Facing Fear and Shattering Illusion

May 29, 2014 62 Comments

In this line of work, I am in constant contact with folks who are either trying to recover from an illness or who have broken through and regained their health. I’ve noticed that many of these people mention spiritual “openings” that came to them in their darkest moments – an unexpected gift from a higher force that left them changed forever.

Thinking on these conversations, I notice one blessing – actually more of a teaching –that is mentioned most frequently. Somewhere in the struggle, there is a day of reckoning, where the individual is swallowed up by the full reality of their disease, and is forced to come to terms with their own mortality or, more precisely, their fear of the ultimate unknown.

This is not usually a pretty process and can feel like the end itself, and unfortunately, it sometimes is. But often, once the vice grip on survival loosens and the individual surrenders control to the forces of nature, the body’s inner repair system begins to kick into high gear. For many, this is the turning point where real recovery begins.

In other cases, this awakening comes at the end of the road, in the final days of life, long after any medical intervention has been deemed futile. On a few occasions, I’ve had the honor of sitting with patients (who had long since become friends) during their final days, and was blown open by their accounts of direct transmissions from above. This divine knowing seems to be a welcome parting gift before making the great transition.

The underlying wisdom here appears to be this: our deep fears around death prevent us from truly living. Clearing the fear is the path to freedom.

Again, the benefit of experiencing and transcending a major illness is that these fears become very real and must be acknowledged. But what about those of us who are not sick? How do we proactively address the underlying patterns that might end up becoming the root cause of a future illness?

There is no magic bullet or cure-all approach that can be recommended to everyone, but I do know this: of the thousands of sacred ceremonies that exist, there is one shared understanding that spans them all.

At the core of just about every indigenous rite of passage is the concept of re-acquainting ourself with fear and learning the lessons that lie beyond it. Everyone has their own unique set of phobias or anxieties, but these “surface fears” are all linked to the one base fear mentioned above – fear of the unknown.

To use a very personal example, one of my surface fears is claustrophobia and any scenario that places me in a confined space without an easy exit is extremely “challenging.” So when I was invited to participate in a Maya temazcal (which involves an extremely hot and dark enclosed space), I was triggered and my heart felt like it would explode.

But fear has become a motivator over the last decade and this wasn’t the first time my fear of tight spaces had bushwhacked me. Just months earlier I had failed to successfully complete my first Ojibwe sweat lodge because of the claustrophobia (not pretty), so the inner voice told me this was an opportunity to continue to do the work. I said yes to the invitation.

On a side note, I know that I’ve put myself onto the edge of my existential frontier when time begins to slow down and then dramatically accelerates out of control. Let me explain.

In reality, the customary pre-temazcal prayer ritual probably only runs about fifteen minutes, but it felt like two hours. The entrance into the low, igloo-shaped structure followed by the candle lighting ceremony felt like another two hours (only about ten minutes in reality). Almost like that anticipatory feeling of dread as the roller coaster slowly climbs to it’s highest peak – clink, clink, clink, clink…

Then, like clockwork, things began to speed up right as I approached the main object of my fear – the plunge. We had finished the opening spirit offerings, and the medicine woman leading the temazcal called for the hot stones to be brought in. As the red hot spheres made their entrance and the dark container began to heat up, my grip on reality slipped out of control. Panic.

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But something was different this time. I had come equipped with a spiritual strategy given to me by a mentor after my first sweat lodge meltdown. As my body screamed “MAYDAY MAYDAY!!” a deeper part of me started taking note of the specific fears that arose instead of merely reacting to them.

Here’s what came up with each new scalding rock that was brought in: What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t breathe? What if I pass out and nobody notices? What will they think if I can’t complete this ancient ceremony? Am I a phony? What if they are dishonored? What if I die in here?

As I watched the thought forms appear and wreak emotional havoc, there was a dawning. My fears were all “what if’s” — pure conjecture — not a direct response to actual danger. I had no idea if I could or couldn’t handle the heat or the enclosed space because the fear itself was annihilating me long before the ceremony could. I was scared of what was beyond the curve in the road ahead, not the actual experience at hand. I was afraid of the unknown.

An inner voice whispered the answer, which was simple and spiritually cliché, but what can I say? – it worked. “Stay in the present, don’t think about the next hot stone that’s about to be placed in front of you, focus on your breathing and be grateful for the lessons that come through the suffering.”

The rest of the ceremony was an inner odyssey. I had hacked my fear of temazcals and sweat lodges, and possibly my claustrophobia too. Once it was over, the Maya medicine woman who had led the proceedings told us that it was one of the hottest temazcals she had ever been in. I’m glad she saved that detail for afterward 🙂

The temazcal is just one of thousands of beautiful traditions from around the world that consciously bring you into your fear, or darkness, so that you can acknowledge and release your shadows. The ceremony doesn’t have to be extravagant – I know people who have experienced similar cartharsis during a hard yoga class or in the middle of a Tibetan breathwork exercise at home.

To be fair, nobody “likes” to explore their fear and the traumas that often lurk behind it. In fact, Roman Hanis, the lead shaman from our film, told me that he still needs to step over his ego every time he enters a ceremony!

But once in a while we all need what the shamans call a “shake up” to check back in with truth, and break the patterns we’re currently running. What you resist truly does persist, and pushing away your fears (and the underlying thought constructs that are fueling them) will only result in more serious symptoms down the road.

One thing is for sure: this ride we’re all on is a doozy and the external stimuli that trigger panic or anxiety will never fully cease – the only real solution is to change the lens we’re seeing the world through. This type of work can be an effective way to do that.

Engaging in any activity that is directly confronting fear is a ceremonial act. Fear itself is often the illusion that must be shattered in order to truly live.

Stay curious,

Nick Polizzi

Filed Under: Shamanism

About Nick Polizzi

Nick Polizzi has spent his career directing and producing feature length documentaries about natural alternatives to conventional medicine. Nick's current role as executive producer of "Remedy: Ancient Medicine for Modern Illness" and founder of The Sacred Science stems from a calling to honor, preserve, and protect the ancient knowledge and healing technologies of the ancient world.

View all posts by Nick Polizzi

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  1. Saran Kaur says:

    Thanks Nick for this article, totally inspiring and received at the exact right time. 🙂 Awesome work and congratulations to the stepping through into REALITY.

  2. Elan Allende says:


    Thank you for these words of wisdom.


  3. Mary says:

    I can’t even comprehend an armature participating in that rite of passage with out some kind of experience with mind control.It’s incredible the people that can achieve that level of mastering that feat.Must take years of learning techniques. I loved your article, one can achieve all things with one’s mental beliefs. Thank you, Love, Light and Laughter Mary

  4. Dorien says:

    Dear Nick, thank you for your story. Perfect timing for me. Because at this moment in life I am facing the fear of being alone. ( my husband just left me for another woman) and thanks to your story I understand it’s actually the fear of the unknown. I do my best to feel the feeling and drop the story. Sometimes that works. Looking forward to your next blog. Love Dorien

  5. Lorna says:

    Hi Nick, What a helpful article you have written about fear and illness. I too struggle but have had many proofs with help from a healer that my body can heal. If I allow it. thanks for your emails, truly it makes us feel so less alone on our journey, most will agree I’m sure. Love and blessings to you all. Lorna {:-)))) X

  6. Kerry says:

    This sounds awesome Nick, is there anywhere in Australia that has these?

  7. cindri says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this very personal account of facing fear. It is a subject that should be talked about more openly, just as you have done. Sharing one’s fear seems to be the first step in “shattering the illusion”.

  8. Ronda Rice says:

    Well said Brother. I have tried several times to pass on a message to you, but am stopped when the page is wiped clean if I take shift the curser to make a correction. That said, I thank you for your words, your work and your heart’s directive to put what you are learning out into the world. This that you are studying is a life study and experience for me as well. Remembrance is the word that so often weaves itself in me when I try to put a linear description to this clearly multidimensional/quantum/timeless way of being into linear verbage. I am also one at the 10 year marker of a life changing illness where I am being taught how to work with the new energies to change our cellular structure, release the old thought forms and birth the tools, remembrance and talents held within our Akash while quieting that in our Akash that has been impacting, calling us to resolve and completing its role within the old energy. My greatest joy is touching in with those like you who are so aligned and focused on the evolution that is taking place in this now. My love and Blessings to you on your journey, Ronda/GrandMother

  9. Janice says:

    So wonderful to experience and really take in what you have so kindly and generously shared in this email..thank you sincerely Nick!!!

  10. Carolyn Rea says:

    So true, the medical field with it’s prescription drugs making millions of doolars and getting rich over kiilling our loved ones with experimental drugs needs to stop! We need more power to get the holistic way of life out there so we don’t have to watch our loved ones die because presription pils ate away their fragile bodies., killing our loved ones slowly and horriibly.

  11. George Melhem says:

    Lovely I was just thinking about that subject right before I got that email!

  12. Brenda Roan says:

    Thank You Nick. I am guessing this is whats meant by “the dark night of the soul” This post was very inspirational I love your stories of spiritual transformation. Perhaps I can follow a similar path
    Thank You

  13. Brynne says:

    Grateful for your gift of sharing. In this early life we are emotionally sharing and being encouraged for this. The gift of vulnerability, forgiveness and belief. People are beautiful.

  14. Marianne says:

    Thank you again Nick for another profound and inspiring story! You are very brave for sharing something so personal-putting it out here for all to see also breaks the “hold” of fear. To me the opposite of fear is faith. Faith that even though we face the “unknown” and can’t control we will be ok. Keep up the great work 🙂

    • elizabeth says:

      That is beautiful…faith is the cure for fear! Faith and trust, I believe, that there is something more than I see now.

      Such a presence of faith and trust that the universe is a place that is benign and has an evolutionary plan that is unfolding in an intelligent manner in just the way it needs to….I believe it is true based on my experience.

  15. Pilar Bautista says:

    Nick, this is a beautiful article! There is no way to truly thank some honest words that come from the heart. I believe you have been a great example of how loving and helping yourself is the best way to love and help the others and the world.
    Thank you for your own process and for sharing it with us!!

  16. Kaggwa Lubega says:

    Very well said and so full of truth. Thanks for sharing..

  17. Susan Huebner says:

    …Exactly the right moment for me to read this. “Stuff” coming up in Tai Chi class, and I do not want to run away, so will continue to heed your words and that of the shaman and I will step over my ego and stay put!

  18. Lori says:

    Past life regression through hypnosis can clear up deep seeded fears instantly ,healing many diseases. Non judgement,nuetrality, issness brings about a sense of peace,non tention which allows the light that we are to flow freely through meridians healing all that ails. I suggest reading any books by Dr Weiss. Thank you, Lori

  19. Savitri says:

    I appreciate this insightful article. I have shared sweats with people who have had difficulty with the closed in space or breathing.through the heat. It is not easy to remember to breath and allow yourself to stay in the present moment during these fear attacks but the results and freedom are tremendously uplifting and worth the journey. I admire your sharing and appreciate your honesty

  20. John Cloke says:

    “Fear can stop you loving and love can stop your fear, but it’s not always that clear!” from the song “Fear and Love” by Morsheeba. One of my favourite quotes because I believe we are governed by fear which is behind most of the illnesses and malaises in our cultures. It can stop you living also, as you say. Unfortunately fear-mongering is omnipresent in our societies, which makes overcoming fear even more important. 
    John Cloke

  21. hattie says:

    Whenever I’m all alone I descend into a deep depression. The fear I have to overcome is the terror that takes me over when I’m not with other people. I will be re-locating to a tropical island and will be alone much of the time. I expect that this will provide the chance to evolve past this strangling pattern.

  22. Jeanette says:

    A good reminder that fear is actually our ally if we choose to pay attention to vs running away or distracting ourselves from it. And even though I wouldn’t personally choose the temezcal ceremony for myself, it was clearly therapeutic for you – congratulations!

  23. danrapson says:

    Nice Post. I never experienced a single fear-one that stopped me in my tracks, until I was about 30 years old. I had stopped my alcoholism-its active phase and was riding high. My son was born and that process brought down on me a host of fears.

    Working on getting rid of them is becoming more acute as I now have panic attacks and claustrophobia in my dreams! My sleeping dreams…

    Thanks for putting this out there, I’ll study on this and see if I can’t make a couple of awareness moves and head in a more comfortable/productive direction…

  24. marilyn says:

    thank you,Nick. This article is very timely, as I am about to go thru my own ceremonial experience.

  25. Li says:

    Dear Nick, thank you so much for sharing this and reminding me to face my fear of the unknown, so true and so key in order to transform my inhibiting negative patterns!!!!Li

  26. delan says:

    Hi Nick,
    I enjoyed your blog. Particulalry, the last two sentences. I also think we would need to question the belief, “One thing is for sure: this ride we’re all on is a doozy and the external stimuli that trigger panic or anxiety will never fully cease” It’s not the Truth of our existence.
    Personally I have been interested in indigineous solutions but have never participated in any shamanic ceremonies, mainly because it’s hard to know who is an authentic shaman and who is not.
    However, through a specific practice of inquiry into our present moment experience, past trauma, stress, difficult relationships, or fear (of anything and any kind), anxiety, etc. can all be completely laid to rest. It’s very simple and effective. Although one can self guide oneself into the process it’s often more effective to use a guided facilitator. The process is called “Living Inquiries” It helps one to disentangle the thoughts from the glued on emotions and sensations. When I say practice its not something you have to do over and over again. The ego is no more than a neural circuitry and it triggers more circuits that result in known reactions or patterns.
    I don’t know where you live. There are a few facilitators of this approach and its even effective done over skype. Recently I found an excellent facilitator in silicon valley and I can say that with single sessions on each issue I cleared associated reactions. I have tested the effectiveness by deliberately placing myself in situations that caused me fear and anxiety and there was absolute calm and peace. It’s not about suppression. It’s about seeing through the illusion clearly once and for all.
    Hope this will be of help to many.
    Good Wishes,

  27. Colleen Kelly says:

    This reminds me of a ropes course I did at a christian camp. My fears of heights and of falling were eliminated when I climbed to the top of a pole, stood on a pizza dish and jumped out to try and catch a trapeze (I missed). Then the finale was running at top speed, while tethered to a long bungee cord, and jumping off a cliff! i found that be starting my run with a gut wrenching scream caused all the fear to disappear before I even reached the edge of the cliff! I did a firewall after that as a finale. Awesome!!!

  28. Vera says:

    Thank you! I wish I can go through this temazcal ceremony.

  29. […] Polizzi  |  The Sacred Science  |  May 29 […]

  30. Malathie says:

    Congratulations! and thanks for sharing.

  31. Marissa says:

    I really liked this article especially the part you write; this is the turning point, where the real
    Recovery begins
    Looking forward to the next article

  32. Nicholas says:

    You are an amazing individual, Nick. Have a lot of respect for you. You didn’t give up and you overcame a ton of odds and fears. Well done. That isn’t easy.

  33. melanie says:

    Nick thanks! I haven’t done any heated ritual with a medicine man or woman, but i looked in the mirror when was afraid to. Afraid to see…me. Looking deep in my eyes saying to myself” come on then show me” The fear dissipated and I heard clearly a vioce”you are love and light, you have nothing to prove to anyone!” What a relief!! Heres to all our magical evolutions….love and light

    • John Cloke says:

      Hi Melanie! I can relate to that; I had a similar experience many years ago that turned my depression into enlightenment. I have lived a charmed life since, simply by renouncing fear and having faith in life, my life. Walk through the doors that open for you without fear.

  34. Siobhan says:

    Thanks Nick, I have been inspired by your emails and general energy that comes through in them. I have just had a whole year of dealing with Fear and used EFT to great success. Exhausting and fascinating at the same time to deal with such high emotion and be brave enough to face it.

  35. Randy Olson says:

    Great article Nick. Very thoughtful and inspiring. It is amazing to watch how fear can consume us through our thinking even when there is no clear and present danger in front of us. It is an imagined or possible event that isn’t even directly before us most of the time. This article really helped me.

  36. Robin says:

    Thank you for sharing this…Perfect Timing!!!

  37. Linda says:

    Thank you, Nick, for sharing your wonderful story with us!

  38. Shannon McRae says:

    New email address for me

    I love your emails, I love your blogs – keep it up!!! Wonderful cookbook.

  39. Catherine N says:

    Thank you for this. Tired from facing the shafows and fears but continue.
    Please vision Grace and abundance for me as I pass through
    this and truly let the Spirit heal in body too.

  40. Tom says:

    Thank you. Your words found me at the perfect time. God bless.

  41. Madhuri says:

    Great Article, Thanks Nick.

  42. Cheryl says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It is s daily practice of living in the now and moving through the fear and any emotion that comes up.Not easy but so valuable.

  43. Joyce says:

    As I am also claustrophobic, I will try to remember your words next time I find myself in a ‘tight’ spot! Thank you, I always enjoy your articles.

  44. Roxana says:

    Thanks for finally talking about > Facing Fear and Shattering Illusion

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