Fear is a silent killer.
It kills our deepest dreams and detaches us from our most heartfelt longings. It takes away our highest aspirations and removes us from our greatest strengths.
As long as we are driven by fear, our potential as human beings cannot be met.
Something I have realized lately is how crucial it is to face and overcome fear. I know this seems obvious, but very few of us actually go out of our way to contend with our deepest fears in daily life. It is imperative that we do so if we want to master being human.
I have been afraid most of my life.
Of what, exactly? Well, that is something I am seeking to understand.
Perhaps I have been afraid of being an pariah, cast asunder by my peers. Maybe I have been afraid of being misunderstood, unseen, and unloved. The fear of physical suffering has also dwelled in the back of my mind – of experiencing pain beyond my capacity to bear.
We have all sorts of fears – some deeper than others.
I have two approaches in contending with fear.
One of them is a meditative approach – dissolving my immediate sensation of fear through aligning my conscious awareness with the tides of my breath.
This approach is simple, and something to cultivate as we move through life. Whenever I feel a subtle emanation of fear arise in me, I do my best to relax my body by breathing through my diaphragm rather than having my breath get caught in my chest.
Moreover, I try to realize in the moment that my fears are merely projections, that my concerns are not grounded in any immediate reality and are just the extensions of my thoughts. This makes it exceptionally easier to remain present in my body.
I would recommend finding a meditation trainer or engaging in some form of mindfulness practice to augment this capacity.
The other is naming my specific fears – which arises through self-inquiry and personal reflection – and then attempting to overcome these fears in real-time.
This second approach is a little more complicated, and it’s what I have been playing with lately. I have been paying close attention to the things that evoke a fearful reaction in me, rather than denying that I am afraid.
Denying fear is a treacherous path, because sooner or later the truth comes out, and when it does we find ourselves completely incapable of handling ourselves. It is better to just accept fear as it is, as it expresses itself in the present moment. This way it will not build up in us and implode down the line. It actually feels good to deal with fear in the here and now, because then it’s done and we don’t have to worry about it after that.
I have been making myself aware of what makes me afraid, anxious, or apprehensive, and then going out of my way to deal with that specifically rather than try to pathologically sneak past it in some way. I verbalize it. I name it. I speak it. “I am afraid of this ” and then I remain focused on that specific fear so that when it comes up in my daily life I can face it directly rather than run away.
There is something inherently liberating about the truth, and something inherently constricting about lying to ourselves. When we feel fear, it is imperative that we do our best to abide by truth, particularly the truth that this fear is coming from somewhere directly. We cannot nip fear in the bud if we have no sense of its origin.
Ultimately, awareness is the solution to the problem of fear. The more aware we are of what makes us afraid, the less power has over our lives.
We want to respond to our fears, not react to them.
The difference is that responding requires conscious effort, whereas reacting is entirely unconscious and automatic. Fear must be contended with one way or another – whether we respond or react to it – but when we react we only perpetuate it. We must respond to fear if we wish to transcend it.
I’ll give an example:
I ran into somebody with whom I have a charged history recently, and my body went into survival mode. I was ready for a physical confrontation, which was an unconscious reaction to a fear that I had yet to deal with. I then allowed my awareness to take over, incorporating relaxation into my body and recognizing the truth of the situation.
The truth was that this man was deeply dejected and pain-ridden. He was doing his best to get through the day however he could. I saw in the moment that he was projecting his fear and unhappiness, just as I was on the verge of doing the same. I let it go, and didn’t take my reaction personally in any way. Rather than pondering it over and over again afterward, I felt completely alleviated of any unnecessary sense of stress or malaise. The truth of the situation released me of my fear.
I was afraid of having my masculinity challenged, and was ready to harm someone physically to avoid that feeling. Now I am keenly aware of this propensity in myself, and feel much less reactive as a result.
I have been going out of my way to have these kinds of experiences by never turning away from a situation no matter how frightening it is. Even if I am quaking in my boots, I want to face the whole of life directly and not shy away. I want to breathe fire.
Facing and overcoming fear must incorporate both approaches – the capacity to be aligned with the breath and body, and the ability to name and define our fears before facing them. If we can bring these two devices together, we win.