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.
But there is a point to all of this. What can be done? Are we doomed to live a life of unconscious attraction to fear? Or is there another way to live fearlessly in a seemingly fear-inducing world?
Firstly, we can increase our awareness of our unconscious attraction to fear. If we are not even aware that we are attracted to fear, and that we value psychological fear, there really isn’t much we can do about it. We can start to notice any uneasy feelings we have when there is an absence of fear. We can notice our strong reluctance to let it go when it comes up.
However, understanding fear is perhaps the biggest step we can take. We identify with fear. We see it as a part of ourselves. But fear is not who you are at the most fundamental level. It is simply the conditioned response of your nervous system to past instances in your life when you felt it was impossible that your needs could be met.
If, for your entire life, money has been a source of fear, your body has become conditioned to respond to thoughts about money in a particular way. Your body is being told that there is a shortage of an important need. It responds with increased cortisol and Adrenalin. Now, there is a stimulus-response association. If this goes unchecked, it gets progressively stronger over time. It needs to be challenged, interrupted, and re-conditioned. This can be done through inquiring into fear-based thoughts and beliefs as they come up. Are they true? Can you be sure they are true? What is the cost/benefit ratio of holding and believing in this thought? A skilled facilitator of self-inquiry can be helpful here, or you can even start yourself with a little background research on the process.
Eventually, as you inquire into the validity of fear-based thoughts more and more, you begin to discover something remarkable: there is always a choice in how I interpret the events of my life. Always. Remembering this is the key! Training yourself to remember this is the key. This is the center of your power as a human being. You give it away at the cost of your peace of mind and happiness.
Become a chooser. Actually, that’s not really accurate. You’re already a chooser. It’s just that your choices are set on the default of fear. Start to make different choices in terms of how you see yourself, others, and your purpose in the world.
If you believe that these new, self-empowering choices are fictional, why don’t you hold the same skepticism towards the conclusions of fear-based choices? It’s simply because of programming and conditioning. For a while, it will seem like you’re fighting against a current of negative though and limiting beliefs. Do not be perturbed. You are making new associations and re-conditioning your body’s response to once fear-inducing stimuli. It is possible and over time, things start to change. Your nervous system relaxes, and your life starts to change on an emotional level.
So, start to do the inquiry. The prize here is to live life on your terms, feeling good about yourself, happy, purposeful and optimistic about whatever you need in life. You have the power to change. It starts when you realize that your past investment in fear was from a past version of yourself that needed help. You can get that the help now. You can start to change your life right now. Nothing in this world has the power to hold you back and it is safe to live in a fearless state of being. Go find out.