The Illusion of Fear
Fear is part of our evolutionary physiology. The "fight or flight" response has helped your ancestors, back to the dawn of time, survive long enough for you to be reading this. The trouble is that while modern life doesn't present us many life or death situations, its complexity causes the fight or flight response to kick in way more often than is good for us. If we’re not careful the result can be irrational fear, leading to problems of anxiety, stress, depression, self-doubt and ultimately paralysis of the life force that drives the fulfillment of our very purpose.
Fear manifests itself as a variety of illusions, eg fear of:
- the past – I screwed up before, so I won’t try again.
- the future – so much bad stuff might happen I don’t want to go there.
- inadequacy – I can’t, because…
- failure – what if I screw up?
- success – the consequences might overwhelm me.
- judgment – what will X or Y think if I do this or that?
The list could go on forever.
Culturally we are too often conditioned to fear, eg many religions try to instill the fear of God! But God is the creative energy and source from which all else, including us, emanates. If God is anything, He is love, and love is nothing to fear. Those who fear God ought to reflect upon the teachings of masters such as Jesus. Much of family, institutional, and societal life is also based on fear – if you do this (bad thing) you’ll lose your pocket money, get fired, go to jail… And so our innate survival mechanism’s over-enthusiasm is intensified by the constant messages that surround us; unless we learn to tune them out.
When we feel fear, as we inevitably will, we need to take a step back and determine if the feeling is a legitimate warning we should heed or just a misplaced survival response. Some awareness of danger is useful, the instinct that protected our ancestors from wolves may keep us away from the bad part of town at night, or cause us to reject a potentially dodgy business deal. Those instincts are useful, so long as they are kept in perspective.
But fear that swamps our minds 24/7, preventing us from living the life we want and deserve, is mere illusion. In the words of Susan Jeffer’s self help classic, we have to: Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway.
Many strive to reach some imaginary position of perceived safety, where all need to struggle has ceased. But that dream is also an illusion, for life consists of constant and inevitable challenge. Everything carries risk. Being aware of risk is healthy, being paralysed by the fear of risk is not. Rationalization can diminish the potency of fear.
Many concerns arise from focusing on anytime but the present. And yet now is all that is real. The past is gone, no matter what happened you can’t change it one iota. You can and should learn from the past, and use those lessons to be more effective in the present. The future exists only as a myriad of possibilities, some good, some bad. The only way to influence the future is by what you do in the present moment. So long as you do that right, to the best of your ability, there is nothing to fear. So, decide where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, taking account of potential hazards. Make that decision your guiding principle.
Don’t fear failure. There is no real failure in life, because every experience, no matter how it turns out, carries the seeds of personal growth. Rather than fearing judgment by others, we should feel compassion for those that judge. Each life is a precious and unique gift to be lived as the incarnate soul sees fit. Those who judge are merely dissipating their energies instead of progressing upon their own pathway.
Still feeling afraid? Relax, which can simply mean taking a few deep breaths. Or just pretend you’re confident, with practice you’ll start to believe it. Don’t over-analyze situations. Assess the available information, make your decision, and get on with it. By recognizing that most fear is just an illusion, you begin the process to overcoming it and living a purposeful and fulfilling life.