virgin islands scene

Wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge.
-- Abraham Joshua Heschel


The MONTHLY Motivator - July 2002

Moving beyond fear

Fear is a powerful and effective emotion. Fear can protect you from harm. Fear can motivate you to take action. Fear can heighten your awareness and focus your attention like nothing else. Fear can prepare you for difficult challenges.

And yet, the purpose of fear is not to stop you, but to warn you, to inform you and prepare you. The purpose of fear is to keep you alive and safe, not to keep you from living life. Fear can give you the tools to move forward, rather than serve as a reason to hold back.

Fear is a valuable and useful part of life, but it can be a big problem when it dominates your life, or certain aspects of your life, and prevents you from moving forward. Fear can render you unable to take action when its purpose is actually to prepare you to take action.

Fear can be uncomfortable. That’s how it gets your attention. That’s why it is so powerful, because you cannot ignore it. Yet just because it is so compelling doesn’t mean it has to be overpowering. The strategy for getting the most out of fear is to work at understanding your fears, to look at them and truly seek to know of what they are meant to tell you. The best way to move beyond your fear by listening to what it has to say and making use of it.

What things do you fear? Do you fear embarrassment? Do you fear failure? Do you fear loneliness? Do you fear responsibility? Do you fear success? Do you fear talking to other people? Do you fear commitment? Do you fear the world outside your doorstep? Your fears are not to be ignored, they are to be explored and understood. And then once you understand your fears, you can move on beyond them, confident and prepared.

It’s natural to want to hide from your fears. It’s natural to want to avoid the object of those fears. That’s because of the powerful effect that fear has on your mind, your body, and your spirit. Fear is one of the oldest, most fundamental emotions. It is basic to life and to survival. It can affect your entire being at a deep and profound level. As such, it can be an intense experience.

When you can accept, understand, explore and make use of your fears instead of hiding from them or avoiding them, then you have access to the enormous value which those fears can convey. We live in a dangerous world and there are many circumstances, many situations in which fear is entirely appropriate and justified. Yet it would be a mistake to fear the fear itself.

The real problem with fear comes when you began to fear being afraid -- when you have fear of fear. For example, imagine that you have a fear of public speaking, which is one of the most common fears in the world. Now suppose you find yourself needing to speak in front of a large audience and suddenly a fear overcomes you. What is that fear? Are you afraid of the audience? No, you’re afraid of your fear. Carry it a step further. Imagine that you turn down a good job offer because it might involve some public speaking. Do you fear the job? No. Do you fear public speaking? No. What you truly fear is the fear of speaking in public. So you see how fear can build upon itself several layers deep.

There are certainly things to be feared and there are certainly things to be avoided, things about which your fears can warn you. It would be a mistake, however to fear the fear itself.

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--Ralph Marston

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