I know. Many people think that you need to get rid of all of your fears and then you will be free of religious domination and of social convention. That is actually true. But it misses the point of what fear is all about. And let me be one to inform you that fears do indeed serve a very important purpose. That purpose is that they keep us alive.
I am not talking about the fear one experiences when one has to ask for a raise (something one should never have to ask for in the first place). No, those are more social anxieties than fears. I am talking about life and death fears, not imagined, but very real. I am talking about the heart pounding, adrenaline pumping fear one experiences when one is almost run over by a bus. I am talking about the fears one has when having a gun pointed at their head. I am talking about the fear one has when being sexually assaulted. All of these things can lead to death, depending upon how things unfold. But so can diving into a pool of water. So can hang gliding and parachuting. I think that this is why so many people get into extreme sports. It is the adrenaline rush when one challenges their luck (and that is all it is, no matter how skilled you may think you are) to see if they will live or die. It is like taking pennies of luck from a full jar and putting them into an empty jar each time you challenge life and death. But you know what? Eventually that jar that was full runs out of pennies and then you die.
Have you ever had that weird experience of feeling like someone is watching you when you can’t actually physically see that someone? We get that sensation because that is a part of our biological makeup. The hair raises on the back of our necks when something creepy is either about to happen or is happening. We have instincts. Those instincts are a biological thing, not just an intuitive thing that is only available to a select few who nurture it. Our brains are hard wired for survival.
Back when we lived in caves we had to have that instinct all the time. We never knew what was around the corner, waiting to eat us. In modern days humans tend to be under the misguided impression that we are at the top of the food chain. But we are not. We are simply a part of the food cycle. We can be dragged off and eaten by a mountain lion. We can be chewed up by a shark. We can be swallowed up by a large snake. We are on the food chain, and we are not the king of the hill.
When we get those fear messages, it is important that we pay attention. No, we don’t have to “live in fear.” That is a completely different and over-the-top condition. But we do need to listen when our fear instinct kicks in. It is warning us that we are in danger and that this danger is real, even if we don’t exactly know what it is at the time.
When I was a kid I went to a high school that was quite large and busses brought kids from every surrounding town to attend. The graduating class would have 600 students. That large. But when you have rival towns all under one roof, what you end up with is a bunch of gangs, all vying for their dominance over everyone else. It was like living in a prison with gangs constantly in conflict. If you were like me, you were not affiliated with any one particular group. I was a loner. I did not like the small town or the gang mentality. So yes, I was independent. But that also made me a target for all of them. I cannot tell you how often I would change my path instinctively to get from one class to another or even just to my locker. Why? Because my fear instinct would kick in and I would know that if I were to take that turn up ahead I would get the crap beaten out of me. So I would duck into a stairwell, go up one flight, down the hall, turn the corner, go to the end and down the next set of stairs. I became intimately aware of nooks and crannies and hidden corridors that would provide me with escape routes. And yes, sometimes I had to fight my way through a situation because my fear instinct was distracted for a moment. That is how I became really good at physical confrontation. But that was not my go-to. I would avoid that like the plague (can I even say that these days, considering how many humans don’t do that?) if I could. And my fear instinct kept me safe for the vast majority of the time.
When hiking through forested areas, this is an instinct that kicks in very clearly. It is not that I am all on pins and needles while hiking. It is that I am well aware of my surroundings. When out in nature, we can find peace. But that peace can be ended when we run across a bear and her cubs. So we keep respectful and we pay attention to what is happening around us. And if we feel fear, we stop. We look around, we feel the vibe of the space we are in. And when we must, we RUN.
Seriously, fear saves lives. We need to respect it for what it is intended to be, and not just blithely think that we are the masters of the universe, because we are definitely not.