It’s been said that the opposite of love is fear. Fear has the capacity to carve out the architecture of our daily lives, which over days, weeks, months and years, piles up to become the scaffolding of a constricted lifestyle. In this post-Paris season, fear is predominant on our radar. Questions arise about how to live with a greater awareness of fear, for example of possible disaster potentially affecting us directly.
To address the psychological manipulation of public fears, one sociologist suggested we use derision and contempt to counter the despicable behaviour of terrorists. Might this be an effective antidote to public fear-mongering, perhaps as a community-wide first response?
How can we manage fears of all shapes and sizes in our daily lives? Depends on the type of fear, but for simplicity, two general categories can be considered: external (real) and internal (imagined).
External: The statistical risk of disaster to ourselves in our daily lives is tiny. Generally, life bumbles along steadily.
Internal: Categories exist such as fear of failure, fear of loss of identity, fear of loneliness, fear of public speaking, etc. Much of these are our own mental contructs, or “awfulizing” as Joan Borisenkyo said. We tend to extrapolate situations to their extremes, both positive (I’m going to win the lottery) and negative (that pain in my side is cancer). We can’t help that, it seems our minds work that way. But we can catch ourselves, “oh, yeah, there I go again” and gain some perspective on the situation. There are always unperceived options between negative and positive extremes that go unaccounted for. We can acknowledge our negative bias and positive or neutral alternatives without knowing their exact details. This is another way of accepting that our minds have natural limitations, both individually and collectively, and that unknown factors contribute to situations. Given human resilience and capacity for survival, and thrival, chances are excellent that healthy options are available, if yet unseen.
The fearsome thing about fear is the constellation of unpleasant sensations of fear – tightness in the chest, pounding heart, hyperventilating or feeling one can’t breathe, being unable to think properly, jitteriness, butterflies in the stomach, shaky hands, dry mouth, all features of the fight/flight/freeze response. The feared thing can be ordinary compared to our sense of fear. Knowledge can help to fill gaps with objective information that weights the rational part of the process.
Then there’s how we handle those sensations. We can react: avoid the fear, violate it (punch it, stomp on it, poke it, beat it up, yell at it, etc). When it persists, we can respond: take a breath or three, greet it, shake its hand, offer it a seat, engage it in conversation, put an arm around it, hug it, make friends with it, dance and sing with it, listen to what it’s telling us, let it stay with us as our buddy, and if that’s possible, then living with it may be not only possible, but peace-able too.
It’s easy to write this when I’m not terrified, but I can remember when I lived in fear for months and years on end. Descending insidiously into a deep dark vortex that lasted about 5 years before I succeeded in liberating myself and longer before I started climbing out. Now that I’ve been there, I know the terrain better and I’m sensitized to those landmarks. There are new challenges, and it’s fulfilling to struggle with them as I continue to collect tools to navigate my way and cultivate wholesome environments in which to practice.
How can we move from fear to love? We’re not going to get to love right now – that may take a while, in some cases possibly generations. In our daily lives, fear management may require matching the intensity of violence of all types with equal intensity boundaries of all types to indicate a clear NO and STOP to destructive acts of all shapes and sizes and a clear YES to safe practices.