WHY are we afraid? Why do we dwell on worst-case scenarios and react to minor mishaps as though they are a matter of life and death?
Fear is an instinctive response when our survival is threatened or our belief systems challenged. Healthy fear is an important part of our defence mechanism which keeps us on our toes and alert to danger. But fear, if left unchecked, can grow into a neurotic anxiety that can be paralysing as it leaves us in a state of worry, panic and non-specific tension.
Constant fear undermines relationships, increases stress levels and causes unfavourable physical signs such as insomnia, exhaustion, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness.
We are routinely altered by fear during the course of a normal day - from simply feeling nervous about a new experience to repeatedly rethinking a critical comment. Like a chameleon, fear takes on disguises in the form of jealousy, anger, sadness, irritation and doubt.
Most of our fears have no real danger or threat attached. They are merely mental events with no objectives to support them, but we are so affected by them that our natural biological instinct sets off an elaborate alarm system in our bodies and minds, triggering physical responses that appear very real to us.
Have you ever wondered what the source of fear is? What does it tell us about our nature?
We are afraid of the unknown. Fear is so influential because deep inside, we know that our life is unpredictable and that we are all vulnerable. Change is the very essence of life. When we resist this fact, we become insecure and confused.
Until we realise that our fears originate in our awareness of the impermanence of life, we blame other people, places and situations for making us feel vulnerable.
Attempts to control our fears or to escape from them are futile as they keep us trapped in the self-made prison of our mind. We miss out the joys of living because we are too busy finding ways how to stay alive. What a paradox!
Ernest Becker beautifully puts it down in his 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Denial Of Death, as "the individual has to protect himself against the terror of the world... and his own anxieties. The essence of normality is the refusal of reality".
Becker wrote this while he was dying of cancer and was seeking answers to his fears. His terminal diagnosis made his "refusal of reality" impossible to maintain.
We conveniently push the vulnerability of our actual human condition away so we can live the lie that we are solid and stable until we face a crisis like Becker's. The wake-up call can be in the form of the death of a loved one, a divorce, bankruptcy, an illness or a near-death experience.
It is fundamental that we learn to embrace fear as an opportunity to cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves and to see the danger as a rite of passage, initiating us into our authentic selves.
When you follow fear down to its core, you always come out on the other side in an ocean of love. The origin of fear is the love of life. By transforming fear, you will be freed to realise your full potential for joy, love and oneness with the universe - the innate spiritual qualities that make up who you are.
Here is a simple exercise you can do to embrace your fears.
1. Sit quietly and breathe into your heart centre. Gently opening and relaxing your body.
2. Allow the fear to arise within your loving acceptance. Find where it is in your body, mind and heart. Is it in the past, present or future?
3. Do not hide from fear. Get to know it. Feel it and breathe into it. Let it grow stronger and more intense till it pervades your entire body. Stay present during the entire process.
4. Question the fear. Where does it come from? What does it want you to know?
5. Fear maintains its hold on you by being nameless. Break free by finding its source and naming it. Define it and release it by breathing into it.
If you do this process correctly, you will discover a sense of peace at the end.
Learning to respond skillfully to your fears and to utilise your vulnerability as the opening to the reservoir of love inside you is the essence of wisdom. The feeling of overwhelming joy and freedom will illuminate your life with a fresh, new perspective once you have a taste of it.