“Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”
–Dune, by Frank Herbert
I am afraid of so many things.
I am afraid of death, my own and others’. I am afraid of incompletion. I am afraid of bad health. I am afraid one day I’ll try to get out of bed and my knees will hurt so badly I won’t be able to leave the room. I am afraid I’ll crack more teeth and end up subsisting on gruel; forever, because most of my fears don’t allow room for the possibility of change. That’s what makes them extra scary.
I am afraid of being deeply alone. I am afraid I will discover a massive regret too late to do anything about it. I am afraid I’ll go crazy. I am afraid I will lose my sight or my hearing. I am afraid I’ll be attacked by a giant swarm of angry wasps. I am afraid of pain and grief and loss. I am afraid of the necessity of being brave.
I am afraid to fail. I am even more afraid to fail over and over and over.
Last week I had a particular scenario in my head that was causing me large amounts of worry (something that hadn’t even happened yet). This weekend, I read a blog post that talked about another person who was in a similar scenario, and how she was crippled with worry. The way it was written up, my first instinct was to think, oh, that’s silly, she’s not so badly off. It took a couple more beats for me to realize that meant my hypothetical wasn’t so bad either.
Because Frank Herbert got it right. Fear makes us stupid. It clouds our judgment. It squeezes us so we can’t breathe, can’t reason, can’t accept what’s happening. It transports us to fictional futures and makes them real in our minds, even though those futures may never become true in reality. It causes us to give up or settle or take the easy answer, even if it’s not the best answer.
Of course, we put ourselves in danger anyway. We become police officers and firefighters. We join the military. We bare our souls as artists, even while we’re embracing rejection. We fight to save lives. We deal with the up-and-down uncertainties of being entrepreneurs. We give away our hearts. We jump from airplanes, walk home in the dark, and swim deep underwater. We sing challenging arias in Italian in front of other people. Risk-taking is woven into the fabric of living.
Fear is difficult. Sometimes we face it and emerge stronger. Sometimes we become paralyzed and cannot move past it. Sometimes we don’t even realize what it is that we’re really afraid of.
I am afraid of so many things. All I can do is remind myself that in this present moment, I am okay. And if I am ever faced with a killer swarm of furious wasps, I’ll deal with that then.
What are you afraid of?