We all experience fear from time to time and it has its uses, but they mainly stem from primitive origins. The kind of scenarios that might involve wild predators and life or death dilemmas.
Sometimes we experience a genuine fear for our own or others' safety - when the body is flooded with cortisol and there is a need to take swift action. Yet, when we have a fearful thought, the brain is unable to distinguish between real and perceived threats and our bodies go into overdrive and become wired with stress hormones.
I know, you didn't sign up to a pseudo biology lesson, and I'm hardly qualified for that anyway, but it's helpful to build some context.
From a more poetic perspective, Marianne Williamson said. 'Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn.' I find this deeply reassuring, because it suggests that love is the constant and the precursor to all else. However, for anyone living with fear as a daily reality, it's not helpful to discount the impact it can have. I say this as someone who has experienced 'bolt upright in the middle of the night with a foreboding sense of doom' kind of panic attacks. At that time in my life I experienced levels of anxiety and dread so amplified that all I was doing was existing. It was brutal, exhausting, unbelievably overwhelming and all-consuming. It might read like hyperbole but I can't really find a descriptor to do it justice. It really was beyond words, and man I love words.
Somewhere along the way I started to see that I had become sucked into a vortex of perpetual anxiety, propelled by fear of fear. It's kinda cyclonic. And while I adopted all sorts of coping mechanisms and strategies, I started to see that they were all aimed at keeping it at bay.. which had an uneasy undercurrent, because there is only so long you can hold back the tide. I'm not dissing coping tactics
or distraction techniques - they have a very valid place and can have a significant effect on quality of life.
My issue is more with the relationship dynamic we hold with fear. All the time we try to box it in or hide from its looming shadow, we are maintaining a kind of tension that reiterates the notion that fear is indeed something to fear. We remain on tenterhooks and, quite frankly, the whole white knuckle ride is pretty exhausting. So I reflected on Marianne's statement and I deduced that, if love is our natural state, then fear must be when we are experiencing an absence of love. So when we resist fear, all we are doing is (innocently) inciting more fear.
So what do we do? If the danger is perceived and not real (ie. an emotional response to 'what if?' imagined scenarios in a fictional future) then maybe there is a third option beyond fight or flight? Our conditioning is to move away from uncomfortable feelings, but maybe there is a way we can sit with it. Because when we simply let it be and observe it, we realise that it builds up, then it subsides. It is transitory. An unpleasant visitor maybe, but certainly not a rent-paying long-term tenant.
It's not easy in the thick of a thought storm to see that. But see it once and it can't be unseen. Like Ian Brown says 'Forget Everything and Remember.' And when we remember we allow the learnt response to play out until it naturally dissolves. Back to love.