Fear, Doubt, Failure

By Stephie Clemens

Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

– Samuel Beckett

When I received the reminder email that this blog post was due, my initial thought was to write about fear and doubt and how one might begin to skillfully work with these emotions both on and off the mat. These two qualities were foremost on my mind as I was preparing to run my first 100-mile race but since race day has come and gone, I decided that I would also bring into the fold the attachment to desired outcomes and how they play a role in the cycle of fear and doubt.

First, a runner’s tale…

Last November, I made the decision to sign up for my first 100-mile foot race. I have been a distance runner for over twenty years and made a recent return to the ultra-distances with the last race being a 100K. Despite having some longer races under my belt, for weeks after I handed over my entry fee, my thoughts were riddled with fear and doubt. Do I have what it takes to reach the finish line? Will my left achilles fully heal and be able to withstand 100 miles of forward movement? Do I have people in my life that will support me and this crazy endeavor? I typically do not run in the dark – how will I make it through the evening hours? The course is unmarked – what if I get lost? The list of “what ifs” seemed to be endless. While it would have been simple to contact the race director and drop to a lesser distance (one that was in my comfort zone) or easier still, not even show up to the starting line, I made the choice to put one foot in front of the other and set out to do the work. I began to build my weekly mileage and do the strength and accessory work that would strengthen not only my feet and ankles but my entire body. I would run with fatigue to expand both my physical and mental capacity for the relentless forward progress of such a race. I began to finely tune my nutritional needs and test gear needed for the many hours out on the gravel roads. During the weeks leading up to the race, there were still some moments of fear and doubt but the still small voice within would whisper “have faith in your training.” I recall a moment a couple days before the big day where any thoughts of fear and doubt had completely vanished, and I felt confident stepping up to the start line.

Inquiry into Fear & Doubt

Fear is said to be the most powerful of all emotions. It is born out of the sensations of contraction and acceleration (fight/flight/freeze/submit response) which leads to a quality of separateness. In the tradition of yoga, the greatest samskara or pattern of suffering is the recoil and disconnection from Source. Ahamkara or the I-self/ego has an intense fervor to separate from this deeply embedded implicit memory and seed of one’s very nature by creating layers of explicit memories through identity, story, and judgment – all which keep the yogi ignorant to the joy, beauty, and magnificence of their Divine Self.

The emotion of fear will perpetuate itself to create a progression, often unconscious, within the framework of Ahamkara or identity to keep itself intact and separate from True Nature.

  • Something is perceived through the senses
  • Need to conceptualize by the thinking mind to keep Ahamkara safe and intact
  • Give name and form
  • Associations are drawn through previous experience or relationship
  • Sensation/memory (creates samskara)
  • Unconscious patterning (vasana/karmas – actions of doing, thinking, speaking)

According to Sri Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras, abhinivesha or the clinging to life is one of the five kleshas or causes of suffering. On the surface, abhinivesha can be experienced as the fear of physical death but upon further inquiry, it is the fear of death of one’s Ahamkara or identity and uniqueness. Ahamkara will seek out experiences that will validate rather than threaten itself. It is this fear of disruption within the confines of Ahamkara coupled with the clinging or attachment to outcomes that ultimately lead to the unconscious patterning of thought, word, and deed.

Doubt is a paralyzing affliction – paralyzing one from action or living out one’s dharma. Doubt is said to be the most poisonous to practice and life as it can be invisible – one can become tangled in doubt’s web of stories and untruths without even knowing they have been caught. Doubt is also defined as being suspended between two equally strong yet contradictory propositions with the inability to be certain of either side.

In the Bhagavad Gita, a parable about fear and doubt, Arjuna, a warrior, is caught in the “horns of a dilemma”. Arriving at the center of the battlefield, flanked by two equally fierce armies, Arjuna surveys both sides and makes the realization that to go to war would jeopardize not only his own kinsmen but also the families of the opposing side and the structure of the kingdom as a whole. Suspended between the two forces, Arjuna casts down his bow and arrows and crumbles to the floor of his chariot, stricken with the grief of his imagined outcomes of the battle. Arjuna, paralyzed by fear and doubt, tells Krishna, his charioteer, “I will not fight.”

While the story of the Bhagavad Gita is set upon a battlefield, it is a metaphor for the battle that occurs within and many tension arcs of indecision that doubt creates. When addressing tension arcs, the inquiry becomes, how does one resolve the uncertainty that the pull from either side creates? The exploration invites an expanded view – the ability to see the entire spectrum – not just a two-dimensional but a three-dimensional matrix of possibility and choice. Can one begin to embrace not only the two opposing perspectives but all the infinite points within the continuum? This can lead to living a full and passionate life – the ability to meet the good, bad, ugly, and neutral moments with non-attachment and grace. In the Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna to look to his own dharma or essential nature for guidance. Krishna encourages Arjuna to then live his dharma full out, to let go of the fruits of his work, and ultimately, be a channel for dharma – stop doing, start being.  With this newfound knowledge of dharma and Self, perspective shifts and action and awareness merge which creates a state of flow. This state of union is Yoga.

What practices of awareness could one explore to work with fear and doubt in a skillful manner?

According to the Buddhist tradition, fear and doubt are one of the five hinderances or mind states that create obstacles within one’s practice and life. The first antidote to any obstacle is awareness – to observe that which arises without grasping or pushing away. By practicing dispassionate non-attachment, the yogi severs the ties of identity and begins to recall their True Nature.

Fear –

  • Name the fear.
  • Where and how do I feel the sensations of fear?
  • What is the story behind the fear?
  • What is the spinning or action of fear?
  • What can I do to resolve the spinning or action that are rooted in fear?
  • What can I control?

 

Does the life I perceive need to change for me to experience less fear?

Or…do I need to shift my perception of this life to experience less fear?

Can you become fearless to fear-less?

 

Doubt –

  • Name it. Acknowledge it. Keep it in your awareness. Bring doubt into the field of consciousness so that it does not go underground or grow invisible.
  • Investigate it. Find its roots – follow it home – where does doubt take up residence in the body? While doubt may be a construct of the mind – it will ultimately create dis-ease on the physical plane – investigate the “issues in the tissues”.
  • Reframe it. Allow doubt to become a doorway into growth. The ability to work with doubt invites creativity and a shift in perspective and relationship to the emotion.
  • The acronym RAIN – Recognize – Allow/Accept – Investigate – Non-identification.
  • Be fully present right here – right now. Be open to “what is” as opposed to “what if”.

The second antidote to any obstacle is to cultivate the behaviors opposite of the obstruction.

What qualities or behaviors need to be cultivated to work with fear and doubt in a skillful manner?

  • Cultivate witness consciousness – the seat of Buddhi – the space that deliberates, discerns, and decides. Is it safe? Is it true? The seat of the witness is also a place of radical compassion and right action – the ability to meet yourself just as you are and to instantly know what is needed moment to moment.
  • Investigate your dharma or essential nature – what lights you up? Write it down but recognize that dharma will shift with the phases of life – wherever you land – do it full out! Let go of the fruits of your labor and be the vessel for your unique dharma. “Suit up and show up!”
  • Cultivate and grow in the quality of shraddha or faith. Faith, in the yoga perspective, is not a blind faith but a faith in one’s experiences and insights gained along their journey. While doubt is a part of the process of life, to remember that the opposite of doubt is faith. The practice of shraddha invites the practitioner to take measure of their expeditions and utilize the tools they have been gifted to uncover hidden potential and the seed of True Nature that is infinite, immortal, and whole. Working with doubt invites new possibilities regarding one’s dharma – further refining the work of one’s essential nature. By growing in the capacity of shraddha, one may find a greater confidence in self and Self. In the moment when Arjuna fell to his knees, he broke himself wide open. It was in that moment of vulnerability that Arjuna became more receptive to the teachings. Can you become steady and still in the place of vulnerability in order to see with greater clarity and hear the whispered opportunities knocking at your door?

And this brings me to the part of attachment to outcomes, whether it be success or failure, and the continuation of a runner’s tale…

Well, my race did not turn out as I had hoped. I made the difficult decision to drop from the race at mile 83 and took my first-ever DNF. Immediately, my ego told me that I had failed and was left in a state of disappointment and despair along with a new set of “what ifs” ravaging my mind. After a few days of contemplation, I realized that failure is a part of success. While I failed to reach the finish line of one race, my success came with the many months of training which allowed me to move forward for 20 more miles than I ever had before.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches that any perceived outcome whether it be success or failure is none of my business. That I need to let go of the fruits of my actions and simply do my work full out. By grasping at any desired end result, not only will suffering ensue but action, itself, can be hindered. Fear and doubt could have paralyzed me months ago and even now with the fear of future potential missteps. So, I am choosing to put one foot in front of the other and to use any setback as a steppingstone to move forward with a renewed sense of faith both in myself and the path that lies beyond.

 

Is it faith or fear

that rises to the fore,

affirmation or negation

at the very core

and center of the self?

 

Will it be light or dark

within the heart today?

The icy grip of fear

that knots and sours

leaving me to cower

in the shadows?

 

There is another way –

I know it surely as I

know the scent of Spring.

The choice of faith

Invites, invokes, calls forth

from all creation

both the blessing

and the lesson

of the day.

 

Whether faith or fear,

the choice is mine alone.

Each moment, choosing,

stepping through the door,

trusting that the path

beyond will surely

lead me home.

– Danna Faulds

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Built with 🤍 by Blink Wellness

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About Kirk: 

Kirk was working 80-hour weeks and wearing his shoulders as earrings when he found yoga in 2005. Forever the competitive athlete, he loved the physicality of yoga. When the spiritual and philosophical side of yoga were exposed to him, Kirk was hooked. Yoga provided him with what other activities couldn’t -- the ability to foster the benefits of practice both on and off of the mat. Yoga was something that Kirk could bring into all aspects of his life. 

Kirk knows that yoga can be intimidating, so he crafts a class that is playful and inviting, while still being challenging and safe. His creatively planned classes build strength and flexibility in your body and mind while establishing clarity, giving you more confidence to overcome obstacles in your life, and keeping you injury-free. His classes are themed with a message that is relatable and will inspire you to take it with you off your mat. Kirk has been teaching yoga since 2008 and lead his first teacher training in 2012. Where Kirk truly shines is in coaching, developing and bringing out the best in others.  

Kirk enjoys traveling (40+ countries to date!), snowboarding, and cherishes time with his wife and two daughters. 

About Christen: 

Christen Bakken’s yoga journey began in 1998 in a Bikram studio that provided a safe and secure place to practice. She saw the yoga mat as a place to remember her purpose and a place to play. As she continued her studies and began her journey to teaching in 2006, Christen infused yoga classes with devotion and the yoga mat became a place of personal transformation and healing. Her classes are filled with laughter, song, sweat, and usually heart openers. In 2013, Christen began training yoga teachers. This is the place where she finds the most joy - in community with folks looking to grow and be of greater service in their homes, on their mats, and in the world. Over the years, she has led trainings in Denver, the Midwest, Florida, and now abroad. She has trained in continuing education modules, 200-hour, 300-hour, and 500-hour programs. Beyond the mat, Christen is a passionate adventure seeker - she loves to bike, snowboard, and spend time with her husband and pups. She sees each day as a blessing and hopes to remind all who interact with her of this truth.  

Two Light Studio Parking Information

We validate parking for THREE garages in the area!

  • Two Light garage located directly north of the studio. Please bring your ticket inside for validation.

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  • We have partnered with our friends at Greenslate to provide 1 hour and 15 minute validated parking for Power Life students in the lot at 36th and Harney (just south of the Cottonwood Hotel). Read below to learn how to take advantage of this perk:

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    • Step 2: Select your destination (i.e. “yoga studio”).

    • Step 3: Ask for the validation code at the Blackstone studio front desk and enter it on your phone.

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    • The validation provided by Power Life and Greenslate is for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Need to add additional time to your parking space? You can do that conveniently from your phone!

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  • All meters are free on Sundays and major holidays.

Fear, Doubt, Failure Info