Lifelong human rights activist, writer, and Buddhist practitioner Kiri Westby guides us through a 10-minute guided meditation for fear, drawing upon her days working in war zones and her harrowing imprisonment in China.
Kiri Westby Bio
Kiri Westby is a lifelong human rights activist, writer, and Buddhist practitioner. Kiri started working professionally in human rights advocacy at age twenty-two, transporting money and information across borders for a global feminist network. At age twenty-nine, Kiri was arrested and disappeared by the Chinese government, making international headlines for reminding the world—in front of Olympic cameras—of the ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet.
Last week, I spoke with Kiri from her home in Boulder, Colorado where Kiri shared stories from her latest book, Fortune Favors the Brave: An Extraordinary Memoir, including the harrowing story of the detention and abuse she suffered while protesting in China. 10% of the book’s proceeds go to Students for a Free Tibet and Urgent Action Fund, which she talks about at length in our conversation.
Listen to the whole conversation here: Episode 95: Finding Fearlessness with Kiri Westby
This week, Kiri offered a guided meditation on working with fear. Whether you’re dealing with overwhelming negative thoughts, phobias, fight or flight symptoms, a general fear response or feeling of fear, or just want to improve your well-being and relax your nervous system as you wake up today, this guided mindfulness meditation can help you let go of fear’s grasp and find a sense of inner peace.
Introduction to guided meditation for fear
[00:00:00] Kiri Westby: Hello everybody. My name is Kiri Westby and I’m the author of Fortune Favors the Brave: An Extraordinary Memoir, that came out this year. I’m also born into a Buddhist family.
I was taught to meditate at the age of four. And while I do come out of a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, the guided meditation I’m going to offer today is a very secular meditation that works with the breath and has to do specifically with how we relate to fear as the embodiment of fear and how we move through fear.
This meditation is specifically a meditation that one can practice when they’re feeling fear or terror or working through some kind of recent past trauma in which fear was a major emotion that they felt. So as a human rights activist, who’s worked in war zones, I’ve had a lot of moments in which I’ve gone into the fight, flight or freeze response to extreme amounts of fear.
And I’ve had a lot of experience with how I’ve come out of that. So I’m offering that to you as a breath work or a meditation for working with fear. We’re almost two years into a global pandemic in which we’ve lost millions of lives around the globe.
And all of us have had to work with fear in some way or another over the last several months in a new and different way. This meditation has to do with how one can move through fear and physically release some of the paralyzing effects of that.
Guided meditation for fear
So I’d like you to just take us on your strong seat and feel your spine straight up and down connecting with the seat and the sky and heaven above you.
And start by recognizing your breath and breathing, feeling your diaphragm, filling your lungs far as they will go.
Exhaling, pausing for a moment so that your heart may rest upon your diaphragm before you refill your lungs again.
Complete cycle of breathing.
And in this moment, I want to do, to just recognize what is real, what is happening right here in your direct experience.
What you can control and what is out of your control?
Then if you can conjure up a moment in which you felt an extreme amount of fear, perhaps that’s a moment that’s happened in the past, or maybe it’s even something you’re currently working with. Fear of losing your life or fear of losing someone that you love, or maybe it’s even just a fear of leaving your house and interacting with other people in this time.
I want you to lean in to that fear, feel the fear in your body.
And notice where in your body you’re tightening or even it’s perhaps in your mind that you’re tightening. The response to conjuring up a fearful moment is so often that we hold our breath or tighten in our shoulders. Or in our heads, even in our fists.
I want you to just notice in your own body where the fear is manifesting and lean into it, feel it, and sit with it. Try to get a flavor for how the fear is actually affecting your physical body.
Once you’ve noticed where it’s sitting in you, come back to the breath,
Join me in filling your lungs to their capacity, emptying your lungs, filling your lungs and emptying your lungs. And in between, if you can right at the exhale, pause for a moment and allow the heart to just rest on your diaphragm for refilling your lungs. And as you exhale, put your mind into the place in your body where your fear had gripped you.
Inhale. And as you exhale, relax the musculature around that space in your body. Breathe in and with the exhale, relax your mind and the fear that it is holding and relax the muscles around the place on your body the fear is gripping you.
Now, I want you to come back into the present moment where that fear that we conjured up is not necessarily happening. And I want you to, again, notice what is under your control and what is out of your control.
Continue breathing in. And as you exhale release the tightness where that fear is affecting your physical body,
Come back into the present moment, come back to your diaphragm, to what you can control. Which is your breath. Nobody can control your breath for you. You have the freedom to breathe in and out. You have the freedom to release the places in which fear is gripping your physical body.
Much of what we fear is in the past, or has not yet happened, which means that it is not truly happening here in this present moment.
So as you come back into this present moment and continue the deep breathing, using your diaphragm as the vehicle with which to relax the rest of your body, I want you to look around the room and notice what is actually happening. Notice, what is real?
Notice your breath, bringing you back to a place in which the fear is no longer gripping you. And then if you are comfortable, and able, want you to just get up and go make yourself a pot of tea. From that place, which we’ve made friends with fear and it’s no longer controlling us.
That’s what I have to offer today. That’s how I worked through fear.
If you are interested in trying more meditation practices, view our library of guided meditations including mindfulness practices, analytical meditations, visualizations, deep relaxation, and an array of meditation teachers. Find even more full videos with tips on our YouTube channel.
Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Tara Anderson
Audio mastering by Christian Parry and Chris Boulton
Digital Production by Jason Waterman