A long time ago, before I was born, a world leader named Roosevelt said: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” And, of course, he was right. We live in a world where there are millions of things to fear, millions of things that might potentially get us. More and more, the simple occasions of daily life are occasions for fear, from going to the doctor to using the Internet. If you really thought about it, you would be paralyzed!
For most people who have fears (I feel I can say this, being a person with fears), it’s not the present moment that’s the problem. It’s what the realities that the present moment might lead to. Yes, we want to fix the problems of the present but it’s the problems of the future that really bother us. So many bad things could potentially happen. Even if you think you’re not a fearful person, think of how many times you say “I didn’t do such and such because I was afraid such and so might happen.” Fear and worry are future oriented but the future hasn’t happened yet so none of those fears are “real”. They are imaginings, usually fairly dark imaginings at that.
Another facet of fear is the element of obligation once the fear kicks in. This manifests as thinking that because something might happen in the future, you should do something now. But you don’t know what to do so you do nothing and then the fear nags at you. It’s quite possible that doing something now might actually help but you’re still stuck in fear mode, paralyzed and unable to decide or act.
One of the songs I find myself singing to myself on bad or nervewracking days is “I Have Confidence,” from the Sound of Music. It’s not one of the bigger tunes of that show, but I hum it fairly often, and whenever I do, I know my spirits are flagging and I need to have more confidence in myself. The antidote to fear (“I’m afraid”) is confidence (“I can”). The first is powerless, the second powerful. When Maria, the new governess, arrives at the Von Trapp house, she has so embued herself with confidence that she takes the house by storm, in an utterly charming way, of course. No fairy godmother helps her, no handsome prince — she has to do it all by herself and in the end, she doesn’t need a fairy godmother to help her win the prince.
Obviously, it’s easy to be brave and successful when you’re a fictional character. Being confident in real life isn’t always as easy, and in my experience, rarely is. This isn’t because dropping fearful thoughts is so hard. It’s because it’s hard to get over the fear of dropping fearful thoughts. You think you have to hang onto them, because if you don’t, they might get you!
Or at least, it’s that way for me. I’m a natural pessimist with superstitions galore. I worry about omens and signs. And no, I’m not weird, just part Irish. ;) It was a family view that one should never be too optimistic for fear of inviting the gods to mess with you. There’s even a name for it — tempting fate. My feeling is that a lot of us have this same fear, and yet without positive feeling, optimism even, you can’t really give anything your best shot. You’ll always hold a little back for fear of....what?
“Do you have pantophobia?” asks Lucy. “What’s pantophobia?” replies Charlie Brown. “The fear of everything,” says Lucy. “YES!” says Charlie Brown.
The fear of everything may seem a bit extreme, but having meta fears like not thinking too positively for fear of inviting the opposite outcome inevitably encompasses everything in your life. There’s almost nothing that you’re not just a little bit nervous about. And all that negative anticipation leads to a sense that life is something to be endured (“If I can just get through this day, this week, this month....”).
Once, in a dream, I fought my way over a bridge of monsters with a sword. It seemed rather violent for me, and my swordsmanship, I have to say, was nothing if not relentless. I “killed” a lot of monsters on that bridge. But upon waking, I realized the monsters were generic and bloodless, in other words, symbolic, not real. Which is what fears are. This kind of mental swordsmanship can be used to cut away, decisively, the mental bogeymen of our lives, so that they do not lurk about or nag. Only when you cut them away absolutely (“I do not believe in this fear”) can you make it go away and live in relative freedom from that nagging thought. But as long as you believe in it, even a little, you’ll never be free.
The dragon of legend guards a treasure which can be yours if you manage to slay him (or her). All it takes is a heart brave and true (and your trusty sword). The treasure is the freedom to live a confident and authentic life, free from the bogeymen of fear and doubt.