Lissa Rankin, MD Discusses “The Fear Cure”
Mama Glow: What inspired you to write The Fear Cure?
Lissa Rankin, MD: When I was writing Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I kept coming across loads of scientific data proving that fear was not only an uncomfortable emotion that keeps us from living up to our full potential; it’s also a significant risk factor for heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, chronic pain disorders, inflammatory disorders, even the common cold. In fact, fear may be a greater risk factor for your health than what you eat, how much you exercise, or any of your bad habits. But when was the last time your doctor wrote a prescription that said, “Get a handle on your fear”?
I also had a post-publishing epiphany in the wake of the success of Mind Over Medicine. I realized that it’s all well and good to teach the 6 Steps to Healing Yourself, to invite people to do the deep transformational work that makes the body ripe for miracles and facilitates “spontaneous” remissions. But even if people are intuitive enough to tune into what their bodies need in order to heal, and even if they’re wise enough to write The Prescription for themselves, way too often, fear gets in the way. You may know what needs to change in your life, but if you’re not courageous enough to act upon your inner guidance, you’re likely to stay sick—and stuck. That’s when I realized (with a gulp) that I needed to write a book about fear and courage.
We live in such a fear-based culture, but so many people are in denial of how fear is running their lives? Why is that?
Most people in our culture are riddled with fear, and it’s running the show in our lives, taking the wheel in most of our decision-making. But the funny thing is, we don’t even know it. This is partly because, in our culture, we tend to dress up “fear” in the more socially acceptable clothes of “stress.” And stress— well, hell— stress is practically a badge of success in our culture! We’ve been taught to think that fear is for sissies. We see it as a weakness, something we should hide from others and deal with alone in dark nights of the soul. But fear is not something that should elicit shame or stay hidden. Now more than ever, our fears need to shamelessly take center stage so we can let fear illuminate everything that is in need of healing in our lives and finally be free. Physical therapist Val Zajicek says PAIN means Pay Attention Inside Now. I think fear is like pain. It’s an emotional and physical signal alerting to you to Pay Attention Inside Now. Rather than running away from it, we need to examine it and let it heal us.
So what is The Fear Cure?
The book title is kind of a misnomer because it implies that fear is something we should cure, like Ebola or cancer. But really it’s all about letting fear cure YOU. Fear can be your friend. When you’re getting chased by a tiger, fear is there to save your life. But most of the time, our fears aren’t survival-related fears. The dangers exist only in our imagination. So The Fear Cure is all about letting fear point the finger at everything in need of healing in your life.
The Fear Cure is about coming into right relationship with uncertainty. At the root of most fears lies a fear of uncertainty. So coming into right relationship with fear is all about coming into right relationship with uncertainty. The tendency to avoid uncertainty is rampant in our culture. Uncertainty is flat out un-American. If we’re honest with ourselves, avoiding uncertainty is the goal of 90% of our choices. The search for certainty is an addiction, and it’s deeply related to the pursuit of comfort. We’ve been programmed since childhood to believe that if you’re successful, you have comforts—big homes, good food, nice cars, a big nest egg for retirement. But what if we’ve been sold a booby prize? What if living a meaningful, fulfilling life is about recognizing that there is something beyond comfort and certainty? What if uncertainty is actually a gateway to possibility, and if we avoid it, we avoid something precious?
When we make peace with uncertainty, we realize that when we don’t know what the future holds, anything could happen. An angel could appear. A relationship you long ago gave up on could be healed. The cancer could be cured. A miracle might happen. Fear could disappear in one exhale. When we cling to certainty, we limit ourselves, but if we’re willing to venture bravely into an uncertain future, the doorway to mystery, wonder, and awe flings open. What lies on the other side of the doorway invites you to explore. When you don’t know what you’ll find, you might be surprised to find that the uncertain is even more wonderful than that which seems certain. Whatever might come next is an exciting adventure once you’re no longer afraid of that which you don’t know.
Letting fear cure you can be hard work. Why should we bother?
Because on the other side of this journey lies FREEDOM. Not just happiness, which can feel kind of conditional, but real freedom. When fear no longer runs your life, when you’ve allowed Something Larger to run you, when love and soul-based courage are making your choices instead, your joy is no longer conditional on getting what your ego wants. You only want what the Divine wants for you, and you’re no longer attached to getting what you want, which means you’re no longer afraid of what is uncertain—in fact, the uncertain is almost seductive. You’re also not afraid of what you might lose, because you’re willing to lose it if that’s what is in alignment with your soul curriculum. When you’re no longer afraid of uncertainty or loss, a whole new world opens up to you, and life becomes quite magical, even miraculous.
You sound like you’re speaking from personal experience. Can you tell us what you’ve learned from your own journey with fear?
Oh my. I just wrote a whole book about the miracles and magic I’ve experienced on this journey. It’s kind of a hybrid—a spiritual self-help book dressed up as a memoir—called The Anatomy Of A Calling, and it will be published by Rodale Press in December, 2015. I’ll tell you just one of many examples that demonstrates what is possible when you’re no longer letting fear run your life.
Back in 2012, during one of many periods of spiritual intensity (I call them the “quickenings,”) I could sense that some sort of spiritual guidance was trying to come through me, but I wasn’t getting the message. This is often my sign that it’s time to get quiet and make space for guidance to come through. So I took two days off and went to Esalen Institute. The minute I got in the car, I started getting messages from my spirit guide Sebastian. (I know. I know. This is where the doctor in me starts to realize I’m sounding like a loon.) Anyway, when I got to Esalen, Sebastian told me to sit down at my computer and take dictation in order to draft up an email. So I did. I wrote down word for word what I was told, all the while wondering if I was making all this up, even though it didn’t feel like it was coming from my own brain. The email was titled “Calling all visionary physicians.”
I was like, “Okay, so what’s this for? Am I supposed to send out this email?” Sebastian said, “Await further instructions.” Great, I thought, shaking my head. I’m supposed to channel some email to doctors but then do nothing about it.
A week later, I was telling this story to Martha Beck, with whom I was teaching a program called Find Your Calling (you can listen to our free Find Your Calling call here). Martha asked if I would read her the email Sebastian had dictated, and when I did, she started excitedly telling me that I was supposed to bring a group of doctors to her ranch, that we would do equine therapy with them and run a “Heal The Healers” program together. She started spouting off dates and hotel details, telling me she could already see the doctors at her ranch as if they were already there. I was on the other end of the phone crying, in shock and awe and gratitude.
That’s how the Whole Health Medicine Institute was born. We’re now in our third year of training doctors and other health care providers about how to be true healers amidst a system that doesn’t easily support their callings to pure service. I had been dancing around my purpose, confused about how or if I should be involved in medicine at all. And Martha had been questioning why she had bought this crazy horse ranch when she didn’t even own horses. I never would have had the courage to start a school if the guidance hadn’t been so obvious and Martha hadn’t promised to help me. It all felt so purposeful and I felt so loved. It was just one of many miracles that guided me, once I started trusting something other than my fear to help me make my decisions.
Do you have one final tool people can use to help them free themselves from fear?
Sure. It helps to learn how to discern between “true fear” and “false fear.” There are true fears meant to elicit protective action, and there are false fears meant to alert us to Pay Attention Inside Now. True fears are a call to action and should not be ignored, while false fears exist only in our imagination and are best used as fuel for personal and spiritual growth. But we won’t be free in life if false fears are ruling our decisions.
Once we can discern the difference, we can let true fears protect us in the way they’re meant to, while we learn to let false fears transform us—without ruling our decision-making. Sometimes true fear shows up as a “fight-or-flight” stress response when you’re in danger, as a signal that says, “RUN!” But sometimes it shows up more subtly—as intuition. So how can you tell whether a scary thought is intuition or a false fear you’re better off ignoring? The Fear Cure has lots of tools to help you discern the difference. But one way to tell is that intuition tends to feel very calm. It doesn’t feel like a panicky, paranoid thought. It’s simply a grounded, inner knowing that says, “Don’t leave your child with this babysitter.” You can tell the difference by paying attention to how your body responds when you get sensitive enough to read the cues. Once you do, your body compass can guide your safe, wise decision-making, and this gives you the courage to say yes or no, based on true, trustworthy guidance, rather than fear.
For more free tools to help you come into right relationship with fear, you can download the Prescription for Courage Kit at TheFearCureBook.com.