A Mind-Made Illusion
In his book Influence Science and Practice, author Robert Cialdini shares a story capturing the transformative essence of fear. In a tribe in southern Africa, the Thonga people hold an annual initiation for young boys prior to becoming a man. A young Thonga boy must endure a series of intense physical challenges before he is admitted to adulthood.
The three-month ritual consists of six major trials: beatings, exposure to cold, thirst, eating of unsavoury foods, punishment and the threat of death. As bizarre as some of these rituals may sound, the young boy emerges a man and in doing so has learned to silence his inner demon – fear.
Whilst the idea of spending three months subjected to mental, emotional and physical hardship might seem harsh, consider that many of these young boys become strong and powerful leaders within their tribes. This story illustrates how fear, despite the brutality of the ritual, can be channelled toward personal growth.
In civilised society fear impairs the lives of many who buy into the notion that fear is real. It was the French philosopher René Descartes who said, “I think therefore I am.” In other words if there are thoughts, there must be a thinker behind the thoughts. Moreover, many people unknowingly buy in to the false premise “If I think fearful thoughts, they must be true.”
You’ve heard it said that fear is an illusion created in the mind. A great deal of what we fear rarely comes to fruition, yet fear seems to predominate our thought landscape. Since fear is a survival instinct which alerts us to impending danger, it only becomes a threat when our thoughts become stuck in a repetitive cycle. When fear rules your life, you are at the mercy of the emotion.
How can we reframe fear to view it as friend rather than a foe? Firstly appreciate that fear is a feedback mechanism alerting you to forward progress. You are stepping out of your comfort zone and moving into unchartered territory. Rather than oppose fear, embrace it by viewing it as an opportunity to gain new insights as you advance onward. Embrace the fear by observing it as part of the process of evolving. Many people view fear as a brick wall, while others see it as an opportunity to overcome it.
Fear is your best friend since it inspires a call to action. It advises us to avoid that which is deleterious and take affirmative action. Take for example the fear of public speaking which is considered one of people’s greatest fears. The American comedian Jerry Seinfeld offers us the following comedic observation,“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
In this instance fear forces us to brush up on our speaking skills through rehearsal. Rather than appearing incompetent, fear forces us to show up prepared. As we overcome fear, we not only build character and inner strength, we overcome an impediment on our path to victory. Therefore fear becomes a great teacher, since it provides us with the experience before the lesson.
Reconnecting to the Present Moment
Moreover fear reminds us to stay connected to the present moment. Given that fear is a future occurrence, it allows us to reconnect back to the present moment when our minds wander into the future. We are reminded that all we ever have is contained within the perfection of this moment. There is no need to worry or fear a future which seldom arrives as we hope for. Therefore fear reminds us to let go of the incessant thoughts of an anticipated tomorrow.
It must be stated that we cannot eliminate fear from our lives, not in the way many people believe. We can turn down the volume on fear by not becoming a slave to it. Susan Jeffers’ acclaimed self-help book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is an appropriate axiom for learning to befriend fear. When faced with the prospect of taming our fears, we are reminded that fear helps us sharpen the sword as it were by making better decisions in lieu of perceived danger. We must have our wits about us as we confront our fears.
Your response to fear provides you with a glimpse into your deeper psyche. Are you continually running away from fear or brave enough to face it head on? Fear is a call toward inner growth and inner freedom. Running away from your fears makes them grow stronger until they overwhelm you. Rather than oppose your fears, approach them with compassion and an open heart. Forgive yourself and others who may have contributed towards your fears.
You might be surprised to learn that a number of our fears are passed down through generations. Wars and hatred stem from the paralysis of fear. First we fear that which we do not understand, then we ultimately go to war with it. If we dislike parts of ourselves, then this becomes a call to make peace with that aspect of our nature.
Ultimately you have a choice – to make peace with fear or allow it to control your life. Hopefully I’ve provided you with some valid points to choose the former. Transcending fear is liberating since it frees you from the self-imposed fortress, which is the illusory mind of fear.
It will look like this: Fear Is Your Best Friend