What is Fear? Why do we experience Fear? What are we really afraid of?
Napoleon Hill talks about fear in his classic Think and Grow Rich. Some of the fears he mention that most of us suffer from are fear of loss, ill health, old age, poverty, and death.
Through my experience, I’ve found that the best way to overcome fear is to address it directly by acting against it.
“Have no fear, you are here!”
I’ve identified many of my fears by thinking about what I really value most in life. One such thing I greatly value is my eyesight. Often I take my eyes for granted, but truly they are a blessing of great magnitude.
To overcome my fear of loss of my eyes, I voluntarily blindfolded myself for a week. Into the frying pan!
I’ve also been afraid of not having food, so to overcome that fear I fasted for a week.
I’ve also thought I might be afraid of poverty, so just to make sure I wasn’t afraid of that I lived in as a homeless man in New York City for a week.
There is a difference between me voluntarily doing such actions, knowing that I have the luxury of coming out of the situations at any time if I please, and being ‘forced’ into them by a failure in my life or the doings of society, etc. Choosing the situations empowered me a great deal. And yet, in the situations, I found that I didn’t find my strength in knowing that I could come out of it in the future, but the strength was inside me, in my core. The Spirit empowered me. I knew that happiness, fulfillment, Peace – whatever is good in the world – it’s an internally derived state and has little to do – ideally nothing to do – with our external circumstances.
So what do we really fear? And why do we fear? Perhaps most importantly, how do we overcome fear?
It starts with a realization of the truth that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. As my friend Victor shared with me, fear implies some sort of omniscient knowledge of the future. We might fear talking to a stranger because we create an imaginary outcome that the stranger will hurt us in some way, be it physical, mental, or emotional.
Our ego, our sense of separation from other people, stimulates a lot of fear. We want to protect our sense of individual identity, and one of the things that distinguishes us as individuals is our fear. Really, any opinion or preference we have, even as far as fears go, define us as separate from other people.
We can very easily ‘reason’ our way out of action with fear-filled thinking. We have the ability to justify inaction in a million different ways. Our minds can paralyze us, cripple us, and prevent us from experience all the joys of Creation to the fullest.
Our ego wants to protect what it knows, cultivating the past experiences as the groundwork of identity without expanding into the unknown. The ego cherishes what it has already experienced and strives to prevent us from experiencing the world as novel and new. It prefers thinking to acting. So how do we overcome the ego? Act!
Actions speak louder than words. I think. Therefore? I am. The ego can also fear being identified with a larger group. Communicating a message to a large group of people…supposedly public speaking is the most common fear, even more popular than the fear of death itself…but why?
When we place ourselves on the stage, in the spotlight, we are putting our identity on the line. Not only that, but in so many ways our identity is merging with the identity of everyone who is listening to our words. We are participating in an experience of Oneness with everyone in a more direct way than usual, at least according to the ego. When everyone participates in a singular, shared, conversation, the ego gets moved to the background, especially by the person doing the talking. After all, the ego likes to hoard information for itself – one of the last thing it wants to do is help other people! The ego wants to maintain its sense of individuality, so it sometimes will send out physical signals to the body and mind attempting to hold us back and prevent us from sharing something that is genuinely good and beautiful with the rest of the world.
When we get to the place where we identify all fear as fallaciously constructed by the egoic mind, we move into a place of courage that allows us to take action against our fears. As one of my heroes Steve Pavlina shares on his blog, it’s good to take on the attitude, “Anything I fear, I must face.”
This doesn’t mean we should act upon fears like crossing the streets in heavy traffic. That is not so much fear as it is the acknowledgment of unnecessary danger that can easily be avoided that would likely provide no benefit to the world even if acted upon and achieved safely.
Egoic fear arises when we have an idea that is new in some way and therefore the results are unknown. We don’t know what would happen if we act upon it, so we often may begin the process of ‘reasoning’ or ‘rationalizing’ our way out of acting upon our novel idea. The best way to overcome such preventative thinking is to simply act. Realize that there is higher authority inside us than our minds, and that higher authority might be referred to as our conscience. Our minds can hinder us, yet we can also overcome our mind with action, allowing our experience to provide testimony to the validity of our idea rather than playing out a million possible ways in which the idea might result in ‘failure.’
Failure, by the way, is actually a myth as well and doesn’t really exist unless we allow it. Every moment we experience offers us an opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and as One Body. What more could we ask for? In so much as we learn from our experience, certainly there is no failure there. Even if you fail out of school, lose all your money, or get caught shoplifting and placed in jail, can you really call any of those events failures? The abundance of opportunities such events offer is immeasurable by us. We cannot possibly know what opportunities would come our way, and so the best thing we can ever do when such situations arise is accept them fully and completely. We then may proceed to find meaning and significance in the situation, learn, and grow! Learning from our experience and applying the wisdom to create a better life for ourselves and all is a beautiful thing that we can always do in any moment.
Every moment…even right now…there is a grand opportunity to learn something profound. What is it? I don’t know. Look inside yourself. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Open up your gateways of discovery and realize that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Explore the world, explore yourself, and discover the Goodness.