Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Fear Virus

Image by Parshotam Lal Tandon

What are you afraid of? 

Are you frightened of rejection? Do you find yourself trying to please people so they won’t dislike you?

Or are you afraid of loss? Do you sometimes hang onto situations or even people too tightly? 

Do you, like many people, have a strong aversion to physical pain? Do you avoid even routine pain whenever possible? 

Or do you perhaps have an excessive fear of embarrassment or shame? Many people do. They fear speaking in public or acting in any way that might cause them to feel self-conscious.

Everyone knows fear in one form or another. In fact, unreasonable fear just may be the most powerful enemy of humanity.

A woman traveled by plane with her infant daughter. When they landed, they were met in the waiting area by her father, who took the baby while she proceeded to the baggage claim area. Standing there alone waiting to claim her luggage, she was absentmindedly holding the baby's pacifier. She noticed a flight attendant staring at her, then at the pacifier in her hand. The flight attendant finally spoke: "Excuse me, Miss. Is this your first flight?"

She wouldn't be the only person afraid of flying. Fear has kept countless people from fully enjoying life. 

Sometimes fear is disguised. It can look like anger. Or hurt. Here is an experiment. Next time you feel hurt or angry, just stop everything and ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” If you look carefully enough, you will see that fear lurks in the background most of the time you become upset.

Astronomer James Bell says, "Fear is an insidious virus. Given a breeding place in our minds...it will eat away our spirit and block the forward path of our endeavors." And that’s the problem, isn't it? Fear...eating away our spirit and blocking the way forward.

But fear does not need to infect a mind. We can actually teach ourselves to be braver. A little bit of courage, strangely enough, can inoculate us against the fear virus.

I know a woman who was terrified of public speaking. Granted, making some kind of speech is highly fearful for many people. And especially when relating something personal to strangers. But this woman agreed to speak to a group of people she did not know simply because she felt afraid. This is what happened.

I led a group of adults in a retreat setting. I asked for a couple of volunteers who would share with the group the next day something about their own personal spiritual journey. One of the volunteers was a young woman I had only just met.

During a break she found me and explained why she agreed to speak. “I was terrified when you asked for volunteers to share their stories with the group,” she said. “Because of that, I realized that this was something I had to do. So I raised my hand and volunteered. I just knew I had to do it. I had to face my fear.” Later she said to me, “You know, it wasn't at all bad!”

She did not do it because she would enjoy the experience. Just the opposite. She offered to be one of the speakers simply because it frightened her to think of doing it. She innately knew that her antidote to fear was not to give in to it. 

Maybe fear is an insidious virus. But each time we choose to be courageous, we inoculate ourselves against it. In time, we find ourselves boldly acting in ways we never dreamed possible.

Small doses of courage, drawn on a regular basis, is all we need. It’s medication for happier and healthier living.

-- Steve Goodier

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