Woman Riding Horse

Fear Can Be An Obstacle or A Resource

Fear can be a destructive emotion when it causes us to freeze or get so flustered we feel lost. As Takehisa Kora explains it in his How to Live Well: Secrets of Using Neurosis, “If we do not accept things as they are, and if we try to rid ourselves of them, then our minds tend to stay with them.” Recognizing fear as an emotional energy pattern, we can use it as a motivating force instead of tying ourselves down with our own worries. Dr. Reo Leslie, LPC, LMFT, CACIII, RPT-S, DAACS, MAC, Executive Director, Colorado School for Family Therapy, taught me how cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) can help motivate a shift away from attitudes and behaviors no longer serving our wellness.    

I learned how to ride the shifts in life during my teenage years from a powerful stallion named Tiger. After a traumatic event in my life, my parents sent me to my grandparents in Oklahoma who put me in a summer riding camp. When helping with prepping the horses and afternoon clean-up, I watched how some of the horses could sense fear in their riders. A stallion named Tiger was an expert at it. He seemed to buck those who were afraid just for fun. Most of the camp instructors were anxious around him and often refused to ride him.

Mount Your Fear

Yet, Tiger would let me ride him bareback. The instructors encouraged me to do so with hopes others would be riding him soon as well. One afternoon when I had him in a walk around the arena, I noticed the camp instructors had left a gate open. Clenching the rope reins in one hand and grabbing a bit of Tiger’s mane in the other, I leaned forward and whispered forcefully in his ear, “Let’s go! ”

Tiger’s ears shot straight up. Then with a slight jump and a loud neigh, Tiger took off through the gate at a full gallop. As we entered the nearby forest, my fear told me to keep my head next to his neck and below his ears. While racing through the trees, the branches snapped and the world became a blur. The yelling and screaming of the camp staff receded as we sped away. My fear of falling off caused me to use every nerve and muscle in my body to stay upright.

Enjoy the Ride

The intensity of the experience kept me focused on blending with the movement of his muscles. We were one being in motion. It was the ride of a lifetime. What it taught me was how fear, sometimes, can be a powerful tool for focusing our attention, keeping all the senses alert. Fear does not have to limit us or leave us feeling lost. Instead, when we listen to our fear carefully, its energy can be transformative, freeing, an inspiration. And sometimes, a wild ride!

Transforming fear into a positive force in your life can be exhilarating. Counseling can help you transcend fear and avoid some of those tree branches along the way.

  –  Carol 

Shifting Attention

Self Healing

Healing from challenges such as anxiety, trauma, and grief can be enhanced with the practice of attention. Often times we just react to our emotions instead of taking a moment to decide how we want to react, or if it is worth our time to react. During times of depression and loss, it is helpful to stop agonizing over the past when we can. Even medical research tells us that worrying does not help the healing process. Rushing off into what if’s or getting stuck in the mantras of could’a, would’a, should’a, only increases stress.

Shifting Attention

The simple practice of shifting our attention is a way to reduce stress. An easy way to shift our attention is to take a few moments to ask what is happening with our senses. Taking time to notice what is present such as the picture frame, the furniture or people in the room gives you the opportunity to shift your attention. The theory behind consciously shifting attention is found in Morita Therapy which was developed by Shoma Morita  , M.D. (1874–1938)

Sense Awareness

Exploring with the senses can bring a sense of calm back into the body. For example, when grieving, one might see a photo of a passed loved one. To experience their absence with less pain, we might pick up a framed photo, feel the frame, look at its placement on a shelf, and dust the area where the photo sits. Doing so, we can symbolically sweep away the pain. Placing the photo back in a special space as an opportunity to transform our response to the loss. We might thank those who made the camera that was used to take the picture or utter a simple thank you to the loved one in the photo. We can think of something they did that we appreciate about them. We might then smile or cry tears of gratitude.

Using Attention

Taking time to concentrate on what is around me moves my attention away from concerns, if only for a moment.  By noticing what I am sitting or standing upon, the color of the sky or the people in the room shifts my attention. As Gregg Krech of the ToDo Institute teaches, it is possible to refocus at any time during the day with the question, “Where do I want to place my attention?” Focusing energy on the answer, if only for a moment, carries me away from anxiety and depression. Noticing a skill or talent I was shown or past gifts from my former loved one, I keep them in my heart with appreciation. Placing attention on what makes me smile and if only for a moment, supports the healing process. Experiencing the moment with each of my senses, I can take a break from anxiety and use the moment to rest and heal.

Trauma Recovery

Many people get frozen by trauma. It reappears in various ways and often is re-lived over and over again in dreams. Individuals often carry around the memories and are triggered to respond as they did years ago. War veterans know this when jumping at the sound of a popping tire as if it is gunfire. Women and children tortured by captors may avoid contact with others due to fears of past interactions.

An alternative to replaying the trauma as it is remembered is to literally re-story it. So often after a traumatic event, the anxiety that arises is of being a victim again. Yet, as I have journeyed with many of my clients, we find a new story to remember. Those who survive trauma have a story of strength to share. I explore with my counseling clients how they tapped inner and outer resources to endure difficult times.

In addition, I use what is called in Applied Existential Psychotherapy (AEP) ‘empty chair’ work. My clients transfer the anxiety-producing voices in their head to an empty chair. With a bit of separation from the old voices, clients explore new ways to tell their story. They speak with the lens of an open heart. As Betty Cannon describes in her book, Sartre & Psychoanalysis: An Existentialist Challenge to Clinical Metatheory “Sartre attempts to discover the ontological structures of human existence which manifest themselves in experience, whereas Freud attempts to discover the metabiological forces which lie behind human experience.” Using an AEP approach combined with some Japanese psychology, I help my clients make conscious choices about living life fully.

Clients gain an understanding of how it is unnecessary to replay what happened or let others tell them how to live. They begin to see teachings from their trauma, anxiety, and fears. Aha moments happen as they explore living as a survivor instead of as a victim. Practicing a compassionate view of self and others, it is possible to make wise choices in difficult situations. As many of my clients have concluded, sometimes the wise choice is not to fight, but wait for the opportunity to escape.

A critical lesson for many was the awareness of not being their trauma or dis-ease. Together we tested tools that allowed them to transform their trauma into a reservoir of lessons learned. Discarding the voices of judgment and blame, a new view was possible. With new perspectives, they walked out into the world again with the strength to live life embracing the full range of the human experience.


–  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts

Woman In Field

Being Trapped

After surviving traumatic situations, we stay stuck in the muck of fears. In a state of anxiety,  we get hooked by our own emotions and the emotions of others. We feel as though we cannot move, sometimes not even breathe in the presence of others. The world around us seems alien. We become trapped by fears of what might happen. We dream up situations where we lose friends of years or how we become ill. We might stop driving being so afraid we might get into an accident. We become trapped by our own fears and expectations.

Finding a Way Out

The sensation of being trapped is partly due to being lost.  When the thoughts of “I cannot, I’m not good enough, I might…… become overwhelming, then is the time to remember that we all are seekers. The human condition, instead of being a trap, is a resource.  The process of being human can free us.

Walking Free

My training as a Buddhist priest and a Chaplain along with certifications in Applied Existential Psychotherapy and in methods of Japanese Psychology led me to integrate spirituality with psychotherapy.  My mental health clients and mindfulness students have shown me it is possible to recognize and step away from destructive emotions. It is possible to walk free from neurotic fears.

Although it does not happen in one day. It takes some patience and a bit of practice to live life fully. The practice involves being willing to see with a new view. Only when fears are seen as chains do they bind us. Recognizing fear as just another thought pattern, it is not a trap. With practice, we can walk out into the world despite fears and even with our fears. We can use fear as a reminder to notice and to ask what are we seeing and where are we. Using tools of self-reflection and techniques for embracing the human condition, we discover the freedom to heal and grow.   

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts



Even when the world seems dark and fear grabs at your gut, it is possible to find peace of mind. Feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety, we focus on the loud and demonstrative voices of fear and anger. Doing so we do not hear the whispering of compassion flowing in life. What we often miss is that Life does not tell us, instead it asks us, ‘Where do you want to place your attention?”

Morita Therapy asks us to be conscious about placing attention. We can place our attention on our difficulties and sing the blame song, “he done me wrong”. Another option is to shift our attention. It can be done with the simple practice of accepting. Oddly enough, accepting in the midst of difficult circumstances is possible. When we feel our hands are tied, sometimes accepting is the only thing to do. Accepting is not about giving up. Accepting is more about assessing what is happening. After accepting what is occurring or what feelings and emotions are raging, then we make a decision as to what to do about it. Part of managing depression involves expanding our view and taking actions that include caring for self.

So often, traveling with my counseling clients through the fears from abuse or the anxiety from illness, loss of job, or death of loved ones, we discover strength. We explore ways to see events with a lens that focuses on lessons learned. We let go of projections others place upon us. We find ways to drop the never-ending tape of Could’a, Should’a, Would’a. One of those ways is to practice listening with heart-mind to what is. What is includes all the causes and conditions that made it possible for us to be in the moment. Shifting our focus is a technique for quieting busy minds, even in the midst of chaos. An effective way to shift our focus is to be active. We do not have to define ourselves by our pain and suffering. We can get up and engage with the world. That can be as simple as washing dishes, fixing a cup of tea, or taking a walk. During such activities, we focus on the sensations of our body. Placing awareness on the soap suds on our hands, or the warmth of a tea bag, the aroma of flowers or the wind upon our face we setting aside ruminations of what could have been and clinging to the past. We can experience, if only for a moment peace.

Opening up to life creates the space for letting in happiness, if only during the instance we wipe a tabletop or pet a smiling dog or cat. Pain and suffering exist. Yet, with life constantly flowing, we do not have to let them define who we are. With an open heart and mind, we can place our attention with full awareness. Doing so leads us to peace, even when in the midst of chaos.

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts