There is not much I can say about fear you won’t find better-worded elsewhere, for fear has fascinated thinking minds for millennia. Like love, however, no matter how much we read or hear about it, fear always remains enigmatic and elusive in its power. Many have boiled down the human struggle to one between fear and love. I have come to recognize this struggle inside myself and the necessity to treat each emotion with great respect.
We need not look far to see the presence of fear in our culture. Since 9/11, the U.S. has been destabilized in its comfort and security. Countless measures have been implemented—from TSA regulations to NSA surveillance—that claim to act to alleviate these fears. Then again, it’s those very organizations (and many others) that continuously remind us that we have so much to fear, that without their aid, we are vulnerable to attack. Rarely, if ever, do these sources appeal to our capacity to love.
There are those who believe fear is something to be eradicated. They maintain it is a detrimental emotion carried by the weak-minded, and the true warrior, the hero, obliterates her fear entirely. I do not think this is true. As a cliche-yet-accurate idea maintains, courage is not the absence of fear, but the rising above it. Fear is a companion on our journey—it just happens to be a very loud one that often convinces us it’s the driver. But it is always a passenger. We are always the driver, and we are love embodied.
So often when we turn from opportunities, from risky situations, it’s not because we fear the situation itself; it’s because we fear what part of ourselves that situation will lead us to encounter. Courage is encountering the self. Courage is staring boldly into the darkness of the shadow, the mind, and learning through what we see, affirming aspects of ourselves we never before knew existed, dispelling of the muck we have unconsciously accumulated.
The goal, then, is not to obliterate fear. The goal is to be unaffected by it, to learn from it. Fear can instruct us on where we should not go—the fear that tells you to back away from the crumbling cliff edge is most wise indeed. What we must exercise is discernment between the fears worth listening to and the fears worth moving through. Otherwise, we allow a repressive emotion to contain us to a box, preventing the endless expanse of our love from spreading.
Fear controlled me for a very long time. Since as far back as I can remember, not a day has passed that I have not felt some degree of self-conscious anxiety, especially when within someone else’s gaze. It comes in the form of an internal voice telling me I look strange, I’m giving off bad vibes, my face looks creepy, I’m a weirdo—the list goes on. Then there’s all the fear regarding this Colorado move. The fear tells me, You are making a mistake. You won’t find a job. You are being selfish and immature and you will end up unhappy and ashamed. Essentially, my fear has worked hard for a long time to convince me of my lack of worth, and thus the love and joy I might express has been compressed, unable to breathe. Through such activities as meditation, I have learned to recognize these distorted thoughts as fears. In response, I breathe in calm, for I am the driver, and as I tap into a loving energy beyond myself, the fear grows quieter.
These fears I’ve shared center around one of the biggest fears of today’s culture, and perhaps of humanity in general: the fear of being ourselves. One hundred percent of the people I talk to about this stuff struggles with one or more aspects of their psyches and personalities. Even the wisest people I know see—or have seen—some part of themselves as worth loathing. Due to trauma, social pressures, familial and religious units, these self-deprecating fears embed themselves so deeply we can hardly see outside of their jurisdiction. But we must. We must recognize them as distortions. We must transform them. And we do that through gentleness, through generosity, through opening our hearts to powers of love within and beyond ourselves. When huge quantities of people come together with these intentions, we open our power to heal one another and transform the world.
Intention connects me to this love beyond myself, intention and gratitude for the chance to live this wildly complicated and beautiful life of multitudinous connections and unpredictable developments. So many of the greatest developments of my life—possibly all of them, in fact—have come in the wake of acknowledging, facing, and moving through fear. Whether it’s fear of traveling to a country where I don’t speak the language, fear of moving to a city where I know no one, fear of approaching an attractive person, or fear of putting out writing that others may judge, the fear must never have the final word. Even when it’s telling me to back away from that cliff edge, I am the one who decides that fear is valid. I choose to listen to it, just as I choose to move through it.
From this detached perspective, fear can become a very welcome passenger in this vehicle traveling onward into the unknown. Like a good friend, it can act as a mirror to ourselves, revealing the perceptions and patterns of thought that still restrict the abundant love within us from spreading.
If you are reading this, I would like to offer you a challenge. Ask yourself, What is the most pressing fear in my life right now? As you reflect on the question, consider the way you are relating to that fear. Am I running away from it? Or am I staring it in the eye and learning how to respond? Asking these questions every day can benefit us a great deal.