It was my first night alone in my new house with my cat. I had moved in and partially unpacked. Tired from the physical rigours of the exercise, I fell into bed. Just as I was drifting off into a blissful sleep, I was awakened by a loud crash. And what was worse, my petrified cat began to growl. Not a wimpy, cutesy kitty-cat growl mind you, but a growl that would have frightened a rottweiler! I was freaked!
Somewhere out there amid unpacked boxes was something—or someone. I was frozen with fear. Cold beads of perspiration stood out on my forehead. I lay still as a rock, trying not to breathe, straining my ears for footsteps.
Eventually, my cat went back to sleep, leaving me alone with my imagination until I, too, dozed off, clutching my mobile phone.
The next morning, I remembered the night’s terror within seconds of waking. In the light of day, I felt foolish, but I was curious to see if any windows had been forced open. I felt certain that I had been burgled. I ventured cautiously out of my bedroom door, inching past the jamb and along the hallway, my back to the wall, until I came to the kitchen.
Strewn across the floor was my stock of plastic kitchenware, which I’d stacked too high on a bench the day before. My midnight terror was caused by gravity—not a burglar!
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The energy I’d expended on worrying had been a total waste. I felt foolish. From one noise, my imagination had concocted a nightmare. In one sense, it was nothing, but it got me thinking about the place of fear in my life.
Fear has saved all of us from potentially serious problems. I try not to speed because I am afraid I will get a ticket. A friend started exercising because she was apprehensive about her family’s history of heart disease. Another friend was fearful of walking down dark streets at night because she thought she might be mugged. Fear protects and keeps us safe.
But what happens when fear becomes phobic? What happens when fear starts controlling our lives? What happens when fear stops protecting and begins destroying?
Globally, fear has become an instrument of control. In recent times, we think of terrorists. These people count on fear to manipulate us. Just consider the effect of one bomb, even an unexploded one, on a plane or train, and compare that to the number (and effect) of those bombs of the London Blitz. It is also exploited by those who would resist such attacks for their own purposes. And through marketing and advertising, fear is used to convince us we need “stuff” to avoid being rejected or frowned on. But fear also controls us in more subtle ways.
In his book Meditations for the Humanist Ethics for a Secular Age, A.C. Grayling states, “If there is anything worth fearing in the world, it is living in such a way that one gives oneself cause for regret in the end.” Too many live lives that are a fraction of what they could be. Instead of trying to attain our dreams, we hold ourselves back for fear of failure. Instead of grabbing opportunities, we fear that we may not be up to the task.
We fear our ability to deliver, so we don’t try. We fear we may fail, so we say No. We are scared of being vulnerable, so we close ourselves off from others. We don’t take risks because we are scared things may not work out. We’re scared of leaving our comfort zones, and we’re scared of staying in them.
People say that our ultimate fear is that of dying, but I believe that what we most fear is living. The power of choice is our greatest possession in life. But why waste that by always choosing the easy option or the least frightening? Or worse, not choosing at all, merely drifting along, subject to the prevailing winds and swirling current. Each of us has so much unrealised potential, but we fear the consequences of its deployment.
In her book A Return To Love, Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. . . . We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
What’s holding you back from really living your life?