Many of us were brainwashed into believing that life is a lot more dangerous than it really is.
We walk around with these fear thoughts in our heads that tell us things such as creative ways we are going to die. They tell us that our loved ones are in danger, they even warn us about our impending impoverished future.
These thoughts are useless.
Even if there was some sort of truth to any of these thoughts, the chances of them occurring is small, at least the ones not dealing with death.
How many of the things you have feared come to pass anyway? Most of the things that happen to us happen by surprise. Which is what life is truly about.
Life is an unfolding, not a foreseeing.
We do not “foresee” things that are to happen no matter how much it seems so.
What is fear?
Fear is an amalgamation of thoughts. It is our imagination run amok.
Fear is the sporadic flurry of misplaced mental activity that imprisons us. The only thing is that we have constructed this prison.
If we only were to walk up to those steel bars we would see that we can walk right through them.
If I were to ask you where in the world fear exists, you wouldn’t be able to tell me.
“There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”-Seneca
I can ask you to point to the fear. You wouldn’t be able to do it.
This is because you are imagining these things. You can’t point to fear.
You can’t objectify fear.
Danger is a different story. Danger is tangible and it makes no qualms about taking you out.
Fear is all talk but danger is swift, silent and shows no remorse.
Danger is something that hits you before you even realize it and you’re forced to react not respond.
Danger forces us to relegate our survival to our lizard brains. It has little to do with conscious cognition. Which is why danger doesn’t occupy any space within us.
The reaction to danger is an in the moment type of phenomenon that has different kinds of implications than fear.
The Stoics way of dealing with fear
Now that we know what fear is and where it lives, it’s time to turn it on its head.
We said that fear lives within the imagination, right? So let’s engage in what the stoics such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca practiced which is negative visualization.
Negative visualization or, premeditatio malorum(premeditation of evils) is a better use of those fear thoughts.
We can take those same fear thoughts and immerse ourselves in them. We want to engage these thoughts with the five sense: smell, feel, taste, hear & see the worst that we can possible fear. This is a way to demystify our fears.
Fear is a sneaky thing. It’s superficial and cowardly. It sneaks up on you and enters the backdoor of your psyche and embeds itself into your subconscious.
This leaves you with this aching ambiguity. This discontent that plagues your every action.
“Should I travel to that country? I hear there’s a new disease going around? Maybe I shouldn’t go, I don’t know the langue. What if I get lost? What if I run out of money?”
Fear uses vagary disguised as specifics to paralyze you.
In actuality, you aren’t afraid of the specifics, it is just the over activity of the misguided mind at work.
Write down each and everything you are afraid of, everything that comes to mind. You want to include explicit detail.
Once you have done so, just look at it. Read it over. See if those fear thoughts have the same power over you on paper, that they did on the inside of your skull.
Doesn’t seem so scary now after all, huh?
The idea with any of these exercises is to bring the light of consciousness to these thoughts.
In consciousness, fear has no chance of hijacking your mind and body.
Know that your inner spirit is fearless but it is trapped once you let your mind and therefore body, get taken over by fear.
“This is the touchstone of such a spirit; no prizefighter can go with high spirits into the strife if he has never been beaten black and blue; the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is the man who has seen his own blood, who has felt his teeth rattle beneath his opponent’s fist, who has been tripped and felt the full force of his adversary’s charge, who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever.”-Seneca
What ever it is you fear, go head on into it. We only amplify fear by not face what it is that we fear.
When we do this enough times, we learn how to take the blows of life. We become warriors in the sense that we can take a hit and get back up because we know that there is nothing to fear from failure.
Quite practically, we know what it’s like to get hit and it’s never as bad as we think it is.
I’m not sure if any of you have gotten into a fist fight before but it’s exhilarating.
My first real fight while growing up in the Bronx was exciting but it was prefaced with anxiety and fear.
Growing up on the Bronx, you knew you were going to get into a fight, or two or three but you didn’t know when.
All you knew was that it was a matter of time. And if you didn’t fight when you were suppose to, guess what? You fought more often than those who actually looked forward to it.
I was one of the few who looked forward to it after my first fight.
I stood there wondering what it would feel like to get punched but, after I got punched, all of that thinking stuff went out the window and I soon learned what it felt like to knock another boy out.
That’s how we should approach fear, head on ready to swing.
What’s the worst that can happen?
Letters from a stoic, 13th letter on groundlessness of fear