I went on my first solo backpacking trip this summer into the High Sierras. I spent four days and three nights at 8,000ft with myself, the wilderness, and the fears that I brought with me. It was a meaningful trip on many levels and an excellent education on the subject of fear.
It baffles me that we spend decades learning everything about nothing but learn nothing about our most basic human experiences. This newsletter is an insufficient attempt at investigating our relationship to fear. It's a start, but the only real education is possible from each of us consciously experiencing our fears.
Note: I want to distinguish that the focus of this newsletter is on psychologically generated fears that hold us back, not the intuitive/animalistic fear of impending danger that preserves our survival.
Our Relationship To Fear
Fear is a survival mechanism. It is meant to keep us safe. If we never listened to our fears, we would take unwise risks, put ourselves in danger, and sooner than later our lives would be over. The problem is that it is often hard to convince ourselves that something fear inducing, such as public speaking, isn't necessarily dangerous. As a result, many of our fears end up holding us back.
As humans, we have the capacity to learn to fear something and to learn to manage our fears. It may seem obvious but people are terribly afraid of fear. Yes, it is scary and uncomfortable to be afraid but it doesn't have to be something that we can't be with. We can learn to develop a new relationship to fear.
It's Not All Bad
Normally, we see and experience fear as something bad or wrong yet fear can actually be a good thing. Fear indicates that we have an opportunity to enrich our lives by expanding the boundaries that are holding us back. It is the doorway to freedom and that which is most important to us. In fact, fear tends to surface when we are pursuing the things that are most important to us: self-expression, love, freedom, and realizing our dreams. Confronting and experiencing our fears gives way to incredible personal growth and the fulfillment of our deepest desires. When we lean into our fears and stretch ourselves, we push up against the walls of the box that we are living in and give ourselves room to live fully. The reverse is also true. If we are always avoiding our fears and constantly playing it safe, we get increasingly scared and limited. The box that we are living in doesn't provide the space for us to live the life we want and we feel unsatisfied.
How To Live With Fear
There are a variety of practices that can help us move through our fears but it ultimately comes down to our willingness to let ourselves explore the places that scare us. That said, we're human and it's not always that easy.
First, we have to be honest with ourselves when we feel afraid and tuned in enough to get in touch with what we are afraid of. This awareness is the foundation of developing a conscious relationship with ourselves and our fears.
It can be helpful to expect that we will be afraid so that when it happens it doesn't feel like something is wrong. Fear is normal and to be expected. More than that, it's possible to see fear as a good thing - an indication that we are moving closer to what is most important, stretching ourselves, and expanding what's possible. From this perspective fear isn't something to be so afraid of.
And don't just expect that it will happen, expect it to be hard. Of course it is scary. Again, this doesn't mean that something is wrong. Being with our fears is uncomfortable and difficult… and possible. So, feel the fear and do it anyway. It doesn't have to be smooth or easy for it to be possible.
It also helps to acknowledge the courage it takes to confront fear. Doing so gives us strength. From a place of strength, we can welcome the fear into our lives as an opportunity for growth, knowing that we have to meet it with heart to live life fully.
In the end what we should be most afraid of is complacency, not fear or discomfort. As long as we are getting that unmistakable feeling of fear in our gut, we know that we have an opportunity to grow and create new possibilities for happiness, success, and freedom.