Run Towards Your Fear

Run Towards Your Fear


tigerIn the last couple of months, through closely observing myself, I have come to see how much of my life – reflecting human life – is controlled by unacknowledged fear. I have come to believe that a very large percentage of our actions are motivated by this fear. The occasion that initiated this insight for me was one that most people would regard as unmistakably fear-inducing. I had received news that cancer had increased in my bones and I had been sent to get a CT scan to check whether the cancer had spread to my organs. In the few days before I got the CT scan results, my inner life became dominated with intense survival fear: What if the scans showed that my body was riddled with cancer? Have I come to the end of my life?

The CT scan results came back negative. I was enormously grateful. But now, somehow, having been faced with fear in such an undeniable way, my eyes were no longer blinded from feeling, and seeing, the presence of fear as it showed itself in my life. I became aware of pervasive layers of fear that were woven into the fabric of my life like invisible threads. It was a background mood that was always there and that I had managed to successfully ignore until this moment.

I noticed that almost everyone around me was constantly doing this dance with fear: Fear motivates a large percentage of our ongoing actions. It has us rushing in the traffic to get to meetings on time. It shapes our interactions with others and makes it impossible to experience any real intimacy for fear that our true face will be rejected or judged. It has us running around in endless activity for fear that there will not be enough money or enough resources, or that we won’t achieve our goals.

Clearly, fear must be one of the most pervasive tones of the human experience. And yet we do everything in our ability to cover up the presence of fear. We don’t want to know about it, and we don’t want to feel it. And I understand why. In the first place, we live in a world which judges fear and so we have come to believe that admitting to feeling fear will turn us into inferior human beings.

Perhaps more to the point: Facing fear is extremely uncomfortable, and can feel totally counter-intuitive. Facing fear is like turning around when a tiger is chasing you and running towards it. The fear of fear itself will have us believe that facing and feeling fear will be the end of us.

In my experience, it does the very opposite. When we face fear, and become willing to feel it, it becomes our ally. Like a daemon, the very thing that seemed to be our biggest enemy becomes our guide on the journey.

Through my turning towards fear, I have discovered that fear is almost always about survival. There are times in our lives when it is extremely helpful to feel fear. When our survival is truly at stake –  we are really faced by a tiger that is hungry – it is appropriate to feel fear and have the adrenalin pumping through our systems support us in running as fast as we can. For me, in that moment between scans, the fear helped me to make some life changing decisions which I hadn’t had the courage to make before.

But most of the time, if we turn to face the fear, we will discover that the survival fear we run on is simply a lack of trust in Life and an insistence on keeping a personal life together. If we give up the need for the ‘somebody’ with a name and a story and possessions to stay the way we want him/her to be – then life can take over with a far greater wisdom. In that sense, we can ask this question: What if survival is not the goal of human life? What if we can stop our incessant effort to have our lives survive in the way that we know them? What if we could let go control and surrender to the movement of Life itself?

These were the questions I pondered in the weeks and months following that initiating upsurge of fear. In this time, many layers and floods of fear appeared. I was intimately aware of my resistance to feeling fear, and of deeply held beliefs that kept me from wanting to feel fear: Beliefs such as that feeling fear was going to entrap me in fear and that I would get sick and die if I let myself feel fear.

But again, the opposite happened. Instead of feeling fear being a cause of illness and death for me, it enlivened me. I felt like I was opening doors in the attic of my psyche and letting the old ghosts free. So much freedom and lightness entered through the places I previously avoided for fear of having to face fear there.

I learnt to soften my heart when fear appeared and to welcome it in; to sit with it as one would sit with an unknown visitor, intently listening over a cup of tea to grok (understand) the gift of wisdom it brings. In sitting with fear, I oftentimes discover a need for change to bring my life into greater alignment. I find that, when I run my life on familiar train tracks rather than listening to the pulse of life, that singing of fear in the background starts to get louder. It’s talking to me, and it’s telling me to let go control, and follow the greater wisdom of Life.

The greatest liberation has come for me in coming to see what survival is a false goal which always pins us down to some unknown future moment when death will arrive: as a loss of possessions we were attached to, the end of a relationship, or even the end of our bodies as we know them. I have come to see the utter uselessness of spending our energy trying to control the course of Life. Do we truly believe that a face lift is going to protect us from old age? And do we truly believe that old age is a less magnificent experience of our humanity than youth? Finally, are we thoroughly attached to our bodies and blind to the fact that the one who is experiencing all of this will continue when the body drops away?

So, dropping the survival agenda has a few remarkable side-effects. In stead of our life force being oriented towards the goal of surviving life, it can now be used to be creative. At the end of the day, we only have these two choices in how we use our life force: We can live to survive (i.e. hold on to who we think we are) or we can set free our creative potential. But we will not be able to free ourselves from the default survival agenda unless we learn to befriend our fear and embrace it as part of the rich tapestry of human experience.





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