Fear is our biggest obstacle in our movement toward living more fulfilling, peaceful and meaningful lives. Just think about it: When you are faced with a decision, how often do you withdraw, choose the easier option, because you're behaving defensively -- you're afraid of something?
You don't take your child to volunteer, because you're afraid of running out of time.
You don't go to that new reading group or church or synagogue because you're afraid of feeling uncomfortable.
You don't invite people to your house because you're afraid it's not nice enough, you're not a good enough cook, no one will have fun.
Making Better Choices
Learning how to forswear the reactive and fear-based thinking that causes us to make destructive choices is one of the most important things we can do to become better, happier and more loving people, both individually and in our communities.
In that moment when our instinct is to withdraw, say no, limit ourselves, can we instead open our arms, say yes, embrace possibilities?
When we react from a fearful instead of loving place, we make poor decisions. What can we do to combat our tendency to view others and the world with fear?
We should recognize that fear is, of course, natural. It is an instinctive protective mechanism. However when we center ourselves, opening our hearts and minds to recognize how deeply our tendency toward fear and self-protection inhibits us, we become more willing to make ourselves vulnerable.
Opening your heart and mind -- both to yourself and to others and to the transformative work of the energy of Love -- requires you to be brave, because you are in effect exposing yourself.
This is the first step on the journey toward what I call courageous spirituality.
But love is also a natural force and we are all capable of it. And so the very first step -- a long-range strategy -- is to make the conscious choice to embrace love rather than fear. So much of putting this into practice is simply about recognizing the choices we have and then deciding to make those choices that lead us toward love and away from fear.
Each chapter of "8 Habits of Love" talks in detail about how to make these habits an integral part of our lives. Each chapter asks us to move away from our unconscious fears and toward a more open, courageous approach to life.
In the very first chapter, for example, "The Habit of Generosity," I talk about how we need both inflow and outflow in order to foster life and create energy. Just taking from the world and not giving is stultifying to our spirits. On the other hand, giving to others, whether materially or of our time and effort, actually benefits us in the long run.
And so, how do we actually live a life infused with generosity? How do we move from recognizing its fortifying power to behaving with generosity in our everyday lives? I suggest a number of concrete steps that you can take. Try just a few today:
- Make a gratitude list. Notice the positive energy surging inside you as you write. The items on that list are things the Universe generously offered you. Your feelings will change as recognition of your own good fortune increases. How can you feel as stressed, as rushed, as defensive, when you are happily aware of all the good aspects of your own life?
- Visualize the people in your life with whom you have a strained relationship and actively bless them, one by one. Again, this is mostly about shifting your attitude. When you think kind thoughts about these people, even if it seems forced initially, you will eventually find your muscles relaxing. It feels so much better to have a generous attitude toward someone than a defensive, angry one.
- During a meeting -- whether at work or with a friend -- express your appreciation and your regrets when the main part of the conversation is over. This involves being open to people expressing their opinions about what they enjoyed about the exchange (in other words, what went well), and also what they wish had gone differently (what did not go so well). This will help you cultivate an attitude where you not only accept people's differing opinions but actively look forward to hearing about them. You become a learner, a participant who is willing to improve, change, discover.
- And, of course, in terms of material generosity, start small if you feel the fear of scarcity rearing its ugly head. Commit to sharing some percentage of your income (it can be minor) with others. Then increase when and if you can.
The advice I give at the end of each chapter has some overlap. Why? Because to counter our fear-based behavior, we all need to pause and reflect first. Without a habit in place that allows us to block out the noise around us and become aware of the beating of our own hearts, we will continue to be driven by irrational fears.
But above all, being grateful for the gifts you already have is the most important first step on the journey toward integrating these habits into your life.