I stare down at the tottering praecipe, and at the blue limpid lake far below, and inch closer to the edge, even an inch more and I would tumble and hurtle through empty space towards ground. I am precisely 323 m up in the air, I know for sure, since I just climbed up the sheer granite crag leading my friend from the ground barely two hours ago. It is a breathtaking clear morning, sparkling in the sun like a samurai sword; I am standing above a Norwegian fjord of unparallel beauty. I am supposed to jump; there’s a tiny parachute strapped to my back. It is my first (and last) BASE jump. I have lived my entire life on the edge, risking death countless times, I am an extreme alpinist and a proficient sky diver, and I don’t fear death. My friend, an extreme BASE jumper, prods on my back, urging me to jump. I look up and around, allowing the morning breeze to ruffle my short hair and temples, a cold chill runs down my spine. I am afraid, there’s fear within my palpitating heartbeat. I have been in scarier situations before, yet flying through empty space few meters from a blurring rock wall accelerating at the speed of gravity seems scary as hell. If I jump I would have less than 2 seconds in which to unfurl my parachute and describe a parabolic curve that would prevent me from crashing into the wall. A Himalayan giant takes over 6 weeks to ascend; I am used to that, 2 seconds is too miniscule for my comfort. I have fear. And this is not the first time that I am afraid.
What is fear? Why are we scared? Can we be fearless?
Fear to me is an irrational reaction of mind and body to some unfamiliar situation, which prompts us to believe that we won’t be able to succeed or even attempt wholeheartedly what we are about to. It grips our mind and lets our hearts beat faster, body to sweat, limbs to shake, brains to freeze leading to a mind that just gives up the attempt. We return from the brink of discovering our core strengths without realizing that we could have achieved what we were or are scared of. Logically if any human can do a feat then another can certainly do it too (albeit with adequate training and experience of course), if anyone isn’t afraid of a situation (like walking through a forest at night, or encountering ghosts etc) then another human being can also overcome such fears. What one human can, anyone else too should be able to. Fear perhaps at subliminal levels is a defence mechanism of the body and mind to prevent us from doing things that we don’t know or are too risky anyway, thereby keeping us alive and safe and healthy. A certain amount of fear is therefore necessary for our survival I agree.
Fear is good, since it keeps us safe, but too much of it isn’t good since then it would prevent us from experiencing new things and discovering our true worth. I don’t think being fearless in absolute sense is possible. We all fear something or the other. Someone may not be afraid of ghosts or wild animals or high-lining without safety or jumping out of planes or free soloing El Cap nose yet the same person could be scared of cockroaches, or rejection of a lover, or crossing the crowded streets of NYC, or taking a flight or of being alone. Some fears need not be overcome; because it is good to be afraid of certain situations; in my case fear of driving through city roads or crossing a road in India. Being afraid not only I minimize such pursuits but I also take extra precautions while doing such activities and therefore I remain safe. It also helps the world since I walk most of the times or take public transport thereby reducing my carbon footprint and leading a healthier life.
When I analyze my fears, I realize I am not afraid of death. Death is in fact my close ally and friend; it is always with me, just like with any of you. I am not afraid to die, but what I am afraid is the way I might die and in case I don’t die and lie in a coma or bed ridden or bereft of any parts of my human body and mind (which is worse than death actually). I don’t wish to die in a city or being run over by a car, therefore I minimize my exposure to cities and roads and cars. I wish to die in nature and mountains therefore I maximize my exposure to such surroundings. I do extreme things since I wish to die in case I fail and not hang in between life and death. When I engage in new pursuits I am extremely careful and cautious since I wish to live through the experience.
I have known many of the world’s most extreme dare-devils all my life, those who constantly defy death and fear, who seem to be fearless and from each of them I have learnt that there is always a fear deep within them and therefore the need to confront and overcome that fear. It’s like living in a dark room while the morning sun is shining outside. We must open the window and doors and let the light come in no matter how difficult or dangerous the process might be. Otherwise we would never experience the warmth of the sun or the light giving force.
We must acknowledge our fears and then confront them and then overcome them. Once we overcome them by doing what we are scared of (hopefully coming out alive at the end of the process); we realize that we are capable of doing even what we are scared of; it doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t be scared of it anymore. Or that we have to do it again and again. Doing what we are scared of even once is enough to heighten our self-belief and confidence. But what would happen that the irrational fear of something would be gone once we do it, since by doing it we understand exactly why and how it is dangerous and therefore needs caution to indulge. And also that with care and precaution we can do it. This knowledge and realization is necessary. Once we gain this knowledge and confidence there’s no real reason to do it any further unless of course you fall in love with it and get addicted.
Then what should we be afraid of most? We should be most afraid of fear itself that paralyzes us into inaction, which robs us of our belief and self-confidence, which stops us from exploring our inner selves and that prevents us from discovering our true worth. Don’t be afraid to be afraid; fear is good. Once fear grips you, breathe deep and slow and then proceed with caution. Train, equip, learn, rationalize, seek support (physical and emotional) and then continue.
But don’t ever be scared to die. That is not acceptable. Death is the only inevitability that life offers; once we are born we must and will die. Fear of inevitability is absurd. Fear of death is unacceptable. Real freedom is achieved when we are free of the fear of mortality. To deal this in details another post on another day.
For now remember: fear of fear is the only fear we should fear