The Other Side of Fear
By Jasher Feellove
Fear. The word triggers a physiological and emotional response. We may fear failure, or we may fear success. In either case, we fear the unknown.
High performers refer to fear as stress. The media uses fear to garner attention: “If it bleeds, it leads.” To psychologists, fear speaks to the instinct of “flight or fight,” but the way of the warrior is to make peace with fear and death since our deepest heartfelt desires and greatest hopes are on the other side of a little thing we call fear.
Fear is an emotional process. It cannot be be resolved through intellectual means. Because humans have the propensity to experience such great polarities of emotions, we must cultivate a practice which can pacify and hedge us—as best we can—from the destructive nature of opposing forces. In yoga, this practice is referred to as the Namaskar: making peace with all polarities.
The only way to stop reacting to fear is through incessant practice. It is import to practice and maintain a healthy equilibrium of body and equanimity of mind. Nevertheless, training and practice create stress proactively in order to retrain one’s reactions. Rooting out fear by constantly placing oneself in uncomfortable environments is a powerful way to live a life of choice. In this, one chooses their course predicated on preference, not as a reaction to fear.
Some weeks ago, while in Malta, I decided I wanted to go cliff diving on the island of Comino. The beautiful island’s position in the Mediterranean Sea made for an idyllic view. Looking down into the ocean, my legs became numb and my palms became heavy. “Why bother?” I thought to myself. “I can always come back and do it on another trip.” I began reasoning within my mind: “Then you will have a reason to come back!” Other thoughts, dreadful thoughts, started to sprout. Yet the desire to jump persisted within me. A flicker of courage shone through. I came to the realization that I had to make a decision—to take a leap.
My situation was similar to that of an inexperienced diver who instinctively feels a fear of crushing his body by the impact of the water after a leap from a high springboard. However, after a few dives, his fear disappears. This is what a diver-student must know well if he wants to make any real progress: Take a leap. There is no algorithm for experience. Meditation is good. Prayer is good. Taking action is best. Just for a moment, let your body take the stance of feeling fearful. What is your posture? Most people hunch their shoulders forward, fold their arms across their chests, or assume a similarly contracted position to shield the heart, fear having triggered the need to be on the defensive. Sit up straight. Stand up tall—even when you don’t feel like it. Emotions follow state. State not only is where we live physically but also is our state of consciousness. As long as we deny or ignore fear, it will hold us captive, emotionally frozen, and unable to move forward. Trying to run away from, ignore, or stop fear will simply create more tension. It is transformed only when we can turn around and face it, get to know it, release resistances and fixed ideas, and speak with our own voice.
Get outside of your own comfort zone and habitual state by doing the following:
- Do a small act of kindness every day. In other words, go out of your way to serve another person, creating a positive karmic deposit.
- Once a week, do something that frightens or terrifies you. Go outside of the realm of usual experience, and plunge into the abyss of the unknown. Fear holds us back but only until we set into it with the full weight of our being.
The first step is taking one. Love opens up all possibilities where no path was visible before. Courage lives in the heart.