I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear because over the past few weeks and months, I have been confronting different versions of it – through stories that I have heard from others, and through the introspection of my own life and the choices that I have made over the past 5-6 years.
I knew a boy once. Everyone attributed him to be ridiculously fearless. Or maybe reckless was a better word for him. Fine line there, really. I was terribly in awe of him at the time that I met him; of his zest for life, of his willingness to throw himself into situations with gusto, good or bad, of not being afraid to try new things. In some ways, he represented everything that I was not, could not bring myself to be.
Many parts of me at that time were closed off from the world due to my personal experiences; I was afraid of very many things. Afraid of letting go. Afraid of giving in. Afraid of living. Contented with barely keeping my head above the water, because, safe. Or an illusion of safe, now that I consider it in retrospect.
And yet, not everything was what it seemed, and neither was this boy. After knowing him for some time, I realised here was a boy who was riddled with fears. His actions of being out there, of being “fearless”, were actually masks that hid deeper, more convoluted degrees of afraid. He wanted to be a musician, he told me. He wanted to stand up to his father, he told me. He wanted to make a man out of himself, he told me. He wanted all these things from life, but he was terrified of making choices that would allow him to see these decisions to the end. I don’t know what stopped him. Maybe it was his indecisiveness. Or maybe that very indecisiveness was an excuse, a safety net to fall back on, to blame, for his own inability to step up, to move forward in the direction he wanted.
His story isn’t a unique one. I’ve met many people who are so absolutely bound by their fears that they settle for less in their lives. People who are afraid to be alone and who sink into relationships that don’t fulfill them, people who are bound to desk jobs even though their dreams lie at the foot of the Himalayas. People who are afraid to question convention, because, why go through the trouble (though these will also be the same people who will find a reason to complain about everything under the sun because of their deep-rooted unhappiness), people who know that there are certain habits and patterns of behaviors that are going to ruin them but again, why change because, comfort.
People afraid to fall in love because of not wanting to get hurt, people not wanting to leave their homes because of the fear of change, people afraid of speaking out because of repercussions of severe societal backlash, afraid, afraid, afraid.
There’s so much importance we give to fear in our lives that it is nothing short of crippling.
What is fearlessness, then? Is there such a thing as fearlessness? Can one be completely and utterly be without fear? Is it humanly possible?
Frankly, I don’t know. (I’m leaning towards, I don’t quite think so).
What I do know is this: courage isn’t in loud roars or big declarations. It doesn’t have to be packing up and moving states, or embarking on extravagant adventures. It could be that, if that addresses some inane fear or apprehension inside of you, but it doesn’t have to be that.
A lover told me recently that courage isn’t in the absence of fear, but rather, the acknowledgement that this fear exists, and then making a conscious choice to address it. For me, courage, at one point, was getting out of bed every morning no matter how hard it was to get through my day. It might seem like a completely banal statement, but given the circumstances, that was the pinnacle of my existence.
For someone else I know, it was leaving a well paying job to address the restless in his heart. For a childhood friend, it was pursuing her lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor despite the odds stacked against her. For a close collegemate, it was putting herself out there to fall in love again, to let go, to surrender. For another bosom friend, it was facing his atheism and coming to terms with the possibility that there was a God.
I could go on and on about the brave hearts that I have met, just as I could go on and on about people who have stunted their lives because of fear.
And the best, or the worst part about this, is that the person who decides to pursue his dreams, could also very well be the same person who’s so terrified of love that he cocoons himself and refuses to take risks. The girl who was willing to move to a different state to save forests could also be the girl who has an irrational fear of disease.
There is no way to explain these things. It just is. It doesn’t always have to be this way, but it is.
You’re not always one or the other. Most times, you’re all of it put together. And what I’m starting to learn, however painfully, is that …. That’s pretty all right.
As human beings, we have a tendency to assume that just because we are capable of doing certain things, and reacting in certain ways, the people around us also have to exhibit similar characteristics. We project our expectations of ourselves onto others, just as we project our fears onto others. What we are most critical of in other people sometimes could very well be what we are most afraid of in ourselves. And we can be terribly unforgiving of seeing our flaws manifest in others, not because we judge them for it, but because we recognize the potential in our selves to make those very same mistakes, and that scares us silly.
I see myself doing this often. And it takes a conscious, determined effort to stop, to be more understanding, to comprehend that every single person that I meet has a different life and comes from a different background, and that influences the actions and decisions of said person. And that if I were in that position with those experiences and ideas, I would possibly have behaved in a pretty similar fashion.
And at the end of the day, I guess that’s what it’s all about. This fearlessness and courage hoopla we keep going on about. It’s about looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning and realizing that there are these gaping chasms of insecurities, and trying to work through them. It’s about understanding that all of this, this entire existence of yours, and your fancy job, and beautiful shoes, and relationship issues, and shiny blogs are an infinitesimally small part of a much, much bigger existence. It’s about facing your insignificance and inadequacy and accepting that it’s all a part of you, and you are part of a ginormous divine system, galaxies, salt deserts and all.
It’s about making mistakes and perhaps, hurting others, and having the decency to be honest and apologetic about it. Not just a sorry from your throat, but from somewhere deep in the gut. It’s about knowing that you have fucked up and trying to un-fuck yourself up. It could also be climbing a damn mountain with a healing tattoo, or it could be telling someone that you miss them. It could be all of that and more. It could be nothing as grand as the above, and… That’s courage too.
At the end of the day, you are going to be lying on your bed with creaky bones and a rasping breath, and you are going to be faced with all the things you said and did and all that you didn’t. You’re going to be facing all that you’ve done with your life, and you’re going to be left with loads of questions and possibly very few answers. The least that you could do for yourself is to make sure that this list of questions isn’t too long. A life without regrets might be impossible, but knowing that you tried your damned hardest to make the best out of it, probably counts for something. A whole lot of somethings.