A friend recently admitted to living with fear, much of it irrational, he said. I was initially surprised since my friend has a sense of humor that is non-stop and an ability to laugh at himself that he should franchise. But this was a serious moment. I knew he was asking for insight, so I tried to oblige.
I believe, from what he told me, that he understood his fear, that it was mostly about aging and what comes after. Over the years a legendary focus on his own health had prompted much teasing – but respect as well – from his many friends. He seems to realize that most often “the person who is teased is loved,” and I know he knows how loved he is.
But admitting to being fearful, and even understanding how a fear can overshadow a life, does nothing to disarm it. Naming it becomes very important, though, since fear tends to work best in the dark where it feeds on itself and often spawns other fears. Understanding and naming the fear rarely helps, however. If anything, they provide the arena for confrontation.
Years ago I read a little book by Gerald Jampolsky titled “Love Is Letting Go of Fear” from which I began to learn about the power of acceptance, an essential quality of love. I learned somewhat later that acceptance was a quantum leap beyond tolerance, which can mean “putting up with” or “suffering through.” For instance, tolerating differences among others is vastly different from accepting them.
Acceptance means so much more. So I told my friend, “I have discovered the fear of the unknown is neutralized by accepting and embracing not-knowing. It’s like shaking hands with the enemy.” I should have said as well that embracing fear also works to neutralize it.
One needs to know that acceptance is not a synonym for agreeing with or approving of. Nor does it mean giving into or surrendering. It is simply about seeing fear for how it works, realizing it gets its power from those it afflicts; fear can do nothing without that power. As long as one holds on to fear, fear has its way. So in the arena of confrontation, all one need do is let it go.
Easily said, but not easily done. Aging is what it is, though different for everyone. And what comes after is inevitable. Certainly how and when both happen can be a concern. But even those issues are powerless until one chooses to fear them. When one lets go – also a choice – and focuses instead on the gift of every moment, fear is denied the future in which it lives. Letting go, after all, is really about giving self to self – and accepting the gift.