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CIW Board Member Kristen Ulmer has written a fantastic book: The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead.

Listen to her talking to CIW President Dr. Marc Gafni about her book, her own relationship to fear, and her (r)evolutionary approach to cope with fear in our lives.

In their dialogue, they also talk about what Marc calls Kristen’s sacred autobiography:

“How did you, Kristen Ulmer, in your experience of things, how did you come to be the person that the world needed to write this book?”

Here is the amazon description of the book:

kristen-ulmer-the-art-of-fear-book_cover_smallA revolutionary guide to acknowledging fear and developing the tools we need to build a healthy relationship with this confusing emotionand use it as a positive force in our lives.

We all feel fear. Yet we are often taught to ignore it, overcome it, push past it. But to what benefit?  This is the essential question that guides Kristen Ulmer’s remarkable exploration of our most misunderstood emotion in The Art of Fear.

Once recognized as the best extreme skier in the world (an honor she held for twelve years), Ulmer knows fear well. In this conversation-changing book, she argues that fear is not here to cause us problems—and that in fact, the only true issue we face with fear is our misguided reaction to it (not the fear itself).

Rebuilding our experience with fear from the ground up, Ulmer starts by exploring why we’ve come to view it as a negative. From here, she unpacks fear and shows it to be just one of 10,000 voices that make up our reality, here to help us come alive alongside joy, love, and gratitude. Introducing a mindfulness tool called “Shift,” Ulmer teaches readers how to experience fear in a simpler, more authentic way, transforming our relationship with this emotion from that of a draining battle into one that’s in line with our true nature.

Influenced by Ulmer’s own complicated relationship with fear and her over 15 years as a mindset facilitator, The Art of Fear will reconstruct the way we react to and experience fear—empowering us to easily and permanently address the underlying cause of our fear-based problems, and setting us on course to live a happier, more expansive future.

Enjoy the Dialogue and Read the Transcript Below:

Transcript:

Marc Gafni:                     

Hello Kristen Ulmer.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Hi Marc, how are you?

Marc Gafni:                     

I am delighted to hear your voice and delighted to be here with you for this long awaited dialog.

This is Marc Gafni. I am privileged to be the president of the Center for Integral Wisdom. Kristen Ulmer is both a dear friend, a board member, and a world leader in authority on the subject of fear.

We’re here, Kristen, to talk about, after we did an initial dialog, I think it was four months ago on our new book, Return to Eros, which is about reframing and evolving love in culture and articulating a new [sexual 00:00:52] narrative and a new narrative of Eros, we’re now coming full-circle in to understand, what’s the first step? In a certain sense we did the second step first. Return to Eros is about reclaiming Eros, re-eroticizing our lives on every level: innovation, creativity, sexuality, and transformation. But there’s something that stands in the way, and then that which stands in the way is fear. [See the dialogue below.]

It’s the hidden fears of our lives that are often hidden even from ourselves, and you have spent your life engaged in this topic. I remember when we were doing work together a decade ago as you were winding down the first phase of your skiing career, and me being Jewish told you that, “We only just buy ski clothes, we would never go down any of those mountains you go down.” Oh my god, no way. But you were one of the people in the world that created extreme skiing. You were the best woman extreme skier in the world for, I think, many years, and faced down fear of an incredible magnitude, literally the fear of death that goes with some of these beyond imagination, James Bond runs dropped in by a helicopter. You literally spend your life staring into fear.

Then you continued with an intensive process of zen training and zen buddhism with my colleague and friend and your teacher and friend, [inaudible 00:02:28]. And then you began to integrate those two, to integrate what you had studied in psychology, your expert practitioner status and living in the face of fear, your zen training, and really brought these different parts together into what I would call a new whole, a new synergistic emergence, a new evolutionary offering that never existed before. And that brought you to write your book which is just a great, great, great gift.

The center was actually excited to help facilitate the publication of the book through Adam Bellow and Harper Collins. Oh my god, congratulations, what a huge gift. Tell us the name of the book!

Kristen Ulmer:                

First of all, thank you for the amazing introduction. I don’t think I’ve ever had an introduction quite like that before so well done.

My book is called, The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead. Pay particular attention to the subtitle, Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead, because I actually don’t teach that fear is a holdback. It’s actually our reaction to fear, or our unwillingness to deal with our fear in an honest way, that’s what holds us back, not the fear itself.

Marc Gafni:                     

Beautiful, great. A great distinction. Fear is what is, it just is, and how we react to it, how we engage it is what can be a deadly obstacle.

Let’s maybe … Kristen, we’ll talk maybe about 20 minutes so that people can get a sense of just the depth of this or at least a taste of the depth as they go in order of the book.

Let’s maybe begin, if it works for you, with what we call in our distinction, “Sacred autobiography.” How did you, Kristen Ulmer, in your experience of things, how did you come to be the person that the world needed to write this book?

Kristen Ulmer:                

I feel like I’ve been groomed by the universe my whole life to write this book, or to be an expert on fear. I was a professional skier. I was the best woman big mountain extreme skier in the world for 12 years, and I was called, “Fearless.” I risked my life almost on a daily basis doing incredibly scary things, dealing with a lot of fear. The thing is, I felt fearless, but what I soon learned is that I wasn’t fearless. Actually, I had been repressing fear in order to see the way I wanted to. You know how we’re all taught to conquer, overcome, let go of fear, ignore fear? I was just really, really good at that, and what I learned is, you can get away with that for about 10 years, and then your life just starts to come unraveled.

For me, next thing you know, I had developed PTSD because I had seen a lot of my friends die in the mountains. I started to feel really burnt-out because I was fighting this war with fear in my unconscious mind. It was totally under my radar. Remember, I didn’t even feel fear, and what do we know about people that are at war for 10 years? Well, they just burn through all their resources. I was exhausted and I started having more and more injuries because I had to become such a rigid, stoic person in order to not deal with my fear. And what do we know about rigid trees and a heavy wind? Well, they break.

And back to the PTSD, that is when I went through really negative, awful, emotional experiences. I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions with those and so I just repressed, repressed, repressed, and then that un-dealt with fear just starts hijacking your mind and your life and your experience. Whatever you won’t deal with, you kind of give magical powers to.

Basically my whole world was, I was just struggling. I had to quit skiing, quit my ski career, to figure out what the heck had gone wrong.

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow. Wow, that’s … What a story. Most people might see [inaudible 00:06:21], as you know we’ve talked about in a different dialog, are where special forces commanders in the Israeli army. But even a special forces commander is not facing fear everyday, but you face fear if there’s a battle and battles are, thank God, not everyday. You’re skiing on a regular basis. Going down mountains that, to be perfectly candid here in public, I’d be afraid just to walk down. I’d be like, “Oh my god, I’m not walking down that mountain, let alone get on skis, let alone go on a black run.” Oh my god.

So you’re literally staring death in the face, “Facing fear down,” in your description, but then you did something really special which is you said, “I’m not just going to work this out in my life, but actually fate, it’s destiny, I’m going to try and be the person in the evolutionary story who tries to work this out as a gift to everyone.” I want to just ask you about that. And of course, people need to read the book and everyone please go to Amazon, The Art of Fear, Kristen Ulmer. U L M E R. Pick this book up because it’s relevant to everyone’s life.

Can you give us a fragrance, a taste of the premise of your work and the direction that it began to take you? Is that a fair question?

Kristen Ulmer:                

Absolutely. What happened is I started helping not only to resolve my issues with the repression of fear showing up in my own unique ways, but I started to help other people resolve their repression issues with fear.

The thing about fear, it’s like most people are taught to, you know the language, conquer, overcome, let it go, rationalize it away. The thing is is it works. It works great, otherwise people wouldn’t be teaching this. It gives you a moment of feeling a lot less fear, but unfortunately what happens is you then repress it and it’s at the cost of your future. And actually, there are so many rampant problems in our society right now, problems like PTSD, depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders. All of these are longterm effects of the repression of fear, so in order to buy yourself temporary relief from this unpleasant, uncomfortable emotion, that’s where the cause of all these problems is coming from.

Then ultimately, what do we do? People take medication in order to not deal with their fear and they push it down in the basement even further and encase it in concrete. You’d think with all these methods, modalities, and medications that we’d all be feeling a lot better, we’d have a lot less fear, a lot less anxiety. Well, it’s just not working. And what’s the definition of insanity?

Marc Gafni:                     

You tell me.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It’s like we have been repressing fear for so long and it is just not working, it’s just crushing our spirits, crushing our soul. All these rampant problems, people are so medicated right now to just not deal with their fear. So the premise of the book is, if you have a problem in your life, the repression of fear either has everything to do with it, or it has something to do with it. Even if it’s injuries or illness or all of that, we all get that it’s bad to repress emotions, but these are the consequences of that. That’s the first half of the book.

The second half of the book is just talking about how we need to, instead of turning away from our fear, trying to conquer it or overcome it or declare war against it, we actually need to end the war, turn towards it, make friends with fear, and then all of the problems associated with the repression of fear become resolved. Then all of a sudden you start to blossom and fear actually becomes an asset and an ally helping you be magnificent.

Marc Gafni:                     

Gorgeous. That’s completely, completely gorgeous. I’m going to ask you a couple more questions and I want to make this dialog [inaudible 00:10:15] enough that people can hear it, get it, and go order the book, so they can actually have that experience and take that journey.

[inaudible 00:10:22] stay with me for a couple of more questions. If I understand the sense of what you’re saying, you’re saying, “In some sense, it’s a deep structural idea in the world of Eros, not in relationship to fear but in relationship to the emptiness of life.” So you’re saying in relation with the fear, and the parallel would be the emptiness of life, is that you can’t cover it up, you can’t deny it, you can’t hide it, you can’t medicate it, because when you do, and I love the phrase that you used at the beginning of your unfolding which was, “You’re forfeiting your future.” You’re actually … you’re getting a temporary reprieve which works … I really love that you pointed out that works or otherwise if it wasn’t somewhat effective, people wouldn’t be doing, but it’s actually forfeiting your future.

And then you pointed out, I think, the social, the structural … social implications of this: the opioid crisis, PTSD, the Adderall, the entire set of depression, anxiety. So what you’re saying is, “You’ve got to actually, step one, recognize. You’ve got to feel fear through to the end and not repress it. Step one, part one.” And then part two, tell me if I got this right … Again I know there’s so much more nuance to it, but part two is … and then second part of the book, how do you actually make friends with fear? Make it your ally, make it your partner on the path?

That’s awesome. Assuming I got that, and I was just reflecting back what you said of course, assuming I got that roughly okay, can you give us a couple of practically … some kind of practical advice so we can feel this gorgeous, gorgeous meta-structure? Feel them in some embodied practical way? I know that puts you on the spot but is it okay to ask that?

Kristen Ulmer:                

Of course. I’m super practical. The whole second half of my book are practical tips, my website is all practical tips. I’m not just trying to outline what the problem is-

Marc Gafni:                     

Your website is kristenulmer.com?

Kristen Ulmer:                

Yes.

Marc Gafni:                     

[crosstalk 00:12:38]

Kristen Ulmer:                

Yeah, it’s kristenulmer.com. I have created a lot of content on my website to support people on their journey towards ending their repressive attitude towards fear and actually making friends with it instead.

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow.

Kristen Ulmer:                

I’m not just interested in outlining what the problem is, it’s very interesting to outline what the problem is, but I’m more interested in actually helping people resolve this problem, resolve these problems. I’m working with Wounded Warrior Project right now. I’m helping people with depression. I’m helping people with panic attacks, anxiety disorders, insomnia-

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow.

Kristen Ulmer:                

… under-performing. All of these things are deeply related to the repression of fear.

Physical illness and injury, if you repress fear you’ve created the end … ideal, [inaudible 00:13:28] backed-up host environment for illness to thrive, for example.

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow.

Kristen Ulmer:                

So I’m just working with a lot of people right now to help them resolve their repression at-

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow …

Kristen Ulmer:                

Go ahead.

Marc Gafni:                     

You work with people one-on-one Kristen? I know that you’re very, very busy and I know you work with organizations, [inaudible 00:13:48] person find their way to have the privilege to work with you one-on-one?

Kristen Ulmer:                

Absolutely.

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Of course, working with me one-on-one it’s very extensive, but it’s … I have so many other possibilities. If somebody just wants to do something privately, quietly at home on their own, I have webinars, I have online at-home courses. I have a hundred questions to be in-flow with your emotions that I just created this week actually-

Marc Gafni:                     

Wow.

Kristen Ulmer:                

… that I’m really excited about. But let me answer your question though.

Marc Gafni:                     

Please. Please.

Kristen Ulmer:                

In our society, nobody wants to deal with the unpleasant side of life. We have gratitude practice and forgiveness and love and joy practice. These are wonderful practices, but if they’re done at the radical denial of fear and anger and sadness and just these unpleasant sides of life, it’s not going to … it’s going to repress these. I put it in quote, I don’t see these as negative emotions but I know most people do. If it’s at the cost of repressing them, whatever you repress becomes your repressor. If it’s trying to control them and replace them with only the positive side of life, you lock these things down in the basement, they’re just going to burn the house down at some point. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow but it will eventually over time.

So what I help people do is turn towards their fear, which is very counter intuitive. You don’t really hear language like that, it’s all just, “Fear is an enemy, enemy, enemy. A holdback,” but if you turn towards your fear and make friends with it …

And you know what? We’re starting to see people do this just on their own even without my help. I look at Bill Gates for example, and he actually credits fear as one of the greatest motivator he has. He sees failure as one of the greatest learning opportunities he has. I look at Richard Branson for example, he has definitely a love affair with fear going on as far as I can tell. He’s a friend of mine, I’ve seen it, we’ve talked about it. Laird Hamilton, arguably the best big wave surfer in the world says he has an intimate relationship with his fear.

People that are leaders in our culture, they’re not repressing fear, they’re becoming intimate with it. They’re having an erotic experience with fear. There’s a great saying in zen, “Kiss a demon, it becomes love.”

Marc Gafni:                     

Beautiful.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Our demons don’t know why we don’t love them. Fear doesn’t know why we don’t love it. Fear is actually this incredibly gorgeous, amazing emotion that’s here not just to keep us safe, but to help us come alive and be magnificent. Our leaders are really tapping into that, really merging with fear to be magnificent and alive and bring their A-game to everything they do. But so many of us are still repressing fear. We think that it’s some sort of colossal failure in our character if we feel fear, we’re embarrassed about who we are, we hide our fear. It’s eating us alive. We’ve got to stop this repressive attitude towards this very misunderstood emotion.

Now I’ll tell you how to do that. I’ve given you an earful, do you have any other questions?

Marc Gafni:                     

No, no. I think it’s fantastic. When you think about it, the quality of courage of course is not to be fearless in the way that you describe originally, but it’s … courage comes from a particular relationship to fear, that’s its nature.

Intuitively, speaking either from a psychological or a spiritual perspective, there’s a lot of intuitive and beautiful wisdom in what you’re saying because of course, reality wouldn’t have manifested something as central as fear if it was only negative. That’d be a reality we wouldn’t want to live in. So that fear must be holding a blessing that has been, by many parts of culture and psychology, ignored. But it makes such good sense, and for you to come, in the language of Hebrew mysticism, we say, “We have to liberate the sparks from the broken vessels.” What you’re doing is really liberating the spark of the sacred in fear, from the broken vessels of teaching that have taught people for so many years to repress fear.

I just want to feel into that from the Kristen Ulmer: the mystic perspective. As a liberator of the scared sparks that need to be liberated in order to make a pull I think we all owe you a great debt of gratitude in that particular and gorgeous regard. So yes, give us that practical, how-to, first couple of steps we can take.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Wonderful. You mentioned courage. Courage is a willingness to feel fear, that’s what courage is. Here are the steps that I want to offer people right now.

First of all, I want everybody to just really get something at their core. Fear is actually not the problem in our lives. It’s our resistance to fear that causes problem in our lives. And this [inaudible 00:19:15] in many forms. You could avoid fear, you just never want to do anything scary. You could ignore fear, control fear, fight fear. A lot of the language around fear, the conquering, overcoming, it’s hard to find somebody that won’t say those words and fear in the same sentence, it’s about declaring war against it.

That perspective shift is so crucial. Fear is not the problem in your life. It’s your resistance to fear, you’re unwillingness to feel fear, your war with fear that is actually the problem in your life. If you feel like fear is holding you back, it’s actually your resistance to fear that’s holding you back. Fear is actually here to make you magnificent.

I actually, since even the book, have come up with a four-step art of fear method to help people deal with fear in an honest way-

Marc Gafni:                     

Yay.

Kristen Ulmer:                

… and have it help them come alive.

The first step, just to go simple, quickly through them, is to recognize that fear is normal and natural to feel. It’s not a sign of personal weakness or a character flaw, just getting that can be really life-changing.

The second and the third parts are just all about awareness. Awareness is power. The second step is of the discomfort of fear. Fear is just a simple sensation of discomfort in your body, and become aware of where you feel it, what you feel, how strong is it? The third step is become aware of your reaction to it, your resistance to it, “Do I avoid it? Do I ignore it? Do I fight it?” That awareness of your resistance can also just lead to realizing that, “It’s actually the resistance that’s the problem in my life, not the fear itself.”

Then the fourth step is that you learn how to feel it. For me, emotional intelligence is … In our culture, emotional intelligence is primarily taught as our ability to intellectually understand our emotions and control them, which keeps us in our head so we’re thinking about our emotions. So we’re dealing with our emotions intellectually. If you learn how to feel your emotions though, you then start to deal with your emotions emotionally and the feeling of fear is in your body. So it’s a thought-free experience, this fourth step, and it’s really a gorgeous practice. If you actually fight a war with fear it is … will consume your life for 30-50 years, but if you actually turn towards the fear and just are willing to feel it, it calms right down in about a minute. It’s crazy-

Marc Gafni:                     

Beautiful.

Kristen Ulmer:                

… how fast and effective this is.

Marc Gafni:                     

That’s gorgeous. That’s gorgeous. Let me ask you one last question and then I’ll try and being fear and Eros together for a second. Then we’ll send people on their way to Amazon, and thank you everyone for listening.

Here’s just a practical question to end with. I’ve been working with someone for a little while who really dealt with fear in the context of actually being a soldier. I’ve worked with quite a few people from battlegrounds, and then they went into civilian life. I didn’t work with them on fear, that’s your [problems 00:22:22], I worked with them on other issues, but it just occurred to me now.

So now this person is in life, and they’ve actually done very well. They’ve been financially successful, entrepreneurial, et cetera, and they have a fear of being poor. What would you do with a person … What would you advise a person who has this … actually a fear, of actually being poor? Even though they actually have enough money but they just have a fear of actually letting that expression of power loose in the world because they just have a fear that, “Oh my god, I’m just not going to have enough,” how would you advise a person to deal with that fear? Is that a good example?

Kristen Ulmer:                

Yeah, sure. You should be afraid of being poor. In our culture and certainly in America there’s a lot of emphasis-

Marc Gafni:                     

Totally.

Kristen Ulmer:                

… placed on security, financial security.

Marc Gafni:                     

Totally.

Kristen Ulmer:                

If you have money that’s a sign of success. That’s a normal and natural fear to have. The question is, has it become pathological?

Marc Gafni:                     

Great question.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Is it really messing up his life? Fear of being poor can really motivate somebody to make a lot of money, for example.

Marc Gafni:                     

[crosstalk 00:23:33] be careful.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Right.

Marc Gafni:                     

We don’t want to demonize it.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Right, exactly. The question is, is he walking around pickled in it? Fear of being poor can be an incredible motivator. Fear of failure can be an incredible motivator to make sure that you don’t fail, you work twice as hard because you don’t want to fail.

Marc Gafni:                     

That’s fantastic, I love that Kristen. How do you make the distinction between fear, which is a great motivator, and fear that’s actually holding you back? How do you find that distinction? Is it in your self-experience? How do you cultivate that discernment?

Kristen Ulmer:                

The difference between … Let’s take fear of failure, because that’s a big one for people.

Marc Gafni:                     

Fantastic. Huge. Awesome.

Kristen Ulmer:                

Bill Gates actually credits fear of failure for leading to his success.

Marc Gafni:                     

Beautiful.

Kristen Ulmer:                

And then the couch potato credits fear of failure for holding him back, keeping his foot firmly grounded on the couch.

Marc Gafni:                     

Exactly.

Kristen Ulmer:                

What’s the difference between these two guys? It’s very, very simple. If you embrace your fear of failure, it becomes a motivator. If you resist your fear of failure, then it becomes a holdback.

Marc Gafni:                     

That is a fabulous, fabulous distinction. I think everyone can hear that you got to go get that book. This is a book that can really effect your life directly and beautifully.

For those of you who were with us several months ago, this is the second in our series of dialogs to Kristen. We dialoged about Eros earlier and about the Return to Eros, and you really can’t talk about Eros without talking about facing into fear and, as you call it so beautifully, befriending fear, because Eros is radical aliveness. It’s the experience of radical aliveness moving towards ever deeper contact and every larger wholeness. You cannot experience radical aliveness, which is the flow of desire and power and yearning moving through you, if you have this block, which is fear that you haven’t befriended.

Fear directly opposes Eros in every dimension. Fear opposes Eros not in the sense that, again, in the sense that you’re saying Kristen, in the sense that if you repress the fear, don’t make friends with it, then you can’t actually access Eros and to actually live a fully erotic life in creativity, in transformation and innovation. You need to find a way to actually live in to Kristen’s book and Kristen’s teaching. Number one, recognizing the fear, not repressing it. Number two, making friends with the fear.

It’s not enough just to speak the words and it really deserves some study. So I really want to just invite everyone as we’re returning to Eros, our new book, to take a break for a little bit now and go find Kristen’s book directly, meaning go right now if you can to Amazon. Put in Kristen Ulmer, The Art of Fear and how you face fear down, I bet you’ll find it immediately. Pick up a copy and read it for the next month, maybe a chapter a night, and I can … I’ve known Kristen as a teacher for many, many, many years, and as you all know [inaudible 00:26:52] I rarely do an interview like this, it’s not our standard practice. I’m making exceptions for Kristen because I think this book is so important for people. I think it’s just an unbelievably important gift.

Kristen, congratulations to you on being able to offer that gift. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to come on and to offer this to everyone. I can’t wait until our next conversation.

Kristen Ulmer:                

And let me just close by saying, if you have an Eros practice … can you have an Eros practice with fear? The relationship you have with fear is the relationship that you have with yourself at your core, and so if you have an Eros and an erotic experience with fear, then you’re having an Eros or erotic experience with yourself.

Just so finish up too in going back to that soldier that you talked about, the image of the drill sergeant screaming in the soldier’s face during basic training is hard to shake. The soldiers are just absolutely taught to just be so up in the face of emotion. Just notice if you have that background in anyway. If your mother said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or Dad said, “You’re not allowed to be angry,” or, “Turn that frown upside down,” whenever you felt sadness, there is probably some sort of soldier in your where you’re just so [inaudible 00:28:09] numb or just checked out of fear, your emotions. These emotions are actually the thing that are here to help you come alive. We cannot leave the emotions out of this practice, especially fear, anger, and sadness. I’m focused on fear, but consider that and I hope you buy my book.

Thank you Marc, this has been wonderful.

Marc Gafni:                     

It’s been totally wonderful. Kristen, just in our last second, give everyone the full name of the book one last time.

Kristen Ulmer:                

The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead. And my website is kristenulmer.com if you want some help with it.

Marc Gafni:                     

Thanks Kristen. Thanks everyone. Have a great day. Awesome.

Listen to the Dialogue between Marc Gafni & Kristen Ulmer on A Return to Eros

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