Thrust naked into an unknown world, fear must be our first instinctive emotion. It follows us through childhood with night terrors, monsters under the bed and spiders that stalk us in the shower. It attends our first day at school, our first solo bike ride, mingled perhaps with other, more exotic emotions like anticipation and excitement. But it is present nonetheless.
If we are honest with ourselves, fear intrudes just as much upon our days as adults. It may be disguised as worry... will you make the appointment on time, get the job, or have enough food in the cupboard to last till the end of the month? It can be deeper, and often is, rooted in other emotions… the fear of failure or rejection, the fear of loss and sorrow, the fear of ... well, the list, of course, is endless and as varied as thought and feeling.
We tend to think of fear as a negative emotion. Yet it can also be a valuable tool. Fear can help us gain control of our actions. It is a thrust block against which we can get a purchase, and can impel us to act.
More importantly, perhaps, it can be a measure of oneself.
Life has a habit of going round in circles when there are lessons to be learned. Have you ever stopped to look at the challenges with which you are presented? They may take a myriad shapes but there will be a consistent thread running through them in many cases. You go round and round coming back to face the same underlying problem dressed in many guises. It is only by stopping and taking the time out to look that you will notice. And only by turning around to face your fear, dealing with it and moving on that you can break out of the circle and begin another arc of the upward spiral of learning.
It won’t stop the challenges… the truer the blade, the hotter the forge will need to be and life has a habit of stoking the furnace. But one can move on to a new challenge, another opportunity for the inner self to learn and grow.
In this respect fear becomes an ally, if we allow it to be. It permits us to test and measure ourselves and our courage, gives us opportunities for a personal, quiet heroism… even if it is only dealing with the spider oneself rather than cowering behind the shower curtain.
Like the spider, our fears are often magnified by our perception and the reality not quite as monstrous as it seems. The anticipation is generally far worse than the event. By turning to face them we regain control of our choices to act in accordance with the will and not react in simple terror.
It can be far easier said than done, of course, when one is caught in the mesh of emotion, where one fear piles on top of another into a compound morass of emotion. But it can be done. Sometimes it is as easy as acting ‘as if’.
There is an oft quoted teaching from Ignatius Loyola about putting oneself in the attitude of prayer. It suggests that by assuming the correct outward appearance, the prayerful state will follow. This is true in everyday life too.
Pretend for long enough that the dentist holds no fear for you, so that the children do not grow into your own fear, and one day you realise the fear you think you feel is just a habit and is not really there. Evict enough spiders bravely from the bathroom and they gradually become simply the minute creatures they are. Present a confident face to the world and that confidence seeps in and becomes real.
Fear is too often a habit we cling to because of its familiarity.
Once upon a time a very young mother would tie the door handles together and check the wardrobes before bed... and I mention no names here at all…and you can stop laughing now…Yet now I sit all alone in the house, even the dog has deserted me to stay with a friend tonight, with the back door wide open to the night, letting the fresh, cold air stream in.
So… are you going to wait for help or turn and deal with the eight legged monster in the shower yourself?
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