In writing yesterday’s blog post, I considered another point to make, but later thought it deserved its own post.
My fears came to mind in yesterday’s blog because maybe, as part of my Hindu beliefs of reincarnation and a soul that can persist through multiple physical bodies and lives, my fears now may have actually developed from the way I died in a previous life. Maybe I was a child in Africa, bit by a Black Mamba snake, or I plummeted to my death from a balcony or mountaintop. Maybe I’d been eaten alive by fire ants like in the Indiana Jones movie.
Everyone has fears and phobias. The key difference between the two is that a phobia is a fear escalated to a point where that which you fear poses little or no actual danger, in and of itself. For example, there is a fear of heights, but it becomes a phobia when you irrationally turn down a great job because it’s on the 2nd floor of a building. With a phobia, you know it’s unreasonable and irrational, but you can’t help it. It’s got a hold of you and won’t let go. While you may take steps to overcome the fear, it may never go away entirely.
I decided to do a bit of google surfing to see how fears develop, as I’d never really thought about it before. Using myself as a case study, I have a few of the common fears, but not all of them. Since I was a very young child, I’ve been afraid of heights (good thing I’m short), spiders/insects/bugs, and snakes. I have no idea from whence they came. I would not escalate them to a point of phobias, however, because I do not change my lifestyle to work around them.
My work office is situated on the 21st floor of a building in San Francisco’s financial district, which is basically landfill and not even solid bedrock. I often fly on airplanes, and have zip lined through the trees at Haleakala in Maui. I still get queasy on the roofs of skyscrapers, and I’ll never skydive or bungee jump. No thanks, but kind regards. Australia is known for its poisonous spiders, jumping, and otherwise, and I chose to live there for 3 years. I encountered many terrifying spiders as big as my hand, and still live today to tell the tale.
Fear is called an adaptive response, because it stems from learning and growing. This is our “flight or fight” response, and it’s important to develop this for our own protection. Our bodies and minds become aware and alert, which puts us on guard for danger. According to the Child Anxiety Network, between ages 0-2, humans develop fears of loud noises, separation from parents, and large objects. We are so tiny and still developing our senses that anything big or loud will likely freak us out. Between ages 3-6, we develop fears of imaginary things, like monsters under the bed, the dark, and strange noises. By ages 7-16, we develop more tangible fears, like death, injury, and natural disasters.
I’ll never forget coming to terms with my own mortality. I touched on it briefly in my post about my issues with my knees, and multiple knee surgeries from the tender age of 13. When I realized I was in fact not a superhero but a regular human who was fallible, I suddenly became protective of my body.
I recently devoured the Divergent trilogy, in record time. Dauntless is one of the five factions featured in that series, dedicated to bravery, courage, and fearlessness. By identifying your fears, and going through fear simulations, you practice facing your fears head-on and prepare for them in advance. These simulations create the ability to act without thinking when faced with your fear, so you are not paralyzed and defeated by your fears when you actually encounter them.
Members of this faction, in the story, do crazy things to attain freedom from fear, like jumping from moving trains, crawling to the tops of ferris wheels with no harness or other kind of safety net to gain a birds’ eye view, plummeting off tall buildings into an unseen abyss below, and the like. They recognize there is a fine line between bravery and idiocy. It is people in Dauntless who are thus called for public service similar to police officers, security, and ultimately, a military.
The Dauntless believe in denying fear the power to influence their lives, ordinary acts of bravery, defending those who cannot defend themselves, and bold words and bold deeds. I really admire the direction Veronica Roth, the author of the series, took with this group of individuals. Sometimes bravery isn’t fighting a war, nor is it always jumping off of buildings. Sometimes, bravery and courage is needed for the most mundane of tasks – to be honest about taking the cookie from the cookie jar, or for standing up for someone who is being bullied.
Too often, in the news media today, fear governs the headlines and our politics. The Bush administration in the US played to citizens’ fears after 9/11 by searching for weapons of mass destruction, which, if found, would decrease our fear of an assault by Al Qaeda. Terrorism in its simplest form relies on fear to invoke power.
Fear is a funny thing. Many people don’t live their lives – they live their fears. They buy homes and create families to reduce the fear they have of, say, being alone, or not leaving a mark on this world when they go. They get rat race day jobs because they are afraid to live without a source of income and travel the world, afraid to be nomadic and homeless as they live their lives.
I try not to be governed by fear in my own life, but I know to an extent, it will always be present. I try to run from safety. I’m a free spirit and have been in a prison of my own making all my adult life. I did what was expected of me – went to college, got a reliable job with a steady income, worked hard. But, here’s an epiphany I had, today, when researching about fear – you can develop new ones anytime, and their development doesn’t require any kind of traumatic experience. Sometimes, you’re totally fine one day, and the next day, you could be afraid of anything, like maybe rainbows. For me, I developed a new fear later in life: safety.
Now, I ache for something different, but it requires leaving the ultimate comfort zone I’ve built for myself. And when I think of the utter boredom and safety of a predictable relationship and a steady routine life, I realize that would never satisfy me. A life that continues to evolve and allow for growth and has adventures yet provides stability at the most turbulent of times, is the one for me.
What terrifies me is regretting choosing the safe option at the end of my life. I need to be with someone who pulls at my heart strings and pushes me to try new things. I want a life well spent and I don’t want to spend my life climbing the wrong ladder. The best advice I ever received was make sure you are on the right ladder before you start climbing.
So if that predictable life terrifies me, I have to face that fear. Not for you, or for anyone. For me. Because if I can’t make the first step to the life I truly want, then I don’t deserve it. I can’t limit myself and not opening up for it now could mean living a life closed to it forever.
So for you, dear reader, I quote my favorite country song: “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”
Jump in to the pool, eat life, and give it a go. Or surround yourself with people who can help push you to do that, and support you regardless of whether you succeed or fail.