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How Mindfulness Can Help Us Overcome Our Fears: Parshat Shelach

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

This week's Torah portion Shelach recounts the story of the spies sent by Moshe to scout the Land of Cana'an before Am Yisrael enter the land. The tale takes a tragic turn as the majority of the spies return with a negative report, instilling fear and doubt in the hearts of the people.

The spies were chosen from each of the twelve tribes and tasked with assessing the land's inhabitants, resources, and fortifications. While they returned with physical evidence of the land's abundance, they also brought back a distorted narrative.

Ten of the spies exaggerated the difficulties they encountered, painting a bleak picture of the land and its inhabitants. Their fear-driven report convinced the Israelites that they would be unable to conquer the land, leading to widespread despair and rebellion against G-d's promise.

This episode highlights the power of our own perceptions and how our fears and insecurities can color our understanding of reality. The spies' report was not objective and might have been influenced by their own doubts and self-limiting beliefs.

When our own fears and insecurities cloud our judgment, we can try to approach situations with openness and awareness of our emotional baggage.

Mindfulness can help us overcome these challenges and fears and help us cultivate resilience. By staying present in each moment, we can make conscious choices rather than being swayed by our insecurities or internal struggles.

Mindfulness invites us to be present with our fears- with compassion and curiosity-rather than running away from them.

Our brains are wired to focus on fear as a method of ensuring our survival.

For cavemen, this was very useful to protect them from danger, such as life threatening animals. We, on the other hand, are not threatened by literal death on a daily basis.

Fear takes us out of our bodies and limits our reactions. It can stop us from participating more fully in life. When fear comes -- breathe and let go; when fear knocks at the door -- invite it in to share a cup of tea as the poet Rumi would say in his poem The Guest House (full poem below).

Today, we will explore being with and accepting uncomfortable feelings or sensations such as fear or body discomfort.

Let's try this short practice:

Find a comfortable seated position, allowing your body to relax. Gently close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Take a few deep breaths, breathing in deeply through your nose, and exhaling fully through your mouth. Where do you feel your breath most? In your nostrils? In your chest? In your stomach? Let your attention rest in the place in your body that you feel the breath the most. (pause)

Now, shift your focus to your body. Tune in to any sensations of discomfort such as tension, heaviness, tingling, heat or unease that you may be experiencing. Notice where in your body you feel these sensations. Allow yourself to acknowledge them without judgment or resistance. If you aren't aware of any sensations, then notice that. (pause)

As you continue to breathe, imagine sending your breath to the areas in your body where you're experiencing discomfort. With each inhale, visualize your breath as a soothing, healing energy that surrounds and embraces these sensations. As you exhale, imagine releasing any tension or resistance, allowing yourself to fully accept whatever you are experiencing right now. (pause)

Now, bring your attention to your thoughts and emotions. Notice any fears, worries about the future or regrets about the past, or any negative thoughts that may be arising. Instead of pushing them away or getting caught up in them, practice observing them from a place of non-judgmental awareness, so noticing, but not judging, “this is good or bad.” (pause)

As you continue to observe your thoughts and emotions, remind yourself that they are temporary and ever-changing. They do not define you. Embrace a sense of openness and curiosity, exploring these uncomfortable sensations with compassion and acceptance. (pause)

Now, shift your attention back to your breath. Use your breath as an anchor to stay present in the moment. With each inhale, breathe in a sense of acceptance and compassion. With each exhale, let go of any resistance or discomfort, allowing yourself to be fully present with what arises. (pause)

As we near the end of this practice, take a moment to appreciate your ability to face and be present with uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Acknowledge the strength and courage it takes to meet these experiences with mindfulness and compassion.

When you're ready, slowly open your eyes and bring your attention back to the space you're in.

Carry this sense of mindfulness and acceptance with you as you navigate through your day, remembering that you have the ability to meet discomfort with presence and compassion.

The story of the spies serves as a lesson for us, urging us to examine our own tendencies to misinterpret events due to our fears and insecurities, something that can impact all our relationships and well being . By cultivating self-awareness, compassion, and resilience, we can navigate through challenging situations with clarity, and react in more healthy ways.

May you find peace and strength in embracing all aspects of your experience.


The Guest House , Jalaluddin Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes As an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

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