Fear is such a powerful emotion. Nearly everyone tries to avoid it. Most of our actions are designed to keep fear at bay. What do we fear and why do we avoid it so assiduously?
Fear has its benefits. It keeps us alive by alerting us to danger. As a survival mechanism, it empowers us to avoid and run from other people, animals or situations that would cause us physical harm. Fear serves its purpose, but our inability to be with the emotion of fear, to let it course through our bodies before our minds react to get away from it, empowers it beyond its basic safekeeping measure.
In Zen Heart, the Buddhist writer Ezra Bayda says that we generally fear three things: fear of loss of control and security, fear of aloneness and disconnection, and fear of unworthiness. He's right. We fear making bold, unprecedented or "risky" moves for fear that we won't earn a living, that we'll end up in a cardboard box. We fear that we will alienate others and they will abandon us, that we will be destined to a life of solitude. We fear that we ultimately are not worthy of anything that we've had given to us, that, deep down, we are frauds.
For me, all three of these fears boil down to a single, core fear: fear that love will be withdrawn. If you fear loss of control and security, you fear that no one will help you in a time of need, that you will not be able to support yourself because all support will have been withdrawn. If you fear disconnection, it's because you fear that people will withdraw from you, withholding any affection or connection. If you fear that you are not worthy, what you fear the most is that you are not lovable at all: you're flawed, so utterly unredeemable that you hide from that fear at all costs.
We lead terribly impoverished lives when fear dominates, when we believe the fear and allow it to limit our actions. How many of us carry within us hopes and dreams that are never given birth because of our fear? You may have nourished a dream that got lost because you were told that you could never make enough money, and therefore wouldn't be able to support yourself. This is often true of creative people. How many people have different views than those of their friends, family or society, and therefore won't voice them out of fear of isolation and abandonment? This has been true for many marginalized groups. How many of us have hopes and dreams but don't believe that we're good enough to realize them, and so we choose instead a life of "quiet desperation" because it keeps us from taking a risk, from choosing a life worth dying for.
The simple truth is that beneath fear lies buried treasure -- those parts of ourselves that dare not peak out from beneath the covers into the daylight, because we would only find ourselves judged, cast out, and all love withdrawn. Who among us does not hide a piece of their soul, like a precious jewel, that would be robbed by someone else if it were shared? Not robbed because it would be taken as something of value to be bartered and sold to another, but robbed of its status as precious at all if that person sees you bring forth your most prized possession only to say that it's nothing but a dumb rock. Wouldn't such judgment be proof of our unworthiness of love? So we hide those pieces of our soul.
What do you do about fear? First and foremost, you feel it, fully and completely. You let it course through your body. At first, fear is awful, paralyzing. Your senses are heightened, and you want to flee or fight. That reptilian portion of your brain is lit up entirely. You're in survival mode, and your mind says, in response to the feeling, you will not survive. If you stay with fear, though, you realize that so much of your resistance to fear is your thought that this situation is terrible. Be with the fear, all the while letting all the tragic scenarios the mind is pumping out just slide by, and eventually, you come to feel fear for what it is -- energy, designed to move you, quickly and decisively, to run or fight.
It's the same energy that we seek through rollercoasters or scary films. Only there we can assuage ourselves that we're ultimately safe because the ride will end, the film will end, the seatbelts released, the lights turned up. Nothing is really at stake. But that's all fear is -- a very potent form of energy. As Neale Donald Walsch has said, might be better understood as "feeling excited and ready." When you can learn to be with fear as energy, you can experience it, and either let it pass through the body and dissipate or learn to harness it for action.
For beyond that energy, once it has dissipated, is a place of perfect peace. You find the real, authentic self. I'm not saying don't ignore fear when you're being chased. But realize that most of the time, there's no real danger other than burying your own authenticity. Fear is not to be believed; ignore the stories told around your fears. You are not worthless, you are not unloved. There is no reason to hide, to push the dreams aside. So feel the fear and dig up your buried treasure.