What Do We Fear?

What Do We Fear? May 11, 2023

What Do We Fear?

What Do We Fear?

Our fear keeps us awake at night. It holds us back from even trying to do what we hope to accomplish.

Being afraid eats away at us, robbing us of who we have the potential to become. It can steal our closest relationships and our most cherished dreams.

We have known it since before we can remember. We may have been, or still be, afraid of the dark, of being our true selves, or of failing. Some of us are afraid and fed up with being afraid.

People try to live with being afraid. Nations and governments turn it into public policy. We try to overcome our anxieties by imposing restrictions on other people.

Just when we think we have dealt with one of our fears several more grow in its place.

Some fear is inherited, passed down from generation to generation. Other fear we create all on our own.

Being afraid is debilitating. It keeps us from being honest, from finding our potential.

Our fear drains the life out of us. In the famous words of one novel, Fear is the mind killer. the little death which brings total obliteration.

We may refuse to admit it or even see it for ourselves. Being afraid is something we face when we are alone.

Our fear punishes us for even thinking about resisting its power over us. It can become a tyrant which controls us and forces us to obey its will. Just when we think we are making progress, setting it aside, it reasserts itself.

Fear is toxic to human beings. It is killing us.

What can we do about it? Does spiritual life have anything to say about our fear?

How do we even begin setting it aside?

Why Are We Afraid?

A few years ago I wrote about wanting to give up fear for Lent.

Our experience of being afraid is basic and common to all of us. It is how we respond to a hostile environment we do not understand. Being afraid is part of the instincts which have helped us survive.

We begin to feel it before we even realize it.

Being afraid is reasonable when we live surrounded by strong predators who would like to eat us. Life is full of life-threatening challenges and being afraid helps us stay alive.

Many of us live different lives now. Our lives may not be as threatened each day. We may be more comfortable, more secure in our surroundings. Our foreboding remains with us.

Being afraid is our unconscious, automatic response when we feel threatened.

The challenge for us is when we feel afraid disproportionately to the threat we face. It may overcome us and assert itself in our lives when it is not helpful. How can we learn to let go of our fears, and get them to let go of us?

What can we do to start setting aside our fear?

Part of our difficulty is being afraid prompts us to act. Deep within us we have a choice to make. Fear motivates us to prepare either to run away or to stand and fight.

Deep within us, it sparks our response of either fleeing or fighting.

Being afraid, and our responses to it, are not conscious decisions on our part. We respond without really thinking about what we are doing.

We begin setting aside our fear when we start to pay attention and make our own choices.

Looking to see what has sparked it is our first step toward setting aside our fear.

Finding Where We Begin Feeling Afraid

It often begins with something we do not understand or cannot control. We cannot see what happens in the dark and we fear it. The way certain animals look makes us feel uncomfortable and we are afraid of them.

Some situations, or people, are difficult to predict and we feel afraid of them.

There are people and situations outside our control. We are probably not able to avoid them completely. It may be impossible for us to resist them. Neither flight nor fight always works in every instance.

The key to setting aside our fears is understanding what makes us afraid and why it does.

Not all our fears are unconscious or irrational. There are things it makes sense for us to fear. The challenge is we depend on being afraid and our responses to it almost exclusively. Our minds begin to generate situations in which we might be afraid, things we might fear.

We need to give ourselves opportunities for setting aside our fear.

Fear happen to us quickly. It would help us if we could slow the process down and give ourselves time to reflect.

I encourage people to pay attention and recognize when, and why, they start feeling afraid. We can interrupt our fear and response process long enough to see what is happening to us.

Some people pause their response by taking deep breaths. Other people pray and center their thinking on sacred truth. Putting fear in the context of spiritual life helps us see it differently.

We can start setting aside what makes us afraid by relying on spiritual life before fear takes hold in us.

Breaking the Power of Fear

We cannot decide we will never be afraid. Running away is not always an effective way for us to deal with our fear. It is unlikely we are able to stand and fight everything which makes us feel afraid.

Our fear is a deep, essential part of who we are. The ability to experience fear is a crucial skill for us to have which can keep us alive.

We break the power it has over us by understanding and changing how we relate to fear.

It is more difficult for us to make wise decisions when being afraid is telling us what to do. As we start setting aside our fear we become more able to learn the lessons it has for us.

What do we fear today?

How do we see ourselves setting aside our fear this week?

[Image by tnarik]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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