Beyond Our Fears

My Own Milky Way:  Narrows at Zion National ParkFear is a powerful emotion that is actually encoded in our DNA. It is part of our survival mechanism. Different kinds of fear make it tricky to define this four-letter word, which should never be underestimated. It carries a lot of weight, involves multiple scenarios–both real and imaginary–and seems incredibly complex to even touch on in one post, but I’ve decided to give it a try.

It came up in my last post about an aerial adventure that took me out of my comfort zone. That fear resulted in an adrenaline rush from the excitement of trying out the trapeze. Yes, I was scared, but the fear was associated with a thrilling feeling, and is a far cry from the one in the news right now. The Ebola situation has spawned a worldwide fear while we wait to see if governments will be able to get the virus under control. I want to focus on fears that are closer to us, our personal fears. The fears we deal with regularly. The ones we manage, and the ones that sometimes manage us.

These personal or individual fears, distinctive to each one of us, are entangled with our families, upbringing, and personal situations and are strongly aligned with our stages of life. Whether actual or phantasmal, personal fears exercise significant influence over us, which can be incredibly valuable when it comes to our safety and sense of wellbeing. Where would our race be without its fight or flight reflex! I am certainly grateful for those times my instinct cautioned me to act or react in a certain way.

But fears can also be a hindrance, keeping us corralled and confined to a box or corner. They can hold us back and prevent us from pursuing dreams or following a certain path. Such fears–be they real or imaginary–have a strong grip over us that requires significant work to loosen. At some point, we all encounter fears that can be tenacious and overwhelming. When I began thinking about leaving a troubled marriage, I had to face fears about divorce and abandoning a partnership, the uncertainty of being on my own both financially and emotionally, and the idea of raising a child from two separate households.

This was a life-changing period. Opting to stay married would keep continuity for our son, but it also meant continuing to live in an unhappy, tense environment. Meanwhile, the decision to leave meant taking financial risks at the start of a serious economic recession, breaking up my son’s home, and hoping things would turn out for the better. At the time, there was no easy or comfortable answer. I felt that divorce was the better option, but my fears about it were significant. I needed to know which fears were real and which ones were imagined, and could I do anything to abate the real ones? In the end, I opted for divorce. I took chances, but not blind risks. Much to my surprise, as soon as I began actively taking steps to secure my position, some fears dissolved and/or diminished almost immediately Others dissipated more gradually as my new situation stabilized.

Over time, our fears change and evolve. The boogeyman in the closet morphs into a different phantom. The fears I had as a twenty year old were different from the ones I had when I was thirty, and they have changed again now that I’m in my fifties. Life will always bring situations that destabilize us and provoke fear and reservations. The question remains do we deal with them or they with us.

Tolkien describes fear’s ability to restrain and confine in a conversation between Aragon and Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings.

“What do you fear, lady?” he asks.

“A cage,” she replies. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them. And all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

As a personal message, I prefer to replace “great deeds“ with “fulfilling ones,” but otherwise it is a fitting image, and I find myself saying, “Fly little bird. Fly!”