It was some time ago when I was in a therapy session of my own that my therapist said, "The opposite of fear is love." It took me awhile before I fully understood what she was talking about. In sessions since, this has come up multiple times. She refers to different emotions as being in the "fear family" or the "love family." Members of the fear family include anxiety, overwhelm, anger, hurt, etc. while the love family includes courage, peace, joy, and more.
More than ever, the world needs love right now. Sure, love can't cure a virus. Love can't lift shelter-in-place orders, but it can help us feel better. I've seen and heard about many acts of love, including neighbors buying groceries for each other, the movement to sew medical masks, and people just calling each other more than usual. These are beautiful things taking place; that's the good news. The bad news is that there are a whole lot of people dying and there is a lot of uncertainty about how things are going to unfold in the upcoming weeks and months. Hello, fear family.
What I have found for myself is I often want to believe that if I'm acting like I'm in the love family, that's enough. For me, I am very good at knowing what to do. In fact, I'm good at "doing" in general. I can get things done. I know what I can do to help me maintain connections with others at this time. Send a card in the mail to my elderly friend - check. Call some people I haven't spoken to in awhile - check. But when I actually turn inside to see what's going on in my inner world, it's not such a place of love. There is a lot of fear being stirred up in there.
There is financial fear.
There is fear of getting the virus myself and then being an unknowing carrier, spreading it to others.
There is fear that I'm not doing enough for my clients or the people I'm close to.
There is fear of "normal" being much further away than any of us know right now.
There is a lot of fear.
And my guess is that there are lots of people all around the world doing acts of love while feeling deeply afraid inside, like I am.
I have viewed these things in opposition to one another for a long time, with fear as the "enemy" or the "bad guy." Love is the "hero", swooping in to save the day and banish fear. It's really only taken this situation to show me that it doesn't work that way. Fear is not...bad. Fear needs love. While I don't do it nearly as often as I want to, a friend of mine encouraged me to meditate the other day and so I did. Sitting didn't feel right, so I laid on the floor for probably 5 minutes and just let my thoughts come in. It wasn't that I was feeling actively afraid in that moment but I became acutely aware of the fears within me. I didn't act like they weren't there, as I have been. I looked at them and that act of seeing them was giving them love.
There has been such an emphasis on acts of love in the world recently, about "physical distancing, not social distancing", about finding ways to connect virtually that it may lead us to believe that doing all of that makes the fear go away. That may be the case for some and if it is, that is wonderful. By all means, we ought to continue spreading love to others, as much as we can. But I also have seen for myself that sometimes I am doing too much turning outward and not enough turning inward. When we pause and are still, how are we really on the inside? And if there is fear that lies below the surface, how do we love ourselves? What do we do when everything else is stripped away to keep ourselves company - to keep the fear company so that it feels loved?
We can do it by just sitting quietly and seeing what comes up for us, like I did briefly the other day. We can do it by journaling. We can do it by going for a walk and being outside in nature. All of those things help us come home to ourselves. Though our physical selves may be at home, these are ways to emotionally come home to ourselves and to foster love internally. Let love keep the fear inside company for awhile.