Consider yesterday’s “Kick Butt Day” and today’s “Face Your Fears Day” as interrelated. We generally need our butts kicked to overcome procrastination. We tend to put off what we dislike or fear. Procrastination and fears are facts of life for every human who has existed. How we deal with fear, determines the quality of our lives.
Maybe one has a “conventional” fear, like that of high places, or crowds. We might deal with those fears by easing ourselves into progressively higher buildings, or attending events that attract large groups of people. The fears may never entirely go away, but we’ll have the experience and knowledge to demonstrate that we can survive and even enjoy facing those fears.
Personally, I look at Face Your Fears Day, this year, as a time to evaluate more existential fears. They might be the fear of not fulfilling one’s dreams, the fear of public opinion, internalized homophobia, or the fear of always being alone.
Overt fears, like the fear of spiders or covert fears, like the fear of failure, are the manifestations of humankind’s most destructive energy. We can easily see how fears generate all sorts of superstitions, irrational beliefs, dogmas, behaviors, and destructive activities like prejudice and war. On personal levels, our fears stunt our growth and our enjoyment of life.
We might understand the harmful nature of fears and even know that some overt fears are helpful to our existence. Yet, we still wish to overcome our most pesky, crippling fears. Maybe we watch videos on the Internet for advice on overcoming our fears. Maybe we listen to advice on mass media, or buy self-help literature. It would be nice if simply knowing the causes of our fears and analysis of those causes could eliminate fears. However, life doesn’t work that way.
Even directly encountering what one fears, if done unskillfully, can make those fears more embedded in one’s psyche. This is especially true if the fearful person performs the act of encountering fear with the idea of eliminating the fear. The mind is a strange thing. If we try to trick it, the mind can become very contradictory. You can no more trick your mind this way any more than you can tickle yourself. You know what you’re doing.
When we battle and resist our fears with opinions and condemnations, we fail to understand the futility of that approach. This resistance causes us to overlook the fact that the fear is an idea, opinion, or mental construct about a certain aspect of life. Take any fear, perhaps acrophobia, the fear of high places, or homophobia another popular fear.
Neither, the acts of standing on a mountaintop or sitting next to a gay person will harm us. People do these things every day with nothing bad happening to them. Only when we acquire an idea that standing on mountaintops or sitting next to an LGBT person is scary, do we acquire a new fear. In these instances, the fear is an internal opinion about the facts of mountaintops and gays. In other words, existential fears are basically negative opinions.
When you understand your fears this way, it is easier to figure out how to productively face those opinions or fears. If one forced, against his will to climb a mountain, or forced by circumstance to sit next to an LGBT person, his opinions or fears might actually become worse. On the other hand, if he watches videos of high places and climb small hills, he can face acrophobia intelligently. Similarly, if he allows himself to meet a gay person at a pleasant social gathering with the intent of learning about her, he can begin to chip away at his homophobia.
Whatever your most troubling fear might be, the careful, mindful approach to facing the fear is the most effective one. We soon understand that our prior knowledge, mental images, and opinions about certain aspects of life are temporary opinions and can be overcome. This is one of the major rewards of having an open mind. When we understand that our negative opinions are simply opinions that can evolve, we’ve started to face those fears. We don’t need to limit our lives and the lives of others because of our fears.
Soon, we realize that fear is the non-acceptance of what is. Facing our fears is the act of accepting the reality of the world. We question our opinions of non-acceptance and faithfully seek out ways to shift those opinions. After we understand how to shift our point of view, we actively do what is needed to accomplish acceptance.
The shift takes place by honestly, fully following through.
Once we understand that getting rid of negative opinions and fears will make our lives simpler and more joyful, we have seen what our rewards will be. There will no longer be the need to justify and validate ones fears and phobias.
Today, Face Your Fears Day, is a good time to finally decide to manage and overcome your fears. A happier, more harmonious life awaits.