The Other Side of the Hedge: Living With Fear

Fear. We all live with it. We all know the prickle along the spine when we think we’re being followed. We’ve all felt the drop in the pit of our stomachs when we hear terrible news. We’ve all fought the desire to curl into a ball and wish for it all to be over.

Detail from Edvard Munch's "The Scream." From WikiMedia.

Detail from Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” From WikiMedia.

We all have had to bow under the weight of fear. We’re all human.

The world tells us we must always be afraid. Fear your neighbor. Fear your future. Fear your death. We are told we must fear. It is natural to fear. Fear is good. Fear serves us.

It’s all a lie.

COWARDLY NEW WORLD

People who are afraid are easy to control. Whether it’s the screaming of talking heads on TV, the titillation of clickbait, or the sexy curves of models selling cars with promises of satisfaction and power, these are all whispers that come with a wink, a bait, and a switch.

People spend their lives training themselves to find our weaknesses so they can better lead us where they want us to go. That pancake mix won’t really make your family happy. That toothpaste won’t make you sexier than the other three leading brands. That beer won’t make you cooler. Those clothes won’t make you skinnier. Those workout clothes won’t get you to the gym more than twice.

There are whole industries aimed at messing with your instincts. The attention economy rests on it. We’re all complicit in it. Our culture never gave us much choice. And in a time of instant communication, we can’t imagine a way to escape.

DEATH IS COMING

The fearmongers are the worst. Even when our minds tell us that that there is no danger, our hearts still race and our defenses go up. Ready to fight or flee, we look for enemies and escape routes.

All we can hear is people screaming that the sky is falling, that we’re losing, that we’re all going to die, that we’re all in terrible danger, right now.

Death. Public Domain Image from WikiMedia.

Death. Public Domain Image from WikiMedia.

Not all the threats are false ones. But we’re so overloaded with warnings that we can hardly tell real danger from a fake one anymore. To paraphrase The Incredibles, ‘if everything is a danger, then nothing is.’ And every threat cuts past the rational mind and digs right into the body.

THE WAY OUT

The same people who taught us that the animal mind is powerful and beyond our control also taught everyone in marketing and business and government how to instill fear with a word, a gesture, or a veiled threat. They’re all in the fear business, deepening our conditioned responses and making sure that they can control us at will.

We have been taught not only to fear danger, but to fear fear itself. And until we have learned to face that fear, we are easily led.

What these purveyors of fear have lost is that there is a part of us that is deeper than our thought, deeper than our trained responses, deeper than our instincts. Call it the connection to the divine, the core star, or the soul. Call it what you want; it is beyond their reach.

You might imagine that if it’s beyond their grasp, it’s beyond yours, too. But I promise, it’s not impossible; it just looks that way from here.

The soul is the connection to the root of existence. It is deeper than anything else. When you touch your soul, belief leaves off and faith begins. To find it, begin by strengthening your body and expanding your spirit. I can’t explain why, but it helps.

THE FIRST STEPS TO FREEDOM

On a sunny day twenty years ago, I was sitting outside on the grass, writing. A tiny, pale spider crawled up on my notebook. The creature wasn’t much bigger than the head of a pencil. I really don’t like spiders, so I went to brush it off. And I paused.

I swear that thing stared at me with its black little eyes. Fearless, it stood up to me. It just cocked its head, as if daring me. That spider stared at something the size of a mountain and dared me to do my worst.

I carefully let it crawl from the notebook to a blade of grass.

"Porch of Maidens," image by Thermos. CC 2.5 License

“Porch of Maidens,” image by Thermos. CC 2.5 License

In facing the immensities of life, we can do no better than that spider. Only when we face overwhelming odds and true challenges will we learn to dig deeper into ourselves and draw forth our own power.

We’re never going to live entirely free of fear. It isn’t some trick foisted on us. Fear has a very real place in the world and in our lives.

Honestly, there are scary things out there. We’re right to be respectful of fire and storms and nature, to be afraid of people who might want to do us harm, and to be wary of the consequences of foolish actions. That’s not cowardice, it’s just maturity.

Worse, as we train our spirits and explore a larger world, we are certain to run into things that truly should terrify us. Not everything in the universe is friendly, or even disinterested. It’s best to be careful.

That doesn’t mean that we have to cower in fear at the threats of our fellow men, the immensity of the universe, or the inevitabilities of life. Fear will come and at times it will overwhelm us. We will bow under its weight. But do not kneel to it. Allow your fear to serve you, but never be its servant.

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About Christopher Drysdale

Christopher Drysdale is an animist, martial artist, shamanic practitioner, healer, and meditation instructor. He’s been pagan for more than 25 years, has a master’s degree in anthropology, and thinks “making the world a better place” is a pretty good idea. He makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Other Side of the Hedge posts on the first and third Sunday of the month.