It’s a rainy day in 2004 and my fiance’ and I are sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to change. I can see our destination across the intersection; a loan office where a check is waiting for our engagement ring. My gut is telling me this isn’t the right thing to be doing (the marriage not the loan) so I pick a fight. I’m not equipped emotionally to know what I need or want out of life; all I know is the fear of being alone. My fiance’ begins to cry and I fear she does not love me, so I tell her I love her and everything is going to be OK. We pick up the loan check. We get married in January of ‘05 and annulled six months later. Looking back, fear influenced nearly every decision in my life.
As I have transformed my life into a purposeful spiritual journey, one thing has become abundantly clear; fear had been and continues to be at the root of most of my problems. The fear I experience is usually rooted in two beliefs: 1) that I’m not going to get something I think I want, or 2) that I’m about to lose something I think I have. I emphasis think in both instances because most of what I have is merely an illusion. In that they’re material or contingent on others; neither one of which I have control over. What I do have control over is my thoughts, where most of my fears are manifested.
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real
Fear as a Motivator
One of the reasons we find it hard to completely rid our lives of fear is; fear is a great motivator.
You can apply this to almost any situation. Fear of economic insecurity motivates us to work harder; fear of being alone motivates us to date or enter relationships (whether we should or not!), fear of sickness motivates us to take better care of ourselves (hopefully), the list could go on. So how do we overcome fear and use it to our advantage in a healthy way? The key lies in transforming fear into something useful and productive that enhances our lives and our spiritual journey.
One thing I discovered years ago was that reactionary decisions based solely on fear inevitably placed me in a position which was detrimental to me; whether I realized it at the time or not. Relationships, jobs, you name it; when making decisions based mainly on fear, I found myself in situations that I knew were not right for me. In many cases, the painful realization that I made the wrong decision came later—at the price of my serenity and/or that of others.
Perhaps fear can still be a good thing as it motivates; maybe instead of overcoming fear, we should think about transforming fear into something useful.
While doing research on overcoming fear, I came across a free report by Dr. Tim Ong called Transforming Fear (PDF).
Dr. Ong illustrates what I was talking about above; fear gets things done:
One of the reasons why fear is so prevalent is because it gets things done, often according to what we want. For example, we threaten punishment to our kids for misbehaving. We threaten loss of job for the employee who does not perform. The government threatens fines and imprisonment for those who break the laws. Politicians and marketers are especially skillful in using fear as a motivator to get our votes or sell their products and services. The insurance industry highlights fear in the forms of loss of life or health to sell their products. Even the healthcare industry, particularly some doctors and pharmaceutical companies, uses fear to promote their services and products.
It is important for us to realize that fear begets more fear. The more we focus our lives on fear, the more fear appears in our lives. It becomes a never ending vicious cycle.
In my experience and probably yours, decisions made out of fear rarely end up being right for me, and often lead to more fear or unhappiness. So I concur with Dr. Ong’s findings. Dr. Ong then continues the report with a practical problem solving process consisting of: 1. Identify the Problem, 2. Find its root cause, 3. Determine the solution, and 4. Work towards the solution. Additionally he goes into detail about the nature(cost) of fear, and root causes such as insecurity, loneliness, and loss. I found his article on fear amazingly accurate and helpful.
Dr. Ong suggests that fear is often manifested, unknowingly by ourselves as a result of our belief system. He then gives a 500 word exercise to help you discover more about your belief system.
I do disagree with Dr. Ong in that all fear is caused by three things: insecurity, loneliness, or loss. I would argue that regardless of the cause, all fear (emotional) comes back to insecurity; both physical and emotional. Isn’t the feeling of loneliness actually the result of feeling inadequate or incapable of finding happiness by ourselves? Maybe a better root cause of fear could simply be the absence of love. I don’t know… maybe that’s a whole different topic.
Overcoming fear is a process we learn, and ultimately we overcome fear by transforming it into something useful. For me, anything that separates me from others or a spiritual guided life is detrimental to my well being. Learning how to identify the cause of my fear is just another step towards enlightenment and thus a healthier spiritual life. Nonetheless, regardless of your belief system, you can learn to overcome fear by identifying the root cause behind the fear itself.
One great point Dr. Ong makes in overcoming fear is, “Fear, like all other emotions, is preceded by a thought. It is in fact a mental state.” So if we learn how to control our thoughts, ultimately we can overcome fear.
If you’re struggling with fear, I encourage you to download Dr. Ong’s report Transforming Fear (PDF). It’s free and you don’t even have to enter your name or email address!
photo credit: Muddy Funkster