Are you holding yourself back? If you are, have you asked yourself why? Is it because of fear?

In order to look more deeply into these topics it will be useful for us to consider what we mean by holding back and discern how we can know if our “reasons” for holding back are based on fear or wisdom.

What do we mean by holding back?

Have you ever thought about doing something, perhaps even daydreamed about it, but then decided for some “reason” not to do it? Have you managed to convince yourself that those reasons are sound, logical, practical reasons based on fact and common sense, and not based on fear at all?

There are many reasons why we might choose not to do something, but is a reason a cause or a justification? We say “the reason I didn’t do that was…” as if we are saying “the cause of my not doing that was…” but is a reason a cause? Could it be that when we talk about reasons what we are referring to is the way we justify to ourselves our choice of behaviour? Perhaps the cause is a limiting belief which is based on fear. Let’s look at an example.

Imagine that you write songs and you think it would be really good if you could earn money from song-writing. It turns out that a successful record producer is the brother of one of your neighbours and a friend of yours suggests that you give your neighbour some of your songs to pass on to his brother. But instead of doing this you decide not to, saying that the record producer probably won’t listen to the songs anyway because he probably gets fed up with everyone he meets asking him to listen to their songs. Now what if behind that “reason” were some other thoughts? What if those thoughts made you feel uncomfortable and so you kept them hidden, in a place which was outside of your usual awareness? Those thoughts might be saying “What if he doesn’t like it? What if I get laughed at? What then?” For many people it can feel safer to have an unfulfilled talent rather than risk having their talent rejected by others. If you believe that you have a talent but hold back from expressing it out of fear of rejection, maybe it’s because all the while you have an unfulfilled talent, you still have hope. Once you express that talent, if it gets rejected, you would then have no hope (in practice I have found the opposite to be true: that when we have the courage to chase our dreams, rather than playing our one good card and ending up with no hope, the courage to move forwards brings all manner of new possibilities into awareness – if this particular endeavour does not quite work out then we soon find plenty more ideas to take its place). For many people having a dream provides an escape from reality and they feel it is safer to keep the dream just a dream because at least then they have the idea that one day they might escape the life that they don’t enjoy, whereas if they tried and failed they might have to face the despair of feeling like there would never be any chance of escape. So in this case the cause of not giving the songs to the record producer is the thought “What if he doesn’t like it and I find out that I’m no good after all?” Here we can see that the cause is lack of self-belief and low self-esteem.

Lack of self-belief and low self-esteem usually stem from a perceived lack of encouragement in our formative years. When we are young our egos are very fragile and we need to feel supported and encouraged to do what we enjoy. If we were laughed at, felt uncomfortable, were criticised or if we were told that we were wasting our time and should be doing something more productive instead, that could lead to the creation of a negative self-image. In other words, without the necessary encouragement and support we can end up feeling like we are not very good at something, that we are stupid or wasting our time.

One important point to make here is that it is not whether anyone actually supported us or encouraged us that matters: it is whether or not we felt that we were being supported or encouraged.

Do we need to do it?

Of course there could be many practical reasons why we choose not to follow our dreams. Perhaps we have very little money, don’t have much time or have responsibilities and commitments. Maybe those are valid reasons not to chase our dreams, but maybe they are protective barriers. Fear of failure and fear of rejection or humiliation can lead us to create safe lives for ourselves. This can mean creating circumstances in our lives which prevent us from being able to live out our dreams.

Many people think that they did not create the circumstances of their lives and that their lives are the way they are because of other people. If you look after a sick or elderly relative, for example, it can certainly feel as though someone else has decided your fate. But even situations like this can present us with the opportunity to ask whether we hold ourselves back because we don’t want to be selfish, or to appear to be selfish. Sometimes we can learn a great deal from sacrificing our own wants for the needs of others. But at other times, feeling like we need to be there for someone else can be a way of denying our own needs.

Many people seem happy to help others and not have any desires of their own. Other people will feel worn down and stifled by always helping others and never having enough time for themselves. The key to knowing whether you are in a situation where you are holding yourself back is to discern whether your situation represents some kind of denial, by which I mean whether or not you are denying yourself something which would make you feel better, more alive or more expansive.

You may have an idea one day to do something and then later think that, actually it wasn’t such a great idea after all or that you’re not that bothered about following it – and that’s absolutely fine. But if you keep having the same kind of thoughts that you would like to do something but you talk yourself out of it because the circumstances aren’t right or someone else wouldn’t approve or so-and-so wouldn’t let you do it, you are probably holding yourself back out of fear – fear of what might happen if you did, fear of criticism, fear of rejection or fear of repercussions in general.

Do we need fear?

Most people seem to believe that fear is essential to survival because it stops us from doing things which may be harmful. Fear, apparently, stops us from walking across the road without looking and stops us from hanging out with man-eating tigers. Now this may be true, but is it necessary to have fear, in order to stay safe? If you know that crossing the road is potentially dangerous, isn’t that knowledge itself sufficient to make sure you exercise caution when crossing the road? Isn’t the knowledge that man-eating tigers eat people enough to inform your behaviour so that you don’t invite one round for tea?

When we look at the animal world it seems as though most species do need to rely on fear as a safety mechanism because they appear not to have the mental faculties which humans possess. Of course we can never be sure about this but it does appear to be the case. But humans do have the ability to learn, acquire knowledge and make decisions based on information received, without resorting to fear.

Ironically, we are told that animals can sense fear. If we encounter a dangerous animal we are advised to “show no fear”. The more fear we show the more likely it is that the animal will attack us. We are afraid of large animals with big teeth because we think they could harm us but being afraid of them makes it more likely they will attack us. When we look at it like this we see that the presence of fear actually makes it more likely that we will come to harm and not less likely.

Indeed it is often written in personal development books that the more afraid we are the more likely it is that we will find evidence in our experiences that there really is something to be afraid of. It is also said that having more fear can actually draw to us more unpleasant experiences.

Fear tends to stop us in our tracks and can have a constricting effect on the mind and body. If we want to be more joyful, more expansive, have new experiences and come up with fresh ideas, fear is not our ally. When it comes to holding ourselves back we develop limiting fear-based beliefs which are designed to protect us from harm, but in reality they serve only to cause us more harm. By and large we no longer live in a world where we need to fear for our physical safety – it is our psychological safety which we try so hard to protect. It is fear of ridicule, humiliation and embarrassment which causes us more anxiety than the fear of being eaten by a large animal. This kind of psychological fear is not a fear of physical death but a fear of symbolic death. We fear the death of our identities which we created to make us feel safe. But those identities, our egos, are not who we really are. If we truly want to be happy it will serve us better to see these fears for what they are – illusions – and push on through them in the knowledge that who we really are cannot die.

We may carry in our DNA, or in some form of collective consciousness, the remnants of memories from early humans who relied on fear for physical survival. But that is not who we are now. If we want to move forwards with our own spiritual evolution we can choose knowledge and awareness instead of fear. Many animals find that there is strength in numbers – we can draw upon this wisdom to ensure that we join with others who share our dreams and visions. When we connect with others in this way we are better able to make choices from our inner truth rather than from our false identities. The more we allow this truth to become grounded into the physical realm of our being, the more we find that fears we once held simply disappear.

We all have the capacity to live more fruitful and enjoyable lives – we can truly move forwards, not by giving attention to the fear and trying to break it, but by feeding our own Inner Being and allowing it to grow into all areas of our lives.

If we do recognise that we have been holding back and decide that it is time to move forwards, recognising which actions would represent moving forwards can be rather challenging. We may initially decide, for example, that moving on means getting a new job or a new partner, but later on we may realise that changing our job or partner is something we have done before and that it did not bring the kind of change we were hoping for. You take yourself with you, wherever you go. Sometimes it can be time to change jobs, change partners or move to a different area, but fear can convince us that such “drastic” changes are not required after all. Perhaps we could stay in the same job but with a different mindset. Perhaps we could stay with the same partner and work through our differences. Knowing what is the “right thing to do” is often not easy. Usually the best approach is to trust how we feel. If we feel that it is time to move on from something and leave a situation behind then that is probably the best thing to do. If we find out at a later date that leaving the situation did not bring the change we wanted, we will at least have broadened our experience. Sometimes we need to leave a situation in order to realise that it isn’t “leaving the situation” which is most important but letting go of what “staying in the situation” represents to us. It is always the inner change which brings the real moving forwards but sometimes we can’t move forwards inwardly without making an outer change.

We can hold ourselves back through fear of making mistakes, but they are only mistakes if we choose to see them as such. We could say that there are no such things as mistakes, only opportunities for learning. We learn more from our “mistakes” than our successes so, in a way, making mistakes can be seen as a necessary part of our development. In fact it is not usually making a mistake in itself which we don’t like but how we feel afterwards. We fear the bad feeling we have about ourselves when someone seems to criticise us for making a mistake. But to grow into greater spiritual freedom means to overcome this fear and stop seeking the approval of other people. If we fear making mistakes because we fear being judged by other people we can help ourselves enormously by looking within to see where we are judging other people or where we are judging ourselves. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if someone else judges us so long as we do not stand in judgement against ourselves.

When we have been holding back for a long while we create a lot of pent-up energy which is just waiting for a chance to come out, so when we finally decide to break out of our self-imposed prisons of limitation we can find that this energy creates a certain amount of chaos as it starts to be expressed. This is when “accidents” are most likely to happen and this can lead to recriminations from others. In this moment we may feel that to slow down and try to control the expression of energy would mean turning back and going back into our shell, so we feel that we have to just keep going regardless. The key to managing this process most effectively is to remain focused on what we are moving towards rather than what we are moving away from. When something gets stuck in a hole and we can’t manage to pull it straight out we often need to wiggle it from side to side before it gets free. This is how it can feel when we are trying to break free of our own limiting beliefs – we knock into the sides repeatedly until we gain a clear passage. A few knocks and scrapes won’t hurt too much in the long run so long as we are mindful that we are not battling against anyone else – so long as we keep this focus we will avoid getting into conflicts with other people as we head for freedom and, in so doing, minimise the effect of any scrapes and spillages in our own lives.


The light within me is the same light as the light within you. The only difference between you and I is in the way we express the light or dark within us. Our expressions are what make us unique individuals. When we see something in others which we like, what we are seeing is something that is within us. We like it because we recognise it and it feels good.

There is no greater teaching and no greater healing that we can give to the world than to allow our own light to shine. In so doing we subtly give others permission to allow their own light to shine. We shine our light by doing whatever we have to do with love. When we are truly aligned with our Inner Being everything we do becomes infused with love and light. When we are aligned and we cook, we literally put love into the food that we cook. When we create form of any kind, be it a poem, a painting, a sculpture, a building, a sandcastle or a meal, that form becomes physical light.

If ever you find yourself wondering “what should I be doing with my life?” my answer to you would be to bring yourself into alignment with your Inner Being and do whatever feels right. Do whatever needs to be done and do it with love. There is no greater power and influence that you can have in the world than to be aligned and allow your light to shine. It doesn’t matter if you feel you have a grand purpose in life or a modest one. Just like the old adage says “it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it” that matters.

As Sai Baba said: “Start the Day with Love; Spend the Day with Love; Fill the Day with Love; End the Day with Love; This is the way to God.”

“God” is the light within. If we really want to “Let go and let God” we align ourselves with our Inner Being and allow the light to shine.

Next Chapter: Trust, Knowing & Delusion >>

*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***