If there is one thing that could be said about all human beings, one thing that is common to everyone, it is fear. We all fear something or other. Some fears are reasonable, some fears are important to keep us alive, some fears are projections of other peoples' fears and some fears are nothing more than tricks of the mind.
Some people seem to fear nothing and other people seem to fear everything. Those who say they have no fears are not being truthful. They fear admitting to having fears because that could be seen as a sign of weakness and that might bring ridicule. That is a very common fear, as is the fear of being proved wrong in some way. For some people, their greatest fears revolve around being exposed as a fraud or a failure, or having their dirty little secrets (sins?) exposed.
Then there is fear of pain and death. The hero might steel his heart and put aside those fears for the cause, fully prepared to face whatever comes, including death. But they are still there at some level, nagging away below the surface. These are natural fears that help keep us from accidentally killing ourselves, maybe a thousand times a day. Problems only really arise when we let our fears rule our minds. Being mindful of danger and avoiding it is sensible. Being fearful of the world and seeing danger in everything in it is a form of illness and it can destroy lives.
I don't mind admitting it, I have known fear intimately, even though I'm a big strong bloke who lives in a safe place with no serious security threats.
I remember doing some free climbing (no ropes, no safety harnesses) once and reaching a point in the climb where the way forward (upward) became extremely perilous as the almost vertical face turned into a chimney and the only way up was to go sideways across an unstable area with few solid hand and foot holds. I had to pause and seriously consider my options. Going back down looked impossible or very high-risk at best, going further up was still possible but I could see there was no way out by going that way, it was almost closed near the top with an extreme vertical overhang. Going sideways was limited as the area I had to traverse was sloped, covered in soil and loose rocks and grasses (I was very near the top of a 50 -60 foot climb). It was possible but it was going to be tough and it was going to be dangerous.
As I paused and thought about my path, I glanced down and it struck me that I was alone and if I fell I might not die straight away but it would definitely hurt and break bones and I may well perish slowly from my injuries. My heart started thumping and sensations of vertigo overwhelmed my mind. it felt like I could no longer trust my judgement or even my own fingers, which were tingling by now and that was a frightening place to be. Self-recrimination came next. How did I let myself get into this situation? What kind of idiot does this sort of thing for fun anyway? Why was I stupid enough to pick this climb anyway? It was a form of self-hate. Fear and hate tend to go hand in hand. Fear creates self-doubt. Fear creates hatred.
I clung to that rock face for some minutes (or seconds - time is relative in stressful situations) and I had to calm my mind, calm my breathing, calm my heart and regain confidence in myself before I could do anything. I had to put those images of my broken body laying on the rocks below far behind me and get my stuff together. That's another thing fear does, it destroys our confidence in ourselves. I knew my options and the best option was the sideways move across an unstable area and up, slowly. It was hard, I had to dig out hand and toe holds with my bare hands as I went. My finger nails were wrecked and my fingertips were bleeding by the time I was done. Every hold had to be tested and retested as I went because there was a lot of loose material on that slope and a seemingly solid hold might collapse at any time with weight on it. Near the end I was virtually crawling on my belly up a 45 degree slope. There was no dignity in that climb, there was nothing in the last section that spoke of a glorious victory. It was tough and it was dirty and it was humbling. But I got to the top.
I rested for a while and I looked around. Nature was all around me and nature was going about it's business as if nothing had happened. Nothing had, except in my mind. Yes I had made the climb but the birds didn't care, neither did the trees or the sky, or even the big fat earthworm I dug out at one point near the top. He/she was probably not happy about being disturbed while he/she was busy doing what an earthworm does but when I placed the worm aside it got back to doing it's thing. No other person knew what had happened to me either. I was alone and only I knew the fear I had felt at that time. Fear can isolate us because it is internal and hard to explain. Fear can also be contagious, infecting the minds of others. This is especially true in large crowds of people.
Frank Herbert talks about fear in his seminal science fiction novel Dune:
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
I felt like that on top of that hill with gorge below me. I remained and I was okay. I had beaten my fear and overcome the obstacles. But I was also humbled. My fear had been great and real and it had required every skill I had to defeat it. It's a humble story. My climb was nothing special but it happened and it left an impression upon me.
The world can be a dangerous place (some places more-so than others) but life, in some form or other, goes on. Life seems to be indomitable, no matter what happens, unless fear gets in the way. Don't let fear run your life. Let it pass from you and move on. Don't let fear rule your thinking. No thought can do you harm unless you act upon it. Most importantly, don't let other people impose their fears upon you. You don't need it and it will just get in the way. Be strong, be true and learn to accept everything, including your fears and even the bad things that may happen.
Without darkness, how would we understand light? Without evil, how would we understand good?
Without the risk of death, how would we understand the miracle of life?
Fear can make us incapable of doing things, even if we really would like to, or even when we really need to. Even small fears can keep us from striving to achieve our dreams as the nagging doubts and the unknown (what might go wrong) erode our confidence and destroy our enthusiasm. Fear can keep us silent when we should speak out. Fear can keep us from being the person that we always wanted to be.
To finish I would like to add a passage from the teachings of Krishnamurti.
Jiddu Krishnamurti - What is Fear? Fear can exist only in relation to something,
not in isolation. How can I be afraid of death, how can I be afraid of something
I do not know? I can be afraid only of what I know. When I say I am afraid of
death, am I really afraid of the unknown, which is death, or am I afraid of
losing what I have known? My fear is not of death but of losing my association
with things belonging to me. My fear is always in relation to the known, not to
My inquiry now is how to be free from the fear of the known,
which is the fear of losing my family, my reputation, my character, my bank
account, my appetites and so on. You may say that fear arises from conscience;
but your conscience is formed by your conditioning, so conscience is still the
result of the known. What do I know? Knowledge is having ideas, having opinions
about things, having a sense of continuity as in relation to the known, and no
more. Ideas are memories, the result of experience, which is response to
I am afraid of the known, which means I am afraid of losing
people, things or ideas, I am afraid of discovering what I am, afraid of being
at a loss, afraid of the pain which might come into being when I have lost or
have not gained or have no more pleasure.
There is fear of pain.
Physical pain is a nervous response, but psychological pain arises when I hold
on to things that give me satisfaction, for then I am afraid of anyone or
anything that may take them away from me. The psychological accumulations
prevent psychological pain as long as they are undisturbed; that is I am a
bundle of accumulations, experiences, which prevent any serious form of
disturbance - and I do not want to be disturbed.
Therefore I am afraid of
anyone who disturbs them. Thus my fear is of the known, I am afraid of the
accumulations, physical or psychological, that I have gathered as a means of
warding off pain or preventing sorrow. But sorrow is in the very process of
accumulating to ward off psychological pain. Knowledge also helps to prevent
As medical knowledge helps to prevent physical pain, so beliefs
help to prevent psychological pain, and that is why I am afraid of losing my
beliefs, though I have no perfect knowledge or concrete proof of the reality of
such beliefs. I may reject some of the traditional beliefs that have been
foisted on me because my own experience gives me strength, confidence,
understanding; but such beliefs and the knowledge which I have acquired are
basically the same - a means of warding off pain.
Fear exists so long as
there is accumulation of the known, which creates the fear of losing. Therefore
fear of the unknown is really fear of losing the accumulated known. Accumulation
invariably means fear, which in turn means pain; and the moment I say "I must
not lose" there is fear. Though my intention in accumulating is to ward off
pain, pain is inherent in the process of accumulation. The very things which I
have create fear, which is pain.
The seed of defence brings offence. I
want physical security; thus I create a sovereign government, which necessitates
armed forces, which means war, which destroys security. Wherever there is a
desire for self-protection, there is fear. When I see the fallacy of demanding
security I do not accumulate any more. If you say that you see it but you cannot
help accumulating, it is because you do not really see that, inherently, in
accumulation there is pain.
Fear exists in the process of accumulation
and belief in something is part of the accumulative process. My son dies, and I
believe in reincarnation to prevent me psychologically from having more pain;
but, in the very process of believing, there is doubt. Outwardly I accumulate
things, and bring war; inwardly I accumulate beliefs, and bring pain. So long as
I want to be secure, to have bank accounts, pleasures and so on, so long as I
want to become something, physiologically or psychologically, there must be
pain. The very things I am doing to ward off pain bring me fear, pain.
Fear comes into being when I desire to be in a particular pattern. To
live without fear means to live without a particular pattern. When I demand a
particular way of living that in itself is a source of fear. My difficulty is my
desire to live in a certain frame. Can I not break the frame? I can do so only
when I see the truth: that the frame is causing fear and that this fear is
strengthening the frame. If I say I must break the frame because I want to be
free of fear, then I am merely following another pattern which will cause
Any action on my part based on the desire to break the
frame will only create another pattern, and therefore fear. How am I to break
the frame without causing fear, that is without any conscious or unconscious
action on my part with regard to it? This means that I must not act, I must make
no movement to break the frame. What happens to me when I am simply looking at
the frame without doing anything about it? I see that the mind itself is the
frame, the pattern; it lives in the habitual pattern which it has created for
itself. Therefore, the mind itself is fear. Whatever the mind does goes towards
strengthening an old pattern or furthering a new one. This means that whatever
the mind does to get rid of fear causes fear.
Fear finds various
escapes. The common variety is identification, is it not? - identification with
the country, with the society, with an idea. Haven't you noticed how you respond
when you see a procession, a military procession or a religious procession, or
when the country is in danger of being invaded? You then identify yourself with
the country, with a being, with an ideology. There are other times when you
identify yourself with your child, with your wife, with a particular form of
action, or inaction.
Identification is a process of self-forgetfulness.
So long as I am conscious of the `me' I know there is pain, there is struggle,
there is constant fear. But if I can identify myself with something greater,
with something worth while, with beauty, with life, with truth, with belief,
with knowledge, at least temporarily, there is an escape from the `me', is there
not? If I talk about "my country" I forget myself temporarily, do I not? If I
can say something about God, I forget myself? If I can identify myself with my
family, with a group, with a particular party, with a certain ideology, then
there is a temporary escape.
Identification therefore is a form of
escape from the self, even as virtue is a form of escape from the self. The man
who pursues virtue is escaping from the self and he has a narrow mind. That is
not a virtuous mind, for virtue is something which cannot be pursued. The more
you try to become virtuous, the more strength you give to the self, to the `me'.
Fear, which is common to most of us in different forms, must always find a
substitute and must therefore increase our struggle. The more you are identified
with a substitute, the greater the strength to hold on to that for which you are
prepared to struggle, to die, because fear is at the back.
Do we now
know what fear is? Is it not the non-acceptance of what is? We must understand
the word `acceptance'. I am not using that word as meaning the effort made to
accept. There is no question of accepting when I perceive what is. When I do not
see clearly what is, then I bring in the process of acceptance. Therefore fear
is the non-acceptance of what is.
How can I, who am a bundle of all these
reactions, responses, memories, hopes, depressions, frustrations, who am the
result of the movement of consciousness blocked, go beyond? Can the mind,
without this blocking and hindrance, be conscious? We know, when there is no
hindrance, what extraordinary joy there is. Don't you know when the body is
perfectly healthy there is a certain joy, well-being; and don't you know when
the mind is completely free, without any block, when the centre of recognition
as the`me' is not there, you experience a certain joy? Haven't you experienced
this state when the self is absent? Surely we all have.
understanding and freedom from the self only when I can look at it completely
and integrally as a whole; and I can do that only when I understand the whole
process of all activity born of desire which is the very expression of thought -
for thought is not different from desire - without justifying it, without
condemning it, without suppressing it; if I can understand that, then I shall
know if there is the possibility of going beyond the restrictions of the self.