I want to begin this writing with a quote that my father shared with me in a discussion I recently had with him that goes as follows:
“The difference between medicine and poison is the dose.”
This quote is well known and yet it is one that fascinates me tremendously because of its simplicity and wisdom as it is such a universal and profound statement that can be applied to almost every situation in life, especially to the one that I write about now. As the title says, I want to inquire into the nature of fear, the place it has in our lives and its natural purpose.
Let us start by traveling back in time, approximately 10.000 years.
Homage to our ancestors
It is dark and cold and only a small fire makes it possible to see anything at all and the warmth on our skin feels good. Around us is a deep forest and our only refuge is a dark and wet cave nearby. Hunters of the animal kingdom all around, ready to jump out of the dark any second. Looking around, your eyes meet with a thousand ones that stare at you from the darkness around, their piercing stares going right through you.
Tension, nervousness and anxiety are your companions that night next to your tribe members. As we sit there at the fire, a great tiredness comes upon us, so great that even the dangers around us can’t manage to keep us awake and so we drift off into a dangerous sleep.
A loud noise wakes us up, as a saber-toothed tiger approaches us from the darkness, fletching his teeth, he comes closer and our chances for survival become smaller with every step he takes. Fear rises up in us as we look into the face of this deadly hunter. What to do? Thinking about a way out? There is no time for that. Every second matters and could decide over life and death. Tremendous waves of fear rush through our bodies, the senses grow sharp, a heightened alertness gets into the driver’s seat of our consciousness and our brains start pumping out adrenaline to prepare us for a fight or flight reaction.
In a matter of milliseconds, our heightened alertness connects dots in our surroundings to find a way to escape. Like it has its own will our hand grabs a burning log and throws it into the direction of the predator. Our tribe members follow our example and through our collective effort we manage to escape the imminent danger and retreat into the cave nearby for protection.
Such a situation is an example for the purpose of fear. Fear in its utmost primitive sense is there to increase our chances to survive, it was meant to protect us in situations of imminent danger that are actually taking place.
The world of today
In today’s world, which is quite different than the one 10.000 years ago, people are afraid of all kinds of things, but what we seem to be afraid of the most and I say that by looking at my own personal experience, is, for the lack of a better word, all the mental masturbation that we’re constantly engaged in.
Nowadays humans are so immersed in their minds, so hypnotized by an imagination running wild, that we don’t seem to realize that these things aren’t real. Future scenarios, worries about the thoughts and opinions others may have about you, mistakes in the past… all that stuff. These things, however, derive their existence out of the fabric of our minds, they have no actual foot in reality, of what is taking place right here and now.
Reality is here and now and right now you aren’t surrounded by a saber-toothed tiger or any other imminent danger to your life, then why be afraid? Why not allowing yourself to relax? We are being taught to have a fearful approach towards the world, but let me tell you and I again speak on behalf of my own experience:
The world isn’t as terrible and ugly as we are taught and made to believe by news and media. I came to find great beauty in it, in form of great and inspiring people I had the fortune to cross paths with, in form of breathtaking ways nature presents herself in all her glory. Truly, let me tell you, if you manage to develop an approach to the world that is motivated by trust and love, the world will answer according to that.
That doesn’t mean that the world is a perfect place, it is not and it might never be. We might not have to fight saber-toothed tigers anymore, but there are dangers ahead of us just as great. Greed, hate, and ignorance are some of those dangers of our times and as they bury their teeth into the flesh of the human spirit, they create suffering that is unnecessary, preventing us from putting an end to the hunger and thirst in a world of plenty, from ending the endless plundering of the planetary web of life that grants us the incredible gift of existence.
So now, just as our ancestors managed to get out of a dangerous situation through a collective effort, they handed down to us, that are alive today, the fire that is needed to fight the saber-toothed tigers of our times and only by putting aside our seeming differences and in coming together in the recognition of our humanity that is a thread binding us together as brothers and sisters, will this effort that is now being asked of us bear fruits that will nourish those to come.
Just for a moment, imagine a future, where our children will grow up fearless, what a joy that would be and if we aspire to make that future manifest, it is a good start for us that are alive today, to fear less.
We all carry fear in us, just make sure that fear doesn’t have you.