A lot has been said on fear and how it holds us back from living our highest potential. Marianne Williamson is famous for explaining how in all moments, all situations, and with all people, there are two choices: love or fear. No exceptions. If there's fear it's blocking the love, and if there's love it's impossible for fear to get in.
If you can only have love or fear, then love seems like the obvious choice. Love does not have to mean schmoopy romance. It means you love going to work, rather than feeling anxiety. It means you love waking up and feeling potential, rather than fearing all the things that can go wrong.
As I began to consider what life would be like if I embraced love over fear all the time I was introduced to the Invisibilia podcast. This is a new podcast that explores and discusses all of the invisible things that influence our lives. The first one I played from them was about fear and being fearless.
They presented to me an interesting question: Just because we can be fearless, does that mean we should be?
And by fearless, I mean you never, ever, even if a knife is being held to your throat, ever feel fear.
They explored this question via a woman (her name was withheld for safety reasons, she was referred to only as SM) who feels zero fear. None. It's physically impossible for her. She has calcium deposits in the part of her brain that process fear. I'll let you listen to the podcast to hear more about her, how the brain processes fear, and her story. The whole podcast is amazing and intriguing, it includes several different types of stories. But the fearless woman is the one that really got me thinking.
If you think her life was more dangerous because she lacked fear you're right! But it wasn't because she became reckless and jumped into the mouths of alligators. The increase in danger actually came from the fact that she didn't guard herself with certain people. If someone who might make you anxious called to you, you'd walk away. Or run. But she never felt fear. Which is how she ended up with a man holding a knife to her throat. It wasn't that she knew he had a knife and she wanted to feel like a bad ass. He had yelled hello and called to her to come over, he said he had a question for her, and so she went.
Part 1: The Woman Who Feels no Fear
Here's where your alarm bells would probably be going off. She doesn't have any alarms, however, and so when he pulled out a knife she was surprised. But not afraid. She didn't beg, plead or cry. Instead, she fiercely said, “Go ahead and cut me. I'll be coming back and I'll haunt your ass.”
And then... he let her go.
If your lack of fear makes you walk into the wrong situation, your ability to stay calm and even strong is going to be your greatest ally in getting out of the situation. Fear shuts down your brain. It intensifies a situation and feeds into the other person, the kind of person who might have a knife and doesn't need to be riled up any further.
It's an interesting quandary.
This isn't all there is too it though. Because this woman never feels fear, she never associates her experiences with trauma. To her, an experience is simply something interesting that happened. Which means if she's in a car accident, she won't be afraid after that to get in a car again. It was just something that happened. She's aware it's unlikely it'll happen again. She's perhaps more rational because of her lack of ability to label situations as bad. When we label an experience as bad, it ripples out so what we fear any situation that might be even remotely similar to it. Thus, one car accident leads to chronic anxiety while driving, no matter how safe we actually are.
It's also important to note that despite her inability to feel fear, she feels all other emotions. She feels love. She's happy. She also has the same common sense as she did before the calcium deposits. If a car was racing at her, she'd jump out of the way.
So let's consider this trade off for a moment. On the one hand, if you remove your ability to feel fear you might show up for some bad stuff. Let's say three or four really traumatic, gut wrenching, heart in the throat experiences. But you won't experience them that way. They'll just be interesting things that happened. In exchange for these weird moments, you'll receive 1,000 amazing moments that make your heart and soul sing with joy. You will share your gifts with more people than you ever dreamed possible. You will connect with more people than you ever imagined, people who open you up to how fascinating and diverse we really are.
On the other hand, you can have fear in your life. You can MAYBE avoid these gut wrenching experiences. It's not even guaranteed. On top of this, you will avoid repeating a situation that you did deem to be traumatic and fearful, no matter how irrational this is (we've all been there). This will lead to you avoiding more and more situations, no matter how good they are, because you fear what might happen. You're going to miss out on all 1,000 amazing moments of bliss because you were too scared to get out there and go get them. You will also miss out on connecting to all those wonderful souls because you feared judgment, shame, or just the fact that they were different.
Here's what it comes down to: Expansion vs. Contraction.
Do you want to be fearless and be totally open, or do you want to have fear and pull yourself in?
I wrote this entire blog post and felt certain life would be better if I could move completely out of fear and into love. I'd embrace more opportunities, stop creating endless associations in my mind of potential dangers, and I'd enjoy people in a way I can't even fathom right now. But then something interesting happened. I found an old blog post in my draft folder that I'd written several months ago. The title of the post? THANK YOU FEAR. I just said, “Huh,” and stared at it for awhile. I finally opened it and read my own words about what fear had shown me and how it had helped me. And it made sense. I kind of wanted to delete it and cast it off as the ramblings of a woman who just wasn't fully informed yet. I couldn't do that though because I knew everything I'd written was true and that it was a valid counter perspective.
So honestly, this argument isn't settled for me yet. It's certainly a fascinating question, and one I see is worth exploring more. It can help us not only understand ourselves better, but life and how crazy, strange and magnificent it is. No matter how helpful fear can be, I think the majority of us would benefit from a reduction in fear. Most of us don't even realize how much of our life is fear based. I am constantly amazed myself at how comfortable I am with fear instead of love in certain situations. Fear is just so damn familiar. It's even something that can help us feel more connected, because to feel fear is the cultural norm, everywhere. It helps us feel like we're normal and we belong...
Which doesn't mean we need to feel fear to belong. Not at all. I want to emphasize that that's a perception. For evidence on being in a state of love and being connected more than ever see Ghandi, Mother Teresa, and Buddha.
Those are some pretty amazing people who did amazing things, right? So maybe we're not ready to erase all fear from ourselves, but we'd like to at least reduce our fear.
But how? Is it possible?
It sure is! Stay tuned for the second part to this, which will be posted in a few days. I'll list some practical ways to start turning your momentum away from fear and towards love. I'll also share a video that leads you through a simple yet effective breathing exercise to help rewire your mind and body out of fear and into love.