Thursday, May 23, 2019

What Are We Afraid Of?

Fear. It is the dominant emotion of our life. It is the primary driver for our decision-making, the basis for our reactive actions in response to life’s circumstances. While love is our aspiration and can serve as our defense against our fears, fear and love exist in a synchronized dance with each other, rising and falling like playmates on a playground see-saw. One is in ascendance while the other is in decendance, reversing from moment to moment, event to event.

We fear tangible things we can see: a wild animal, a gun in the hand of a stranger, a venomous insect. We fear intangible phobias to which we give pseudo-substance: fear of germs, of heights, of confined spaces. We fear mental constructs that upset our sense of being: the loss of a job, being socially unaccepted, our lack of status. Fear of inflicted physical pain – indeed loss of life itself – creates mental pain; mental pain can create physical pain. Mind and body each feeds on one another.

Our laundry list of fears – unique to each of us – continues to grow unendingly. Some of these have been with us for so long, we are barely cognizant of them, perhaps do not even see them as “fears.” They have become part of our life, a structural component of our lifestyle, rituals we perform daily. But are we truly a melting pot of many fears that permeate our life? Or are these familiar acquaintances simply the emotional children of a few overriding fears, emerging from an original well that is our more fundamental source?

Ever since human beings emerged on this planet, we have all begun our lives in the same manner. From our earliest cell form growing into a fully developed infant, we exist physically connected to an enclosed, protective environment totally constructed to meet our needs. We are nourished on demand with no conscious effort on our part. Then, abruptly, we are delivered into a wholly different environment, the one in which we will spend the rest of our human life. A life no longer physically attached to its protective habitat, where little of our needs are met and come to us automatically.

In that one instant of change, our life is turned upside down and redefined. In that moment, our three fundamental fears are also birthed: 1) we are alone, no longer interconnected to our world, a tiny speck in a Universe vast beyond our comprehension; 2) we are powerless to defend, much less nourish, ourselves; 3) by accepting the opportunity of life, we concurrently accept the reality of our death at some unknown moment. At birth, we are now dependent on the willingness of others for our survival, our cries for attention the only tool in our arsenal. The scope of our absolute aloneness, our helplessness, our littleness, our temporariness overwhelms us. The shock of that recognition is more than we can absorb as an infant. So these fundamental fears give rise to the litany of simpler, more identifiable fears that grow out of the seedbed of our subsequent individual life experiences. Fear begets fears which intensifies fear.

And so we hold strangers at bay until they prove themselves worthy of our trust. We band together, with people similar to ourselves, in groups – social clubs, neighborhoods, tribes, cities, nations – believing that there is “safety in numbers.” We fight with our society in various forms of competition or control, believing “a good offense is the best defense” to keep our fears at bay. Or conversely, we build fortresses of conventional lifestyles within which we hope to go unnoticed and unthreatened. We erect monuments to our Truths, and marble statues to our Self, intending that “this is who I am” will be our armor against opposing assaults.

In the end, none of these fear-based strategies truly work for us. The more we rely on them, the more they wear us down (mentally and physically), increase our isolation, and reduce our sense of self-sustainability. That is when we are called to make the real choice – whether our life will be lived in fear, or whether it will be lived in love. Love that accepts that which is different; has confidence in providing for ourselves; and recognizes that the list of genuine fears is indeed quite small. “Common sense” decisions about reasonable risk replace the paralyzing power of fear.

It is in recognizing from where our daily fears come that the opportunity arises to defuse them. In that moment, we are no longer alone, we are no longer powerless, our death is yet one more of our many transitions. In that moment, our freedom of thought and action arises within. In that moment, we begin to truly live.

©   2019   Randy Bell