From the dictionary – fear – a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
“Distressing emotion” would suggest fear starts with a feeling. You are uncomfortable about something that may happen to you. The feeling immediately becomes a thought which becomes a picture – a movie in your mind. It is about some impending doom, ranging from sudden death or extreme pain, incarceration, embarrassment and or a whole potential list of unsettling outcomes. If you were to suddenly stop and analyse the situation you might realize this movie can be categorized in two ways. The first, is it’s something that might happen somewhere in the distant future or second, it is something that could happen possibly quite soon. There is a big difference between imagining being chased by a grizzly bear on a camping trip you might go on three months from now perhaps in a forest that may or may not have a bear problem, and actually staring into the hot, drooling mouth of a giant grizzly, about to rip your head off.
In the first scenario fear is a limiting belief. It is a block inside of you which might paralyze you into not wandering off into some forest to experience a camping trip that you just might enjoy. This basically robs you from participating in something new, challenging and possibly life changing. The second scenario is a very real danger which obviously cannot be ignored.
…but can our mind tell the difference? It is suggested that fear of things which are very minor or may never happen at all still have a similar effect on our bodies as do those things which are very real and frightening. If you were to be honest you might agree that like most humans, you spend a great deal of your time stressing about imaginary outcomes, or as when the ominous character UNIKI, from my book, Will of an Eagle Heart of a Dove, suggests to protagonist, Wilunitus, “dwelling on what ifs, rather than what is.”
In the adventure Wilunitus is spooked by a voice from deep in a dark gorge and begins to imagine it as some fierce, threatening Bog Troll, without even being able to see it.
…a huge, giant beast with burning, glowing red eyes and slobbering, crocodile like teeth. A deep fear within the boy had conjured a vivid and most foul vision that brought terror to his soul.
Or, later he creates visions of Sea Monsters lurking in a lake. He truly needs to cross the lake to fulfil his destiny, yet chooses instead to toil all day in the hot sun with a group of very plain, uninspired workers known as the UGLIES rather than pursue his vision of becoming King.
…by avoiding the fear of the lake, by giving into the fears of his mind, he had traded the chance to be King. Instead, he was a slave of the UGLIES. A slave with no visible chains, no master to guard him. A slave bound and sentenced to hard labor, with his own fears and imaginings holding the key to his future – and maybe the life of his friend.
His friend Solomon, the bird, speaks of the time he was in a cage as being more of a prison of the mind.
“Well, you are also a prisoner aren’t you, Wil? A prisoner not only of the bars on the cage but of your own mind as well. You are imprisoned in your noodle,” explained the bird pointing his wing to his head, “and that is the hardest prison of all to escape from.”
As the journey continues, Wilunitus is able to overcome his fears and with a stronger will he expands his world as he expands his limitations.
So how do we qualify real fear from imagined? Well for me, the first step is awareness. Be aware of what you are feeling. Realize that you are playing that movie in your mind about some entity out to get you, whether it is the tax man, an imaginary thief, or your crazed neighbour next door. Or perhaps you are confronting your boss, or some co-worker, or your spouse, with some concept that suggests they are not treating you with respect and yet the entire conversation is in your mind. No matter though, your blood pressure rushes to the danger zone anyway. Your cortisol levels escalate and inflammation seeps into your body.
Be aware when this is happening. Catch yourself and remind yourself you are the director of this movie. Decide right then to yell “cut!” to your runaway brain. Do you really have an issue with your boss? Then set up a real meeting or just be prepared to deal with it. The tax man is not going away and is about impersonal as the guy that picks up your garbage. Get a better accountant, learn the tax laws or find better ways to monitor your finances. Just don’t have imaginary conversations with an imaginary tax guy about issues that may or not even be issues. Your spouse is your spouse for a reason. Sit down with them and talk. Do not have this wild, take no prisoners, knock down dragged out conversation with them in your mind. It’s a waste of energy, a waste of time and – well it’s creepy. In fact most of these conversations are creepy. Who are you talking to anyway? I’m guessing it’s you. Your boss is not there so you are really talking to yourself wearing a costume of your boss and the entire ridiculous movie is being watched and directed by you. It’s like you went out of your way to go watch a movie, by yourself, directed by you, about you arguing with yourself, acting as your boss. Think about it.
This is what the first type of fear does to us. Now I am not down playing the second type of fear where you truly are in danger. If that big ass bear is breathing bad breath into your face and his eyes say you are breakfast then the true “fight or flight” syndrome must kick in. Evasive manoeuvres of some sort are recommended. However if you are afraid of an imaginary bear in your mind then I like your chances. Your blood pressure may go up but your head should stay intact. Yet going through this episode of you and the bear is an unhealthy waste of your time and resources. What else could your brain be doing instead?
Overcoming imaginary fears is a main obstacle for Wilunitus and an important theme in the book. There are real challenges on any journey, whether it be battling traffic on the way to shopping, or crossing lakes with the imagined threat of Sea Monsters.
In her book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., the Author suggests just that. Some fears are real and many imagined, or at least the potential impact of the fear may be imagined. But fear stops us from becoming. It places limits or boundaries on our very existence. Fear keeps us on the couch watching TV instead of writing that great novel, it keeps us from signing up for those courses, sending out those resumes, asking that person out, or taking that camping trip into the forest.
Fear of danger, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of embarrassment, fear of commitment…add your own or take your pick. You cannot fear the past as it is history. You can fear the present but are probably too busy dealing with it. Most fears are about the future which may or may not come to pass. In short they are an illusion. A figment of your imagination – what ifs, rather than what is.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd President of the USA stated in his famous 1932 inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Giving into fear, real or imagined, robs us of our future. Knowing that and accepting that, is the first step forward on any journey.
As Solomon says to Wilunitus in my book, Will of an Eagle Heart of a Dove, “The only power it (fear) has over you is the fear you are letting run loose in your own mind.”