What’s better than courage for conquering fear
We love the macho-man style of courage declared by John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”
It makes us feel tough. And oh, how we love to feel tough; deep down, we’re all scared to death of the reality of this life.
We make fear our enemy so we can see ourselves as conquering heroes worthy of great acclaim. The greater the fear we conquer with courage, the stronger we feel.
It sounds good. It feels good. But there are some major problems with this perspective.
First, the fear always remains, and thus taints all our perceptions and actions.
Using courage to conquer fear is like covering up the symptoms of a terminal disease with prescription drugs. It makes us feel better, but the disease remains and it continues eating us up inside.
No matter what we’ve overcome in the past, when we’re honest with ourselves, we feel like frauds. We dread the day that fear will catch up to us and expose us for who we really are.
Second, when we make anything an enemy, then every interaction with it is a battle.
Turning fear from a mere thought into an enemy only makes it stronger. It’s like awakening a sleeping dragon and engaging it in battle. The only way the battle will end is if one of us dies.
The poet Longfellow wrote,
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies we would find in each man’s sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
In other words, when we truly understand our enemies, they cease to be enemies.
The same holds true of fear. When we truly understand it — and our deep needs and suffering behind it — it ceases to be an enemy to battle and instead, becomes a friend to love.
Here’s the first thing to understand about fear: There is no fear in the present moment. All fear is in the future.
Fear springs from our thoughts about what might happen to us in the future, not what’s happening to us now.
What’s happening in the now may be painful, but the reality of pain is nothing to fear, but rather something to simply experience.
You’re standing at the edge of a 300-foot cliff, looking down at the ground. Suddenly, you slip and fall off the edge. Feel the terror gripping your gut.
Where does that fear come from? At any present moment in your descent, there is nothing wrong. You’re perfectly fine. You’re not even in any pain.
The fear is in the future.
Yes, the danger is real. But the fear is just a future-based thought in your mind.
You see a huge spider on the wall. You shriek and scramble as far away from it as possible.
Where does that fear come from? Nothing is happening to you in the present moment. The spider is still on the wall. It has done nothing to harm you.
Ah, but it might. When? In the future.
What we need to overcome fear isn’t more courage, but rather more mindful presence.
Courage is to fear what a band-aid is to cancer. Presence, on the other hand, doesn’t just cover up fear — it transforms it and makes it disappear for good.
Mindfulness — staying in the present moment — is the only true antidote to fear.
The opposite of fear is not courage, nor is it faith. It is peace.
Peace is what we feel when we stay in the present moment, rather than allowing our thoughts to transport us into the future or wallow in the past.
Peace is what we feel when we stop identifying with and as our ego-based thoughts of future threats.
We can cultivate courage all we want. But until we cultivate mindfulness, our fears will always remain.