Don’t Beat your Fears, Become Them
This article is derived from the book “Freedom from the Known” by Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986). His work has been a tremendous influence in my life, giving me clarity on myself and the perspectives I hold. Fear is a subject that human society has been grappling with for as long as it has existed. It shapes the relationship we have with ourselves, each other, and at a macro level, between nation states. True freedom and peace can come from understanding Fear and the role it plays in shaping our decisions and opinions.
Human suffering and the ills of our world come from an intrinsic part of who we are — Fear. It’s an emotional mechanism that has preserved our lineage as a species and protected us by motivating defensive or attack responses. Something so fundamental to us and responsible for our existence also sits at the base of our mental suffering. It morphs itself according to the stimulus that awakens it and leaves us chasing shadows as we attempt to regain emotional equilibrium. It is therefore of utmost importance to understand how to work with fear in order to achieve lasting peace within ourselves and amongst society.
We experience the modern world through bodies designed to preempt threats in the savannah where early humans learned to live. Fear was a tool for survival and even determined how we socialized. Our Paleolithic ancestors needed their troupes and communities to survive, making them fearful of rejection from their tribe. These formative responses that preserved our genetic heritage is translated to our modern context when we display a desire for acclaim and respect.
When we are not “important” in society we are easily forgotten (and possibly abandoned by our troupe), and therefore the need for power is a form of fear at its core. The same fear that seeks recognition for survival also grips us when we feel insecure about losing a job, a loved one, or the rise of a rival. It’s one force morphing itself and that sits at the root of our suffering. We expend a tremendous amount of energy trying to fight and overcome it to regain peace and contentment, only to find it arise once again in another form.
No matter what we try, we can’t seem to overcome the discomfort of fear. It remains a constant, snowballing in its effect while surfacing through a variety of ways. The question we should be asking then is not what we are afraid of but rather what fear is. The journey towards answering this question is the antidote for it.
Our subjective experiences, genetic makeup and environmental forces shape our concept of reality, and therefore our thoughts — which, in turn, gives rise to fear. We use the past to create scenarios in our minds that make us feel uncertain, insecure or anxious, therefore fear is rooted in the past. Even when the present moment is perfect, absent of all the things that trigger uncertainty, our thought patterns unsettle us. The very things that make up who we are also give rise to fear. This realization opens up the possibility that trying to overcome fear is a war waged against oneself, which is why it propagates and appears again through different conduits — draining away our vitality.
Identifying with the thoughts that cause fear and accepting them as part of who we are is the key step in detaching from its negative effects. There is no victory in trying to defeat oneself. Observing when fear arises and accepting it as part of our nature is the wisdom that Jiddu Krishnamurti imparts. This approach of non-judgmental embracing of everything that arises within also sits at the core of Buddhist principles. It’s the point from which we attain freedom from the crippling effects that fear brings to our mind.
We expend our life and wellbeing by either fighting or succumbing to our fears. Taking the time to understand what fear is wakes us up to the possibility that it’s an intrinsic part of us. Who we are — our environment, experiences and genetics — create the thoughts that give rise to fear. We are therefore fear itself. Understanding this as a fact opens us up to a radical new approach to dealing with fear — by living with it in a state of observation and acceptance. By turning resistance to acceptance we turn the corner and regain the equilibrium for us to thrive within and with others.