a full and ele­gant life. In Zen, we say this is sim­ple, as in “Sim­ply Sit.” Or, “Pay atten­tion!” Or, “Wake up!”

The point of these little aphorisms is to bring living into the present moment.

Fear­ful liv­ing dis­ables our abil­i­ty to act in the here and now. Of course, when you think about it, the fear is total­ly inter­nal. I fear what I am imag­in­ing might hap­pen, and there­fore am stand­ing still doing noth­ing, or doing what I always do.

Fear­less liv­ing is not reck­less. It is both present and pre­pared. It also rec­og­nizes this fun­da­men­tal truth:

All you can control is the action, not the outcome.

I often describe fear­less liv­ing as act­ing with integri­ty. Integri­ty with what, you ask? With myself.

Integri­ty= “I am, I act, I ‘be’, exact­ly who I say I am.”

Below are some of the bedrock con­cepts that under­pin the fear­less life. I’m break­ing down the apho­risms above into their com­po­nents, (like a good lit­tle west­ern­er) in order to restate what should be obvi­ous:

The Fearless life is fully enacted, in the moment, and in total harmony with your essence.


1. Respond

It is essen­tial to learn the dif­fer­ence between a reac­tion and a response. Being a prac­ti­cal guy, I’d remind you that what we are explor­ing here is what is not work­ing for you. You can safe­ly leave what works alone for now. You can come back lat­er on, and improve upon them.

I define a non-work­ing reac­tion as “a habit one has that con­sis­tent­ly gets them pain, more prob­lems, and exact­ly the oppo­site of their intent.”

It’s essence is cap­tured in the famous line, “I get angry and yell, and the sit­u­a­tion gets worse, but I just can’t help myself, so I just keep doing it.”

Well, of course you can. Chang­ing a reac­tion into a response takes time, thought and dis­ci­pline.

The essen­tial part is to be clear about what you will do.

Most peo­ple say, “I’ll just stop yelling.” This is not a strat­e­gy, as there is no sense of what will hap­pen in place of yelling.. A strat­e­gy is, “Next time I feel myself becom­ing angry, I’ll have a breath, shut up, and think through a clear and con­cise response, stat­ing what I want, rather than what I don’t want, with­out blame.”

One of my friends described it this way: (She’s talk­ing about being silent for a bit, to allow her brain to engage.)

But [being silent] can let the oth­er per­son know that you are angry and gives you time to sort out your thoughts so you can prop­er­ly address the sit­u­a­tion and not fly off the han­dle when you do talk. Some­times when I get angry, I don’t know why and I need time to think the sit­u­a­tion through. I need to think if I’m being ratio­nal or am I just being a dra­ma queen and not get­ting my way. Also, it will give me time to clear­ly think of what I want to say so that he will under­stand how I’m feel­ing.”

Think: 

  • How are my habit­u­al reac­tions serv­ing me?
  • What am I afraid will hap­pen if I do things dif­fer­ent­ly?
  • What do I real­ly want to accom­plish in these sit­u­a­tions?
  • What would that look like?

Then: Here is my action plan for this sit­u­a­tion.


2. Act

Odd­ly, and para­dox­i­cal­ly, learn­ing to respond, and prac­tic­ing the response, leads to the response becom­ing instinc­tive, and there­fore becom­ing a habit­u­al reac­tion. In this case, how­ev­er, it’s a pos­i­tive one.

To demon­strate this phys­i­cal­ly to your­self, go to a stair­case with a sol­id ban­is­ter. Go up maybe five steps, hold the ban­is­ter, start to walk down, and hold your foot in the air.

Now, think about tak­ing the next step, in terms of what mus­cles to con­tract, how to bal­ance.

At least, you should notice how hard it is to put your foot down to the next step.

As a child, this was how it was for you, stand­ing on a step. Then, step­ping became instinc­tu­al, and this is a good thing.

Prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice

It became instinc­tu­al because you went to the stair­case and prac­ticed. I can’t tell you how many peo­ple come full stop when con­front­ed, as in point 1, with chang­ing a habit. as opposed to sim­ply talk­ing about chang­ing. Out come the excus­es.

For exam­ple, I have lots of clients work­ing on aspects of their rela­tion­al or sex­u­al lives, and they tell me how much they want it to be dif­fer­ent. I pro­pose exer­cis­es and tech­niques, and say, “Go prac­tice.”

Nada. Or Semi-nada.

And odd­ly, noth­ing changes.

Action is essen­tial—

and the only way to engage in a fear­less life is through con­sis­tent, respon­sive action. My friend, above, will only learn to speak her truth clear­ly by, wait for it, speak­ing her truth clear­ly. She goes on, in her note, to say,

I under­stand doing things that way will help to build a stronger rela­tion­ship and I will try and do that and hope­ful­ly he will too.”

If she were here, I’d remind her that the famous Jedi Mas­ter Yoda, a real Zen guy, said,

Do or do not… there is no try.”

In our stair exper­i­ment, think­ing about walk­ing down stairs is ‘try­ing’ to walk down. You saw how well that works…

Try means “cop out” and “hedge my bets.” If I try, I can excuse not doing.

So, do.

In other words, act.

With integrity.

Think: what action will move me in the direc­tion I say I want to go? Then, act. Liv­ing fear­less­ly requires con­stant, integri­ty based action.


3. Accept

A key con­cept in fear­less liv­ing is accep­tance.

What we accept is the Taoist concept,
“The way it is, is the way it is.”

I have lim­it­ed con­trol over exter­nals. Many sit­u­a­tions I find myself in are not the result of my actions, and I cer­tain­ly did not imag­ine them into being, “The Secret” notwith­stand­ing.

Accep­tance is the recog­ni­tion of the para­dox of the truth  of  both of these con­cepts: “Shit hap­pens and then you die,” and “total self-respon­si­bil­i­ty.”

Now let me be clear. You can refuse to accept this, and stomp your lit­tle feet­sies and scream about how “It’s not fair!” And you may even be right. But get this: no one ever said this was a fair uni­verse. It is nei­ther fair nor unfair. It just is.

How Zen.

Deny­ing the real­i­ty of real­i­ty changes noth­ing. You just become whiny and mis­er­able.

So, start right now, accept­ing that fear­less liv­ing is about  you being in charge of you. Act­ing fear­less­ly, out of integri­ty, is for your ben­e­fit and to accel­er­ate the depth of your spir­it.

It is not a tech­nique you imple­ment to manip­u­late oth­ers into doing life your way. If you try that, you’re just swap­ping one form of manip­u­la­tion for anoth­er.

That being said, fear­less, integri­ty-based liv­ing does seem to cre­ate few waves. I sus­pect that this is so because so few peo­ple are actu­al­ly out there liv­ing in this way. Most peo­ple are duck­ing their heads and hop­ing the prob­lems and pain will dis­ap­pear by mag­ic.

A friend recent­ly fired her moth­er. Their rela­tion­ship was high­ly dys­func­tion­al. My friend decid­ed to stop this game. She made it for a month. A week or so ago, she resumed hav­ing ‘tea’ with her moth­er.

Yes­ter­day, she said, “I have to fig­ure out a way to sneak val­i­um into my mother’s tea.” I made a com­ment about arsenic being sim­pler and only requir­ing one appli­ca­tion.

© Zohar Lazar

What my friend won’t accept is that the moth­er she has is the moth­er she has. She wants her mom to change into the mom she wants to have. Fear­less accep­tance would be, This is my mom, and I choose not to spend time with her.” Or “This is my mom and I accept her as she is.”

Just a reminder—

No mat­ter how ele­gant­ly you live your life, peo­ple will have adverse reac­tions to your liv­ing fear­less­ly. They will annoy them­selves with what you say and do. They will try to get you to “behave the way you used to.”

Laugh, don’t bite, and move on.

Think: how is my refusal to accept the real­i­ty of my real­i­ty caus­ing me to live with fear, uncer­tain­ly and no action? What ways can I use to remind myself to act with courage and clar­i­ty, all the time, and to let what hap­pens be what hap­pens?
Remem­ber: if you act out of response-able, thought­ful clar­i­ty, you are doing the best a human can. From this place, you can fear­less­ly deal with what­ev­er sit­u­a­tion cross­es your path.


4. The Focus of Fearless Living

If you aim at nothing, you will hit it.

Mas­tery of life requires focus. If, for exam­ple, your goal is ‘health­ful, peace­ful, cen­tered liv­ing,’ life becomes sim­ple. I weigh my next action against my focus. If it fits, I act. If not, I choose anoth­er action, or do not act at all. (The action of cho­sen inac­tion.)

The e‑mail cor­re­spon­dence I men­tioned above start­ed with my friend describ­ing a sit­u­a­tion she was in with her boyfriend, and say­ing

… so he doesn’t think that I am a push over and can get away with treat­ing me like dirt.”

I replied by sug­gest­ing she tell her boyfriend what she does want, and to do what she wants from him as she engages with him. (i.e. “I want total hon­esty in our rela­tion­ship, so I am total­ly hon­est with you, no mat­ter what you are doing.”)

What she was doing was stat­ing what she doesn’t want:
a) to be a push over, and
b) to be treat­ed like dirt.

When you think about it, if some­one told you that, how would you assume they want­ed to be treat­ed? Hon­est­ly, you would have no clue.

Yet, this is what pass­es for con­ver­sa­tion in most rela­tion­ships, and it’s why so many fail. I wrote:

Dar and I have only one relationship rule—total honesty. We set that up back when we first started dating seriously. It keeps things simple. We do as we choose to, and keep each other completely informed. It’s not about permission giving, as only I can determine what I will do, and the same for Dar.
So, I’d suggest you sit down with the bf, and say, “So, I’m angry that I didn’t set up a ground rule with you. Last night, I had an expectation that you were serious about meeting me, and if you changed your mind, that you would let me know. From now on, I’ll commit to letting you know how I am doing, where I’m going, and what’s up for me. If this relationship is going to work, I will expect the same from you.
In other words, total honesty.
Now, of course, that means that you have to state what you are thinking and feeling as things occur to you, as that’s part of being honest.”

Think: what is my focus for my life, my career, my rela­tion­ships? How clear am I about stat­ing what I do want, as opposed to whin­ing about what I don’t want? Do I ‘do what I say I want,’ or am I wait­ing for some­one else to ‘go first?’

Com­mit to dis­cov­er­ing, then stat­ing, then enact­ing your truth, fear­less­ly and with integri­ty.


5. The Discipline of Fearless Living

I use the word dis­ci­pline to mean com­mit­ment, not pun­ish­ment. I’m not into beat­ing myself into sub­mis­sion through blam­ing or judg­ing.

Discipline is about relentlessly engaging in what you say is important to you, while relentlessly letting go of what does not work.

Remem­ber, fear­less­ness is not the absence of fear, nor the absence of fear­ful events. Fear­less­ness is deci­sive, focused, clear action in the face of fear. If I leave myself with an ‘out,’ I will sur­ren­der to my fears, sit down, become small—every time.

Do that which you fear to do, and the fear will die” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our cul­ture has replaced dis­ci­pline with dis­trac­tion. If you look unblink­ing­ly into the face of the world, it’s a pret­ty scary place out there. You then get to choose. You are either a war­rior or a pat­sy.

  • The pat­sies choose addic­tions to avoid the dis­ci­pline of action— drugs, alco­hol, mean­ing­less rela­tion­ships, end­less TV or sports or gam­bling. Any­thing to numb and dis­tract.
  • The war­rior, in the Zen tra­di­tion, makes his/her life­work the ele­gant appli­ca­tion of their skill set, for the bet­ter­ment of their grasp of the here and now.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.— Sun Tzu

Life, I think, is a bat­tle.

It’s a bat­tle between yield­ing to the easy, numb, mind­less ways of reac­tive liv­ing, as opposed to the dis­ci­pline, clar­i­ty, hon­esty, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, and effi­cient action of respon­sive being.

Those with a dis­ci­plined heart and mind are not swayed or dri­ven off-point. And with prac­tice, this stay­ing of the course seems almost effort­less.

In Zen, this is called effort­less effort.

Think: what do I use to dis­tract myself from my fears? How dis­ci­plined am I? Am I will­ing to com­mit to a path, a way of being, for this life­time? If so, define the path and walk it, no holds barred!


6. Engagement through Fearless Living

Fear­less­ness requires engage­ment with life and with our­selves. Often, we are more than will­ing to show the world what we assume is our ‘good side,’ while tremu­lous­ly hid­ing what we think is bad. My friend wrote:

” I know I need to work on the being open thing with him. I am some­times afraid to show who I am just in case he doesn’t like the real me. Maybe because it is new and I still want to impress him. But that gets tir­ing. I am who I am and noth­ing will change that. I can only grow as a per­son and hope that he can grow with me.”

She’s right on all counts.

Ben Wong and Jock McKeen used to say,
“Change isn’t possible. Choice always is.”

They mean that we are who we are, even (and espe­cial­ly!) the parts we try to hide.

Jung called the hid­den stuff the “Shad­ow Mate­r­i­al.” It’s the stuff soci­ety forced us to repress. It’s our pet­ty, mean side, our angry, hate­ful side, our mur­der­ous rage. And no, this isn’t about express­ing this stuff. It’s about own­ing it.

I need to engage with all of myself.

Back when I did Phase 1 at The Haven, we did some Shad­ow Work. In a visu­al­iza­tion, I saw a samu­rai dressed in full armour. (Sor­ta the guy in the movie “Dragon”—Bruce Lee’s Demon…)

The samu­rai swung his sword at my head. Just before it bit in he stopped it, and turned its hilt toward me. He said, “You can kill, or you can heal.”

I real­ized that I had feared this “killing” ener­gy, and had repressed it for a decade. I also real­ized I could embrace it, and engage with it, and use it to ‘heal.’

The Shad­ow Side con­tains the ener­gy for excel­lence. It’s been pushed down there, under the influ­ence of admo­ni­tions to ‘be innocu­ous, duck your head, drug your­self, and don’t be a bad girl/boy.’ This ener­gy sits inside of us, dor­mant.

In Kun­dali­ni yoga, it’s described as a snake, coiled at the root Chakra, wait­ing to emerge by uncoil­ing and mov­ing upward along the spine. In this way, the ener­gy moves into the world.

I must be will­ing to accept and engage all of myself—my emo­tions, my dri­ves, my ener­gy, and my pur­pose.

Think: what aspects of your self do you judge to be bad, messy, nasty, awful? How much ener­gy do you expend try­ing (but fail­ing) to keep this stuff down? How does it emerge, seem­ing­ly ‘out of con­trol,’ as you relate? What would it look like to incor­po­rate the ener­gy of your full being into your­self, and to act from a per­spec­tive of dis­ci­plined whole­ness?
Remem­ber: fear­less liv­ing is whole liv­ing, and the ener­gy for fear­less action is always shad­ow ener­gy!


7. Celebrate Fearless Living

Describe to me a cel­e­bra­tion that is not a here-and-now expe­ri­ence. An imag­ined par­ty is a pale ver­sion of the real thing. In all my years, the only cel­e­bra­tions I have had were ones I actu­al­ly attend­ed.

I often find myself stop­ping what I am doing and star­ing into Darbella’s face.

I have this deep feel­ing of grat­i­tude and joy and sad­ness (that this will not last forever—and that would be me going non-present…) and respect and pas­sion for her. I am in a sense cel­e­brat­ing my rela­tion­ship with her.

With some peo­ple, I feel no cel­e­bra­tion at all, but rather a bur­den.

A friend wrote to me a while ago that she’s engaged in a ‘clean­ing out’ exer­cise. I wrote a series about that not so long ago. She’d cleaned out her body, which led to her clean­ing out her apart­ment, (I high­ly rec­om­mend this… when we moved last time, we threw out 16 pick­up truck full of ‘junk.’) she then decid­ed to clean out her rela­tion­ships:

” …and eventually to a stock-taking of the relationships in my life and where I am investing my energy with a view to eliminating what depletes me and expanding what feeds me.”

I would call that clean­ing out a cel­e­bra­tion to the nth degree.

Far too many of us drag peo­ple and objects and inter­nal dra­mas around like dead­wood. We are morose and unfo­cussed and in need of a good clean­ing out. It’s the stuff stuffed in a sack we drag around after us.

Even­tu­al­ly, you real­ize that the stuff you tie your­self to defines you, and weighs you down.

Think: how can I make my life into a cel­e­bra­tion? What am I grate­ful for? How do I shift things around so that I let go of what is not work­ing, rel­e­vant, or help­ful? How can I then move to a place of deep rev­er­ence and grat­i­tude for who I am, who I asso­ciate with? And final­ly, how can I live the fear­less life, ful­ly engaged with ‘the whole cat­a­stro­phe,’ with grat­i­tude, seren­i­ty, pas­sion and strength?

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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