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On Facing Our Fears

Fear not.
What is not real,
never was
and never will be.
What is real,
always was
and cannot be destroyed.

The Bhagavad Gita

Saturday, November 3, 2018, was a big day for my life-long engagement with some form of thalassophobia (fear of the sea) and submechanophobia (fear of submerged objects).

That’s the day I’ve tried scuba diving for the first time, in Tulamben, Bali. To make things more intense, on our second dive we went to the USS Liberty Shipwreck, dating from World War Two. The wreck is 125 meters long and 17 meters wide. It’s not very deep, mostly submerged within 10–20 meters, but for my mind, this was nearly the worst thing I could imagine. Just by thinking about it I would get anxious, and hesitant about my nervous system being able to handle it.

As a kid, I was afraid of almost everything that I would see in the water, even from a surface. Still, in my late teenage years, I would freeze whenever I would come close to an unfamiliar part of the beach, especially if there were larger rocks, more prominent flora, or some man-made objects or structures.

However, partly due to living next to the sea for most of my life, I kept slowly exposing myself to all of those things. I’ve been confronting it deliberately, bit by bit, for over a decade now. And it’s working. I still have a long way to go, but this dive was a milestone. Forty-five minutes submerged in the ocean, diving around a 100-meter long shipwreck. If somebody told me I would be doing this only five years ago, I would have trouble believing it. I was almost sure I was going to face those things eventually, but my timeline was not defined. What I had was just an intention, as a part of a broader goal of working with my demons, familiarizing myself with my shadow, and growing as an individual. So, this definitely wasn’t an easy undertaking. I had to use all the tools and strength I’ve built upon my path so far. Luckily, the dive went great, and now the feeling of directly confronting another dragon on my journey feels immensely rewarding.

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Fear is a peculiar thing. It can be painful, control so much in our life, but at the same time, going towards the direction of it can be so rewarding. As C.G. Jung remarked: “It is a bewildering thing in human life that the thing that causes the greatest fear is the source of the greatest wisdom.” Furthermore, Seth Godin would suggest that since the fear is going to remain no matter what you do, fleeing makes no sense and that perhaps it pays to learn to use it as a compass instead, and go toward it, not away. I often try to remind myself of that.

If you want to do something in your life, but you’re scared, don’t let that control and overpower you. Of course, don’t do anything rash and reactionary, but don’t ignore it.

Here’s what I would suggest, based on my experience.

When you feel safe, engage in it. Think about it. Read, research, and learn to work with your body-mind. Expose yourself. See how you react. Assert and visualize what you want to do. Breath. Ask yourself which more profound elements, such as traumas, wounds, complexes are being triggered in those situations. Work with that. Alone, with friends, or consult a professional. Share your journey. We’re all afraid, it’s just hard to admit it. Breath. Give yourself a lot of time. If you are dealing with intense fear or a phobia, it will undoubtedly be a life-long quest. Hence, you have all the time you got. Breath. Don’t ignore it. “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood,” Madame Curie reminds us. Patience, curiosity, courage. Breath. Go for it.

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Kevin Kelly: The Power of Being Lost