It may seem like a pretty silly question, but let me explain. Let’s assume that the basic goals in life are to be loved, to be happy, and to be financially secure – whatever those may look like to you. Surprisingly, many of us go through life making decisions trying to get to these goals by putting energy into dodging their opposites because of fear. A scene from my sons’ computer games comes to mind with the main character wildly zigzagging to avoid an explosion every couple of feet and a zombie around every corner.
Living A Fear-Based Life
People stay in relationships in which they are miserable because they don’t want to be alone. Many continue at jobs in which they aren’t happy because it pays the bills. All too often, we stick to the safe path, inside our comfort zone, avoiding discomfort whenever possible. Living this way can lead to a numb life where a person may feel like they are just existing, sleep walking through life. I know. I did it.
This is a fear-based existence where life becomes a marathon obstacle course of trying to avoid instead of trying to achieve. Trying to avoid pain. Trying to avoid loneliness. Trying to avoid failure. A person can focus on and exert so much energy avoiding what they don’t want that what they do want becomes secondary with pitiful little progress made in that direction.
Although I am not a strict believer in every word of the law of attraction, I do agree with the basic principle implying that a person draws the undesirable into their reality by placing their attention on them and by putting energy into (avoiding) them. The unwanted becomes the focus instead of what is desired.
I was the world’s best at this. Staying in a marriage for far too long, I was unhappy and severely limited but it was my comfort zone, even if it was uncomfortable as hell. After I did get the guts to leave, I jumped right into a three-year relationship that also wasn’t healthy because I was terrified of being alone. Fearing aging and losing what I thought were my most valuable assets, my looks, I thought I’d better land and hang onto the best thing I could right then with what I still had. Then, I tried to kill myself rather than face that breakup and more legal entanglements with the ex-husband.
OK, these are some pretty extreme examples, but I was quite the expert. Unconsciously, avoidance can be the motivating factor behind much of our lives. Instead of thinking of how we want to be and making decisions accordingly that may involve some risks and discomfort, too often, we make fear-based decisions which limit us and our happiness. These fear-based choices may guide our actions and behavior in a direction which allows us to avoid that uncomfortable feeling, but which also doesn’t provide opportunities for growth or the achievement of our goals. So we stay safe. Stagnant. Comfortable.
Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, in her book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, likens this to living in a cocoon. She writes:
We stay in our cocoon because we are afraid – we’re afraid of the feelings and reactions that life is going to trigger in us. We’re afraid of what might come at us. But if this avoidance strategy worked, then Buddha wouldn’t have needed to teach us anything, because our attempts to escape pain, which all living beings instinctively resort to, would result in security, happiness and comfort, and there would be no problem.
She advises us to see these uncomfortable, fearful situations as opportunities rather than obstacles. She encourages us to “get comfortable with, begin to relax with, lean into whatever the experience may be.” She advises us to drop the knee-jerk reactions, drop the story lines, to pause, breathe and be present. Be awake and aware, be conscious and brutally honest with yourself about your intentions, reasons, and actions.
Fear Is All In Your Head (and can end there)
These feelings of fear and dread are actually the amygdala in the brain acting up and telling you to steer clear of danger. But is there really any danger? Or is it just an instinctual reaction to the unfamiliar and the unknown? In his book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, Taylor Clark writes:
In a sense, then, being afraid of something doesn’t necessarily constitute proof that the thing is inherently bad; it just means that you haven’t spent enough time hanging around it. …to get over a fear, you have to expose yourself to it, and you have to feel afraid. ….[M]oving through fear is the only way out of it.
I know from my own experience, that this is true. I make a conscious habit, now, of pushing my limits and doing things on a regular basis which scare me. And you know what? The fear disappears. Maybe, not totally, but it sure lessens each time. I refuse to live a life guided by and limited by fear anymore. Been there. Done that. It didn’t work.
I have found that, in order to feel joy and love fully, I have to allow myself to feel everything fully, pain and fear included. In my opinion, this is what being really alive is all about. It is exhilarating – all of it. By avoiding any part of it, I was denying myself a full life.
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/seyyed_mostafa_zamani/