The Mike Mantell Blog

The Gift of Fear

FEAR

I was born with the great gift of being an incredibly afraid person.

I am phobic of: heights, spiders, cockroaches, touching non-mammals, vaccines, small and enclosed spaces, flying on airplanes, and swimming in large open bodies of water.

On top of that, I have also experienced intense periods of being afraid of: making decisions, upsetting my romantic partner, telling the truth. being judged by others, people not liking me, awkward interactions, rejection, free will not existing, life lacking meaning, losing my sanity, the fate of humanity, taking control of my own mind, my emotions, my sexuality, the thought that I might be repressing memories, and the thought that I may have hidden something from myself (there was one stretch where this fear was so rampant that I believed I was a closeted transgendered woman, a closeted homosexual, and a closeted juggalo, all in the same month. None of which ended up being true).

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve experienced fear every day of my 26.5 year existence.

And I am finally at the point where I can see how fortunate I am for that.

I believe that the thing holding people back from their absolute greatness and total inner freedom is indeed fear. The reason I’m grateful for my skittish nature is that since I’ve had so many head-on, bloody collisions with gross fear juggernauts, I’ve been brutally forced into understanding how my fear works. It’s like learning to snowboard on double-black diamonds – you get your ass kicked for a good while, until you feel pretty comfortable with the whole mountain. And why is understanding fear important? Because FREEDOM is the ability to acknowledge the presence of fear, and act anyway.

I never expect my fear to go away. And I am absolutely fine with that. Because feeling fear doesn’t bother me like it used to; feeling fear doesn’t scare me like it used to. It’s just a part of the game.

I spent so many years as a devoted slave to fear. It prohibited me from developing my own worldview, from taking on certain beliefs, from living life in certain ways, and from creating the life that I actually wanted. It was as if fear had constructed a series of granite walls around my life, boxing me off into a tiny, restricted, dirty patch of grass, littered with crusty goose turds.

I remember I always used to secretly wonder what life was like beyond those granite walls, but I mostly figured that I would never be the one to find out. But every once in awhile I would see other people beyond their walls of fear —  and there would be this faint, tiny glint of hope inside of me. This subtly emerging realization that life outside of the poopy grass patch, outside of these walls WAS possible. Even for me.

That glint has since gone full-on inferno; for the last 3 years I have dedicated myself 100% to the quest of befriending fear, understanding fear, and transcending fear.

And so I would like to share my experience in relating to those prohibitive fear walls that exist in my mind, in hopes that it may give you some ideas on how to relate to your own fear walls.

I have found three ways to get beyond the fear walls — all of which are super useful:

  1. To build up strength and speed, and sprint full on into a wall and blast through it. That is, to see a fear and just brute force your way through it. Like going skydiving if you fear heights.
  2. To vanish a wall altogether, or better yet to transform a wall into a welcoming archway that you want to enter. That is, to psycho-navigate into the bowels of your mind, identify the belief behind a fear, and either dissolve the belief or transform it. For example, you may have a belief ‘failure is a terrible thing.’ As such you’ll undoubtedly be afraid to fail. So you can either dissolve that belief, OR you could change that belief to ‘failure is a phenomenal way to learn;’ then you will actually look forward to failure.
  3. To realize that all of the fear walls are actually imaginary hallucinations and that you can walk anywhere I please without restraint. That is, to see fear as an illusion and figment of the imagination. There is a Buddhist story that roughly says: Imagine you are in a cave, and you paint a ferocious tiger on the wall. And right after painting the tiger, you look at it and become terrified that it will kill you so you panic and run away for your life. That is how fear works.

Right now I’m only going to address number 3, because while all three options are viable and hold truth, I believe number 3 holds the deepest truth. To live the life that you truly want and to become the person who you most deeply are, I think it is paramount to see through the illusion of fear.

In understanding the nature of fear there are many lenses through which to gaze, but here is one set of specs that I have found tremendously useful. Fear is like a bacterial organism. It has two goals only: Goal 1: To arise into existence, Goal 2: To spread and grow as much as it possibly can. Like a bacteria, fear isn’t evil and doesn’t have a complex agenda — all it wants to do is exist and spread. These goals are programmed into fear’s DNA, so to speak. Every strain of fear I’ve ever encountered operates this way; whether I’m standing on a suspension bridge, repressing a sexual attraction to a man, or stewing in nihilistic panic over the possibly dismal future of AI after eating one too many pot brownies, fear is playing the same game.

When I talk about ‘fear,’ what am I referring to exactly? One description of fear is a combination of body sensations, co-pollinated by a particular state of mind. For me the body sensations tend to be a dropped stomach, tingly toes, sweaty palms, high adrenaline, fast-beating heart, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. The mindstate tends to be edgy, hyperactive, quick to jump to conclusions, quick to assume the worst case scenario, and highly irrational (to the point of insanity). The body state and mind state feed off of and grow each other.

Alrighty, now let’s dive into fear Goal 1 (to arise into existence). The moment that fear emerges. In almost all cases fear will arise from a trigger – either from something in the environment or from a thought. Here are three examples:

I am on a suspension bridge. Since I have a phobia of heights, the environmental trigger of being high up will cause my body to automatically feel the sensation of fear. My toes feel tingly, my palms sweaty, my stomach is churning. There may even be some pee that leaked into my now-soiled undies.

I’m flying on an airplane and start to feel some turbulence. My mind then pumps out the thought: “holy fuckballs, is this plane about to crash?!” Just like the bridge example, that thought will trigger the sensation of fear in my body regardless of the actual likelihood of a planecrash.

Tom is working a 9-5 job, and his boss says to the office ‘Hi everyone, I just want to let you know we are reorganizing our staff, and there will be a few layoffs this week.” Upon hearing this the thought comes into Tom’s mind, “what if I get fired?” This thought then triggers the body sensations of fear.

(Note that these three very different scenarios feel the exact same in the body).

So either a thought or external event will trigger the emergence of fear. This is unavoidable in the moment – that trigger just happens by itself, and once it happens, it’s already happened. But just the existence of fear is no big deal. The presence of fear contains no inherent threat, because it is just a string of body sensations and a string of thoughts. Things only start to get stickier than the pages of my teenage self’s copy of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition 2003 once the fear starts proliferating. So let’s look at Fear Goal 2 (To spread and grow as much as it possibly can) in the airplane scenario.

Imagine you are on a plane and you feel turbulence, which in and of itself is neutral. But then your mind reacts with the thought “holy fuckballs, is this plane about to crash?!” The mind then believes that thought and the body starts to react with fear sensations. The mind feels that the body is experiencing fear and then reacts with another, more intense thought “OMG, this plane is about to crash any damn minute!” Then the mind believes this thought to be true and then the body feels more fear. The mind reacts to the increased fear with more intense thoughts — images of the plane crashing into a field of jagged rocks, and you getting gnashed up into a smangled sack of bloody bones. This cycle repeats ad infinitum. Because your mind believes your thoughts and because your body reacts to your mind, every part of you legitimately feels like you are about to die.

So how does fear manage to successfully proliferate? By creating THOUGHTS and convincing the mind into believing them. And once the mind believes a thought, then the body reacts as if that thought is actually happening in REALITY. I’m going to stress this point here, because I believe it is the most important part of relating to fear: when you believe a thought you give that thought power. So if you believe the thought that says ‘’this plane is about to crash at any moment” then that thought becomes true, seizes power over you, and then causes the body to immediately react to a reality where the plane is about to crash. Once you believe a fear-created-thought then it’s game over. You’ve given fear everything it needs to keep proliferating. Because once you believe one thought, you’re more likely to believe the next. However there is a flipside, which is the key to relating to fear — if you catch the fear-created-thoughts as they come up, and you don’t react to them (IE you can choose not to believe them), then you’re free.

If I ever feel the sensation of fear, I have developed the habit to say to myself ‘’fear mind’ to remind myself where the thought is coming from. And then when I observe the thoughts that follow the feeling of fear, I ask myself if those thoughts are legitimate, or if they are clever products of the fear mind’s frantic attempt to proliferate.

And boom, there ya have it. For me, this has been an essential step on my own path towards freedom. If you feel fear, just let yourself feel it. If thoughts bubble up, let them do so without reacting to them. Avoid lending your belief to thoughts created out of fear, and you have broken its shackles.

Now one final emphasis here — in my experience, the fear voice doesn’t care about telling the truth. It only cares that I believe what it says. So when I remember that no wisdom ever arises out of an afraid mind, it makes it a lot easier to avoid falling into fear’s claims of truth. If utterances of truth are actually coming from an afraid state of mind, I can double check that later when I’m feeling calm. But if my mind and body are holding fear, then I will wait to make any judgments or decisions.

I hope you encounter tons of fear in your near future 🙂 Because the beauty of being afraid is that only once you see fear can you see through it.

 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.