Our culture vilifies fear. But like any emotion, fear is neither bad nor good. Each emotion has an evolutionary purpose. They all have vital messages for us if we dare to listen. What matters, what makes the difference is what we do with each emotion, how we react to it.
Fear, after all, has allowed humans and the rest of our mammalian family to survive eons, to survive unspeakable dangers. At its core, fear protects life. It fights for life. Many think it is a life-stopping emotion, but think of the many times fear has kept you or those you love safe. Think of the times it has warned you. Sent you brilliant intuitions. Kicked in your instincts, your highest most ingenious response. Protected that which needed protecting. Fear keeps us alive. It is vital. But when in shadow, when unconscious or when wounded, fear can harm in a misguided attempt to protect.
But fear itself is not, as so many teach, the opposite of love. In fact, we can use our fear to love better, love more, love deeper. We can use fear to care for ourselves and others, in ways that benefit all, beyond our immediate circle, beyond our town, our nation, our species.
We can use fear to innovate, to collaborate, to intuit the future and create solutions, to unify instead of polarize, to pay attention to and prioritize who and what needs our care, to prepare for change, to get to the bottom of issues instead of pointing fingers in blame. Yes, fear even has the ability to lessen our hate and our blame *if* we use fear wisely, if we use it consciously.
But few emotions we find more uncomfortable than fear. Few emotions we blame so many of our personal and societal woes on. Yet, as long as we condemn fear, keep it at arms length, react to it with minimal awareness or demand to replace it with easier emotions, it will incapacitate us. Instead of having fear, it will have us. As long as it is misunderstood and disparaged it will remain unconscious. And the more unconscious it is, the more invisible power it will have over us.
Fear itself is not the problem. It is our fear of fear. Our hatred of fear. Our desire to get as far away from fear that becomes a problem. It is our inability to sit with anxiety that leads to the inability to sit with others different than ourselves. It is our hatred of fear that leads to unjustified hatred of others, to othering, to violence, to greed. It is our inability to be intimate with what we are afraid of that squanders away our lives, that keeps us from living, that attempts to keep us and those around us small. Not fear itself.
Now more than ever our personal and collective fear is demanding our attention, our care, our healing, our consciousness. Now more than ever fear is asking for its redemption. If instead we were to listen to fear’s calls, loud as they are now, urgent as they are now…If instead we were to move with compassion into our bodies and our minds and our hearts where our anxiety dwells and get intimate with what is there, we could use fear to heal and protect not just our own life, but all of life.
So during this time of fear, when it grips you in the night or follows you quietly through the day, instead of compulsively reacting to it, why not move gently towards it. What does it feel like, look like, sound like? How old does it feel? Is it you at 5 years old, or 10 or 30? What is it asking of you? What is the deeper fear? What of it is founded? What of it is not? Is part of it coming from an old script, an old wound? What does this part of you truly need? To know you won’t abandon yourself, even if things got hard? To hold tenderly the uncertainty of all things? To find your true center? To find something more secure and real to stand upon? Who in you can sit with this fear, can tolerate it? Who in you cannot?
It is, however, absolutely understandable that we are so afraid of this particular emotion. Because as many who venture into their fears discover, underneath all the anxiety is often a fear of the unknown, and beneath the fear of the unknown, is a fear of death. Being with fear then is an act of the utmost bravery. It means facing some of the most difficult and uncomfortable aspects of being human. Being with fear means being with that delicate and difficult dance between the fight for life and the honouring of death…Our desire to live and an acceptance that we do not live forever, and the great mystery that follows there. But it is in this tension, in the discomfort of our fears that the potential of life can finally fully expand and extend its reach. With no restrictions placed upon it, life can finally breathe and flower and grow. Life can finally live.
While it is true that sometimes our unconscious reaction to fear cuts off life, it is also true then, that a more conscious reaction can do just the opposite. It can bring more life, to not just ourselves but the world as well.