“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
(Frank Herbert, “Dune” Trilogy)
Most humans in the world today are afraid of nearly everything. It might manifest as negativity, anger, envy, hatred, jealousy, worry, doubt, self-absorption, dread, anxiety, distress, apprehension, panic, as well as in many other more subtle ways – but fear is probably going to be at the root of all these related conditions. Many of these fears actively speak to us in our unconscious or semi-conscious states, sending us messages such as:
• I am not good enough.
• Things aren’t turning out the way I wanted it to.
• I can’t be alone.
• I can’t live without another person.
• I’m too old. I’m going to die.
• I will fail if I try that.
• I’m unlovable.
• It’s not fair.
• Change is scary and bad.
• I should have been nicer.
• What if I am rejected and they don’t like me.
I think you can see how fear has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of our lives, always limiting who we think we are, what we think we can do, and what our potential actually is. Fear is truly the mind-killer, because when we are fearful, we are disconnected from our pre-frontal cortex, and become the tool of our limbic system – which evolved to protect us from scary things. But, do we really need that protection any longer? I would say a qualified “no.” Generally speaking, the world is not as scary a place as it used to be. On the other hand, the things that do exist in this world that are scary (nuclear weapons for instance), are much worse than the occasional saber-toothed tiger. However, the scariest thing to me, is that people today don’t seem to be as afraid of Nuclear Winter, as they are of losing a game of golf or bridge.
The limbic system provides us with many wonderful things – such as love, compassion, empathy, and joy. But, it is also the root of all our fears – most of which are only in our head. Then, if we become afraid (which happens daily for most of us), we will automatically ignite our defense systems and use psychological mechanisms such as denial, projection, repression, and rationalization to keep from feeling our fears. So, if most of our fears are only in our head, how then do we come to that self-realization if we are always sub-consciously trying to avoid acknowledging those same fears which must be investigated in order to truly understand their false nature (you might have to read this sentence more than once)?
Today, many people seem to willingly allow fear to run their lives. They may not agree with that statement about themselves if questioned, but nevertheless you can easily detect the fear in another person when they are constantly making up excuses for why they can’t do something, become anxious when they are forced out of their comfort zone, feel their ego threatened in some manner, or squander their chances of achieving their actual potential by always taking the easy way out. They say they aren’t afraid (denial), believe something is someone else’s fault when it is actually their own (projection), sit there with a blank look on their face (repression), or say things such as “I don’t want to,” “It’s too hard,” “I’m thin, so I don’t need to exercise,” or “I can’t meditate today because I have too many other things to do” (rationalization). Fear is not only the most pervasive emotion for many people, but it is also the most self-limiting. When a person is afraid, personal growth of any kind is off the table and self-actualization or enlightenment become just words – not the true possibility of our evolution, and perhaps even the purpose for our existence.
Most of our fears will not stand up to the light of day – which is the personal inquiry process alluded to by Frank Herbert, and that I teach to my students. It takes courage, strength, and wisdom to allow our everyday fears to just pass through us and dissolve as we realize how ridiculous most of them are. These fears might not have been ridiculous when they were originally formed as a child, because children often have a real need to erect a set of defense mechanisms that allow them to function in the world. But, at our ages? Come on! Why should we care if someone doesn’t approve of what we are doing, or how we look? We should be more fear-less as we age, and yet many of us (perhaps those who are not as conscious as others) actually become more fear-full.
Mindfulness, self-awareness of our own fears and their origins, putting things into perspective, and personal development (the intentional diminishment of these unnecessary fears) is, of course, the only way we can come out of our fear-state and create again the magical connection between our limbic system and pre-frontal cortex. Being fearful is like turning off the light switch to this connection. Whereas, fearlessness opens the door to a whole new world of experience, ideas, interactions, insights, creativity, energy, and the joy of simply being.
Don’t let fear run your life. Don’t let the politicians use your fears to capture your vote. Don’t allow marketers to make money off of your fears. Don’t allow fear to create boundaries in your mind that keep you from being all that you can be. Instead, strive to be realistically fearful, or cautiously fearful at the very least. All we have to do is intentionally bring the light of our full consciousness to the examination of most our fears, and then slowly – over time – they will drift away.