I am afraid because...
I won’t have enough money for the life I want to live.
They might leave me.
I’m going to get sick in the future.
I’ll finally be exposed as a phoney in my job and be fired.
I’ll never experience real love and I’ll live a lonely life.
I know I’m not good enough...
Our reasons for fear are endless. They change all the time. Some are short lived, while others can last an entire lifetime.
But what if the reason for our fear is not what we think it is? What if there was a much greater fear at the root of all our anxieties? And what if the seemingly endless list of fears we typically focus on in daily life are but a distraction from this greater fundamental fear?
I’ll try to limit the rhetorical questions from here, I promise, but…what if the biggest fear we have in life is that… we no longer experience fear at all? We fear being without fear itself.
A quote from Plato sums up this concept well: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Are we really afraid of the light?
I don’t expect you to accept this blindly of course. It seems ridiculous, given that many of us despise the fact that our lives are so full of fear and that we’ve tried earnestly for perhaps years to eradicate fear or anxiety from our lives. We go to therapists, we try meditation, we take prescription medications, we constantly try to change and improve our lifestyles.
And yet, it never seems to work. Not fully. At least not on a permanent basis. Fear and anxiety always seem to re-emerge somehow.
Perhaps you’re thinking that this is simply because the world is a fearful place and fears re-surface simply due to life lived in an ever changing, chaotic world.
Perhaps this is so. The world is uncertain and ever changing after all. But, there may be reasons to give this theory – that we fear fearlessness – some consideration.
The first piece of evidence that we fear a life without fear it that we repeatedly do things we know will lead to the experience of fear. We delay opening that letter we’ve been dreading, prolonging the uneasy feeling longer than is perhaps necessary. We continue to eat foods we know will eventually bring us bad health and eventual sickness. We enter relationships we know will lead us to suffering and pain. We procrastinate on the simplest of tasks, mentally revisiting it dozens of times, draining our emotional energy rather than simply doing it and moving on uneventfully.
Our next indication that we fear the fearless life can be seen in our seemingly incorrigible tendency to interpret events (which in truth are neutral) as potentially dangerous or disastrous somehow. My boss didn’t salute me this morning, therefore I’m probably about to be fired. My partner forgot to ask how my presentation went, so they clearly don’t care about me at all.
Of course, as I’m sure you know, any situation can be interpreted in multiple ways. Yet, somehow, we overwhelmingly seem to err on the side of fear.
Another reason we may hold on to fear, rather than truly value its absence, is that we believe it makes us more loving. Imagine a scenario where a dearly held loved one told you they had a terminal illness. In that scenario, if you were to experience not a twinge of fear, what conclusions would you draw about yourself and your relationship with that person? In all probability, you’d feel uneasy at this situation. Without fear, how is our love even recognizable?
Notice that I didn’t say you wouldn’t help your friend is this scenario. In fact, I’m proposing a scenario where you act precisely as you otherwise would. You’d still be supportive of your friend. You’d do all you could for them. But, you’d simply experience a total absence of fear. This highlights yet another reason we fear fearlessness; we believe fear drives necessary action we otherwise would be negligent towards.
Here, I’m not talking about the type of fear that makes you flee from a Saber-tooth Tiger. That’s simply a programmed biological response which is indeed something to value and be grateful for. I’m talking about psychological fear. We believe that without this type of fear, our lives would simply fall apart. Nothing of importance would ever get done we tell ourselves. After all, it’s the fear that makes me pay my taxes, study hard, choose healthy foods, and be diligent to the needs of my loved ones.
Notice how we very rarely, if ever, question this hypothesis. Is it psychological fear that makes these things happen, or is it in fact psychological fear that makes these things joyless and pedestrian?
The truth is that we feel a life of fearlessness will make us completely and utterly defenseless against the world as well as our own destructive, impulsive tendencies.
There are other signs that we value fear. We enjoy being terrified by gruesome horror movies. We celebrate the emotion of fear each year at Halloween. When a child is acting out, many people point instinctively to a lack of discipline rather than a lack of love as the cause.
But perhaps the biggest indicator that we fear fearlessness itself is that there is an underlying awareness that, without fear, there’d really be little else of relevance to hang our sense of identity on.
If we were to take away all the fear-based thought from our psychological daily life, what would remain? Would we even recognize ourselves? Who would we be without our sad stories, our troubles, our sense of impending doom ever on the horizon?
I started this article giving examples of the fear-based thoughts we often experience: For instance, “I am afraid because I’ll finally be exposed as a phoney in my job and be fired.” Is this thought possible with the words “I am”? Without the ‘I am’ it simply becomes a thought. Whoever to ‘I am’ is, is not implicated in any way.
Of course, another way of saying that we fear a life of fearlessness, is to say that we are truly terrified of living a life of trust, faith, love and acceptance.