Let's say you're walking outside and all of the sudden you see a poisonous snake, or you're pulling the door open to a coffee shop just as someone carrying an open mug of hot tea is pushing the door out. The fear of an injury or harm (or worse) will pump your body with enough force to take off at the sight of the snake (i.e. flee) or shove the arm that holds the mug to the side without any hot liquid burning you (i.e. fight).
I'll leave the detailed biological explanation of what exactly happens in the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system to the experts, but I would like to call our attention to the role fear plays in igniting these intricate and involuntary processes that keep us alive when we come up against a threat. If fear is what starts these survival processes, then fear is like a key that unlocks wise old instincts, impulses, and abilities that naturally remain unconscious, or dormant, until they're needed.
Perhaps it's easier to acknowledge the wisdom that fear unlocks when it allows us to run from a hazardous reptile or fend off a 3rd degree burn. But it's likely a lot harder to perceive the wisdom fear is pointing us to when it arises at the memory of a long-ago elementary school incident or an upcoming presidency.
In Chinese Medicine, the emotion of fear is related to the season of winter (more on this at THIS Sunday's workshop). Acupuncturist Debra Kaatz writes, "The Chinese say that fear is governed by our sense of ourself. When we trust, then this trust dissolves all fear" (Characters of Wisdom, 443).
In non-immediately-life-threatening situations, instead of attempting to defeat fear, push through it, or get rid of it somehow, you may want to turn your attention to fear and ask it what wisdom it can reveal to you today. If you take time to notice fear, see it as the wisdom-pointer that it is, and make it your ally, you may find yourself in agreement with the ancient Taoist text that suggests, "Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe" (Tao Te Ching, Ch. 46, Stephen Mitchell's Translation).
May you always see fear for the friend it is and feel safe in its midst,
P.S. Not sure what I mean? Want to inquire into this some more? Join me in an upcoming meditation or private session.