What are you afraid of?

10 Aug

“I’ve always thought there was something wrong with me.”

That’s not an original line. I heard it on this insightful podcast of the Tim Ferriss Show, in an interview with Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. It was a statement uttered by a mother at the moment of her passing on.

It’s not a statement original to me, but when I heard it, I owned it. It’s a sentiment that went deep inside me. It did that because that’s how I’ve generally always felt, and still do. It’s a sentiment I carry with me and which affects a significant amount of my thoughts, words, choices, actions and reactions. In some way, I know it affects all of my relationships: those with friends, strangers, coworkers, club members, church members, children, and wife. As poignant, or disturbing, as that statement comes across, it was liberating to simply own it and admit it, so much so I that I decided I wanted to integrate it into this planned blog post.

Each of the belt colors in the ranks of Taekwondo have a meaning attributed to them. The color belt ranks largely signify growth and development according to aspects of nature. Then all of a sudden comes black belt. As I was instructed, the black belt means, “Impervious to fear and darkness.”

Impervious to fear? There are certainly lots of martial artists, black belts and otherwise, who seem motivated to act as they do because they are afraid of appearing weak, or inadequate, or incapable. There are lots of “black belts” in the business and public realms that likewise act out of those same fears, among many others.

I’m not sure about the impervious part, but I think I know a bit about the fear part.

That same Tim Ferriss podcast, at one point, explores fear a bit. Very timely. The notion of fear and it’s place in our minds, hearts, actions, choices and responses has been in my mind a lot the past months and has, coincidentally, entered into a number of discussions and been addressed in a number of readings throughout that same time. All of those varied contexts got to fear as being fundamental.

The conversation at my church men’s group meeting recently ventured to the areas of responsibility, reluctance and despair. Responsibility to be better stewards of the earth, reluctance to make life changes, and despair over uncertain futures. As I took in the discussion, I found myself noting that all of what we discussed can perhaps be summarized in one sentiment: we are afraid.

We don’t do things because we are afraid of failing. We don’t apply ourselves fully to relationships because we fear getting hurt. We work and horde and neglect because we are afraid of security in the future, or status now. Perhaps we continue to use natural resources in ways that show a fear of losing something we have, or not being able to get something we want. We do or don’t do certain things because we fear what people will think. We avoid hard decisions or resist changes because we fear the unknown consequences; how does one deal with those?

I recall one book I perused years ago — Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway — that talked about all fears boiling down to one fundamental fear: fear of not being able to handle it. If we just realized that we can ultimately handle any of the consequences of our choices and actions, we would be much more bold.

I’ve reflected on how many of our actions and motivations, particularly the less than perfect ones, can ultimately be boiled down to fear of something, and I believe this to be true. My feeling that there is something wrong with me goes, I think, to a deep sense of feeling inadequate. That sense of inadequacy is, I think, ultimately fueled by fear: fear of not being good enough, fear of not meeting others’ expectations, fear of not being regarded as capable, fear of not being able to achieve, fear of what others think of me, fear that I might somehow or sometime discover that I am simply not worth all that much.

At that men’s group meeting, I proffered that perhaps our challenge is to not act, or not avoid, out of fear, but be brave enough or, perhaps, hopeful enough, to act differently, perhaps in ways that one might call courageous. Since that discussion was originally fueled by one member’s comments about stewardship of nature, examples of courageous acts might be to make some life change regarding, say, food choices or energy use that puts one into the minority, a fearful place to be. Maybe that act might ultimately be a waste of time; maybe it will bring others to chide or ridicule us. Maybe it’s just a hard stretch for us.

I speculated to my guys at that meeting, “I wonder what life choice I can make that could be considered courageous, one choice that flies in the face of fear as the deciding factor?” I haven’t hit upon it yet. Or, maybe this post is part of it.

I think that life choices and actions that go against fear are, actually, more than courageous. I think they illustrate a view of life and the future that are based on hope, on faith and even on love. Act courageously and do the right thing, despite the fears. Act faithfully, despite the fears. Act with hope in the face of the fears. Choose to act out of love, and compassion, regardless of the fears.

Someone wise, a couple of thousand years ago, spoke to the notion of living and bearing faith, hope and love. Surely these must be remedies for our fears. Assuming so, I’ve got some attitude, heartitude, and fortitude to adjust. Living openly and courageously out of faith, hope and love. This is a life’s work. I hope I don’t run out of time.

Why did you do that? What are you afraid of?

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