I am afraid of heights. I have been this way since I can remember.
It is a visceral thing.
If I come near the edge of something which is elevated, every cell in my body begins to scream and uncomfortable but familiar sensations of numbness and horror quickly flood every part of my mind and body and overwhelm me with a profound and irrational feeling of un-ease.
I suppose this affliction, if one can call it that, has accompanied me like a shadow since my earliest memories and yet that shadow has been more noticeable at certain times and almost forgotten at others.
Fears are like this; they are the silent companions that walk with us through the days of our lives.
Sometimes they make themselves known and at others they linger on the fringes of our consciousness, barely perceptible. If we were to put all our fears together we would find that we are not alone! We are not accompanied merely by one or two companions, but by a host, a whole tribe of silent, unyielding, determined “adherents.”
I have never overcome my fear of heights, it remains with me till this day, but I have learned how to cope with it and on a number of occasions, when it was necessary, I found it was possible even to look directly into “its face” and yet still go on my way.
We all feel fear, we all know the taste of it.
There are many, many different kinds. Fear of the “unknown” is such an integral part of our day to day lives that many of us don’t even notice it consciously and yet its effects upon the way we live and the choices that we make are far reaching and pervasive.
We live with fear. It may be subliminal and unnoticed for the most part and yet it is there. We could not survive without the instinctive emotion of fear being an integral part of our body, mind complex. Fear is natural and it is a necessary component of our ability to survive.
But what of all the other fears that stifle us, the “unnecessary” fears?
The fear of failure, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of loss, of change; the list goes on and on. These types of fears can paralyse us and severely limit our capacity to reach out and achieve our highest goals and dreams in this life.
Think of all the little, seemingly insignificant things that we fear and yet live with every single day of our lives. These might be the fear of being overweight; the fear of not being liked; the fear of ageing; even the fear of fear itself. Because these fears and reactions are something that exist very deeply within us they can control much about the way we live and move through our lives.
Fear can under-cut everything that we ever try to do, if we let it.
I am not going to try and convince you that we should endeavour to face our fears by trying to overcome them. That may or may not work out.
Fear is not overcome either by defiance or by evasion.
That merely pushes them aside for a time and often they can re-emerge later with a vengeance. However, most fears can be managed through acceptance, as in honesty, and courage. These are the supreme tools that we have at our disposal now and always.
Years ago, when I climbed some 20,000 feet to the top of the Nandi Pass, just below the summit of Mount Kailash, in Tibet, I had had to scale numerous lesser passes to reach it. Nevertheless, this did not diminish the intense discomfort that I felt throughout the entire climb. However, because there was a deeper and far more powerful determination to undertake that journey, I was compelled to manage my horror of heights and I did.
There was nothing heroic about my feat and on several difficult traverses I literally crawled on my hands and knees, but I survived to tell the tale and with a certain sense of accomplishment.
We can learn to adapt ourselves to fear and still go out and do the things we want most to do.
I can’t proclaim that by my action I overcame my own particular fear of heights; that same fear is alive and well to this very day, but I did learn that it was possible to manage a fear that I had felt previously, was beyond my control. But here is the real crux of the matter.
All our “fears” are only part and parcel of a myriad of emotions which we are bound to confront on any given day. An emotion; a feeling. Does any emotion stay with us, is any feeling permanent? These things come and so too they pass away. They may reappear in other forms, because the law of change and impermanence is universal. Yet, what is permanent but somehow remains unnoticed is who and what we really are.
Our true nature is always present, even now as we scan these words on this page. If our fears accompany us like a silent host; our inmost true nature is the perennial spring from which everything; our fears, our world; each and everything that we can ever know or imagine, arises.
Who and what we really are is the mystery that we seldom ever think of acknowledging despite the fact that our very existence depends upon it. It is nearer and more constant than the fears we may believe we have. The key to unlocking the door to our inmost being is always right here with us. Even fear itself can be a key to unlocking this door, if we can learn how to turn it back upon itself.
There is not a day, an hour or a moment when we are not “the self.” Knowing this gives rise to infinite courage because “the self” is deathless, unchanging and fearless. Keeping it real is about seeing our fears for what they really are and being able to look beyond them to what we really are.
If we can find the courage to acknowledge the mystery of our being we stand to gain absolutely nothing by it. Yet by giving up all our preconceptions and gaining “nothing,” in actuality, we gain everything.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own