Today, we are a nation bathed in fear. Just a few years ago, it seemed as though opportunities were endless. There was a sense of stability, prosperity, and hope. Now, fear has become a part of our daily lives. National and international turbulence goes on and on. So much that we once counted on to keep us secure, our basic anchors, have been taken away. The world seems to be turning upside down. This is a time of crisis.
However, the Chinese ideogram for crisis means opportunity. When our sense of security is taken away, when we don’t know where to turn next, this is a time filled with surprising possibilities for extraordinary growth, discovery, and even fulfillment. We are being forced to re-evaluate our lives.
What Can I Really Count On?
The vital questions in front of us are, “What can I really count on? Where does my true security lie? What do I really need in order to live a fulfilling life?” These questions are primal, the ingredients of a meaningful life. When things go well, we may overlook them. During a time of crisis, however, we are forced to grapple with these questions every day.
Don’t Listen To Fear’s False Messages
It is therefore of the utmost importance to stop for a moment and gain clarity and power over fear. If we listen to the false messages fear brings us, it is easy to become overwhelmed. In fact, the real danger we are faced with today is not loss of income, home, or safety. Our real enemy, is the fear we carry within.
We must understand what fear truly is, why it arises, and how we can become stronger than fear and release it from our lives. As we do this, as fear weakens, we can begin to see our situation from the largest perspective possible and get in touch with our enormous inner resources that allow us to handle whatever comes along. We can tap into our fundamental courage, creativity, and wisdom and let them be our guides.
What Is Fear?
It has been said that there are only two emotions: love and fear. For some, paradoxically, love is frightening, while fear feels safe. Many of us depend on fear, thinking it protects us. It can feel good to hold on to fear. At the same time, we are taught that it can be dangerous to be trusting; that love can make us weak. This is the work of fear, creating confusion.
Fear thrives on lies. It weakens the immune system, destroys our basic sense of confidence and well-being, takes us off track, and makes us prey to those who wish to control or attack us in various ways. Self-hatred is fueled by fear. Paranoia, an extreme form of fear, can infect every aspect of our being, undermining the very core of our relationships and wiping away the curiosity, playfulness, joy, and love of life that we are born with.
When and Why Fear Arises
When fear takes over, most of us have no way to resolve it, no tools or techniques with which to handle it. Panic attacks, compulsions, obsessions, and other forms of dysfunctional behavior can occur automatically. Fear also arises in love relationships—when we feel vulnerable or, conversely, when things are going very well.
Some of us feel as if we do not deserve happiness or intimacy and fear losing the love we have found. Some of us fear illness, death, or just being who we are. The lives we live may feel inauthentic, and we suffer the consequences in many ways. In fact, the reason why such staggering numbers of people in the world are involved with alcohol, antidepressants, other drugs, and all kinds of self-destructive behavior can be directly attributed to the effects of fear.
It takes practice to unravel fear. It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of what is harmful; it is something else to know how to actually get rid of fear in your life. Contrary to popular belief, it is not at all difficult to do! It simply takes a willingness to take new steps and see with new eyes. The truth is that fear is a bully: When you turn around and face it head-on, it becomes powerless. As you do so, you see that the very thing that once seemed so terrifying is simply made of dust and dreams.
Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.d. is an author, playwright, psychologist and long-term Zen practitioner and Interfaith Counselor. This article is based upon her book Fearless (The Seven Principles of Peace of Mind). Learn more about her at brendashoshanna.com. She also offers a weekly podcast, Zen Wisdom For Your Everyday Life, zenwisdomtoday.com.