Fear has been on my mind lately. Not any one particular fear, just fear in general. What do I fear? How do I respond to fear? Is my response due to what I actually fear, or the fear itself? For so long I got caught up in the fear itself and trying to resist it that I actually never looked at what I was fearing.
Since my mind has been focused on this topic, I’ve been paying more attention to the arrival of fear in my day-to-day from the mundane like someone cutting me off in traffic, to intense fears of pain and death which have almost resulted in full blown panic attacks. What’s different for me this time, as opposed to a couple years ago, is that each time fear arises I experience the fear, but I’m also observing myself experiencing it. In a way, I’m gathering evidence on myself and what activates fear in me so that I can respond better the next time, and even better the time after that.
It often turns out that there is little to no danger present. My reaction of fear is just that, a reaction, one based not in reality but on a perceived danger. So now when fear arises, I’m curious to find if there is a actual threat or if I’m reacting to a danger that only exists in my mind. Often it’s the latter, and each time it is, I limit my aliveness and my ability to experience this world.
Chris Hadfield, an astronaut who spent quite a bit of time on the International Space Station, seems to share my understanding in his TED Talk entitled, “What I learned from going blind in space.”
He begins by asking, “What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?”
After waiting a few moments while people think of the things of this world that scare them, he proceeds to tell of the time he lost his eyesight while on a space walk, his only lifeline to the space station being the rope he held onto in one hand as he floated in an endless darkness.
However, Chris wasn’t scared. But that seems terrifying, you say? Well you’d be right if that happened to any one of us in this moment. Chris however, had trained for months on end not only for things to go right, but also for things to go wrong. He knew the actual danger of the situation was minimal. He had all his other senses, plus his co-astronaut who had also trained for such situations.
Chris had reprogramed himself from what would have been a very normal reaction of panic, and instead responded with a clear head. As a result he regained his sight and was even able to finish his spacewalk before returning unharmed to the space station.
Chris understood the actual danger and thus had no need for a fear response. There is a difference in responding to danger and responding to fear. When we “do the research” as Chris says, we find that we can assess any real danger. Often the danger is a lot less than we think it is because of our fear response, and just the knowledge of this can help us conquer even our most fundamental fears.
Chris adds when we release our fears we “come back with a set of experiences, and a level of inspiration for other people that never could have been possible otherwise.” Fear is an experience in and of itself. However, if we stop at fear we prevent ourselves from experience all that is beyond the fear. We limit our aliveness.
“We all derive great benefit from liberating ourselves out of a fearful inhibition into successful functioning, because that learning process automatically spills over into many other areas of our life. We become more capable, freer and happier and, with that, there is an inner peace of mind.”
So what do you fear? How does this fear limit you from experiencing the world? What knowledge/research could help you understand the situation better? How can you practice moving beyond the fear? What experiences would open to you if you no longer had this fear?