Fr. Irala’s Achieving Peace of Heart has been one of our favorite books through the years. Here is an excerpt on practical ways to overcome fear….
Fear is the emotion most difficult to control because often we do not know what we fear or why we are afraid, as in cases of anxiety, phobias, or groundless fears.
The motive is often unconscious or may be transferred from its real cause to some accompanying circumstance. Or we may be unconsciously repressing some natural reaction which might humiliate us, we think, if seen.
Instead, we give it expression in “symbolic” fears which we recognize as groundless, but which we do not know how to control.
In such cases a deeper exploration of the subconscious is indicated, an investigation of the abnormality and the circumstances which first accompanied it. Discovering these, we may more easily control a transferred fear.
If the fear is conscious, we may take the following steps to conquer it:
1. Before all else, act. Fear already tends to inhibit our activities. So we must not assist it by remaining inactive but, on the contrary, conquer it by acting.
A North Pole explorer owes his rescue to such a procedure. Lost on the endless ice, he could not find his camp. Instead of worrying about it, he began to heap up piles of snow and ice at regular intervals. These helped him to make calculations through which he eventually rediscovered his camp.
2. Make them concrete. We must illuminate those dark caverns. Answer these questions in writing and in detail: “Just what am I afraid of? And why?”When fear or anxiety is made concrete and viewed objectively, it is destroyed.
3. Reason about them. “What probabilities are there that this [the thing I fear] will really happen? And even if it does happen, will it really be as disastrous as I fear?”
4. Face up to them. “Even supposing that this happens, what then? So what? Are there not others who have gone through similar crises? Haven’t they gone on living and become happy? And even if I have to die, so what? Then can’t I begin to be happier in eternity?” When we imagine the worst possible natural evil that could happen to us and sincerely accept it and so find a human or divine solution for it, we shall be victorious over exaggerated fear.
5. Avoid the exciting factors, or rather the alarming ideas which these stimuli arouse in us. Distract your attention from them by means of concentrating it upon conscious sensations or by deliberately following out a favorite train of thought or, even better,-
6. Deliberately affirm contrary judgments, e.g., “There is no special danger. The probability that this will happen is very small. Even if it does happen, the disadvantage would be insignificant, or at least there would come with it several advantages which would far counterbalance it.”
7. Deliberately foster contrary feelings, e.g., of courage, or security. This is done by the same means by which fear betrayed us, i.e., by intense acts of courage, by vivid remembrances of peaceful moments or places, by actually saying something with a tone of courage or security in the voice.
8. Associate this reliving of past peaceful moments with the circumstances which had been producing anxiety in you. Imagine that you are in control of the situation and that you are speaking in a masterful tone of voice.
In a Brazilian seminary I met a stammerer who was afraid that he would be unable to go on to the priesthood because of this defect. Face to face with the Rector of the seminary he could not speak two consecutive words. The same thing would happen when with certain of his companions and in certain classes.
On the contrary he spoke well whenever he had learned something by memory. Hence it was the feeling of anxiety which was inhibiting his vocal muscles. He was afraid that the Rector would declare him unsuitable for the priesthood.
But I helped him to remove this fear by showing him that he could cure himself if he would implant the contrary feelings in his sub-conscious by the means indicated above. And so I had him link these feelings to the experience which had terrified him most.
I had him imagine and then actually say, “I am going to see Father Rector . . . I greet him . . . And all is serene. I am completely at peace and am master of the situation.”
At first he spoke the last phrase with the same descriptive tone as the first. But I had him repeat it after me with a tone of security. On doing it with all the courage and force of which he was capable, I felt that he was transformed.
Three days later the Rector came to thank me for the good done to his seminarians, and he particularly mentioned that the stammerer had been cured.
9. In cases of muscular constriction. By this I mean a latent state of insecurity or anxiety due to strong and prolonged tension in the intercostal muscles. This prevents the quiet easy expansion of the chest which is normal when we are secure or in good spirits.
Instead, we would then tend to assume a posture characteristic of timidity or depression. But, since there appear to be no mental or emotional causes of fear, we should try to loosen these muscles by adequate gymnastic exercises, a more correct posture, or massage.
10. Assume the opposite facial expression: not the wide open, staring eyes which are a sign of fear, but rather a look that is secure and, mild.
Keep the voice deep and firm; let it rely on the outgoing air current and not on forcing the throat muscles. Maintain a respiration that is deeper or slower. To do this, instead of concentrating on expanding the lungs, try to expand the nasal passages and keep them well opened.
The great St. Bernard wrote in his rule that whenever the monastic bell rang, the monks were to drop what they were doing and go to whatever they were being called to.
In our homes, our monastic bell is all the many things beckoning at us throughout the day…the diapers to be changed, the dishes that need doing, the laundry that needs to be done, etc.
We respond to these things right away, even though we many not want to, remembering that these duties are the very things that will make us holy.
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