But first, let’s be clear: only psychopaths don’t experience fear. If you’re not a psychopath, allow yourself to smile and be grateful.
Fearlessness isn’t the lack of fear — you’ve probably already heard this before, but let’s reinforce what it’s about:
Fearlessness is about acknowledging fears. It’s about telling them that, “I see you. I feel you. But I have to try this thing over here, so you just sit back over there.”
Fearlessness is a mere practice in reminding ourselves that overcoming a fear feels much better than letting it overcome us.
Not long ago, I was in the bay island of Utila in Honduras. I had challenges, and I had fears. My challenges were namely: moving on, and having enough money to move on. I’d been in Utila for a month and I had felt a strong push to travel again (Bit of background: I’m a traveller, and what some like to call a ‘digital nomad’), but not having sufficient dinero meant that moving on to Nicaragua, the neighbouring country south of Honduras, could be tricky. These challenges were hush, however, since money for long-term travellers like me comes and goes easily. It was the fears that disturbed me.
To get to Nicaragua on a tight budget I needed to hitchhike across Honduras, and Honduras has over the years been named “the most dangerous country on the planet” by the western media.
In 2017, The Independent ranked Honduras 9th out of 20 on the list, telling the public that it’s “home to one of the world’s highest murder rates”. British journalist Stacey Dooley made a 2015 investigative documentary on Honduras as one of the “world’s worst places to be a woman”. In late 2017, foreign governments issued security messages and travel warnings to their citizens amid turbulent political situations in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. This Central American country isn’t short of bad press.
“Don’t do it,” even the locals in Utila told me. “Two days ago in the newspaper a woman was found decapitated on the mainland,” one said.
“A girl like you shouldn’t be taking this trip alone,” another one added.
“Why don’t you just take the shuttle,” a fellow traveller asked. “Sixty-five dollars isn’t worth risking your life for.”
But what is “a girl like me”? And why should my journeys be defined by my gender or my size or my appearance or my budget?
In her book, A Return To Love, Marianne Williamson notes that,
“We’re paralysed. We’re not being stopped by something on the outside, but something on the inside. Our oppression is internal. Our fear is free-floating.”
Fear is what we base our decisions on; to do whatever is safe and secure and comfortable, to be inside our bubble where things are in place, controlled, unsurprising.
I love surprises, so I decided not to give in to other people’s fears. Without a plan, I found myself on the roads of mainland Honduras, asking the locals how to get from A to B. The general idea was that I would travel on rickety chicken buses (recycled North American school buses), and hitchhike wherever possible.
Honduras turned out to be safe for a solo female traveller who looks completely out of place, foreign, perhaps even fragile. No one hassled me. No one overcharged me. No one stole any of my belongings. Nearly everyone I came across smiled at me. Someone gave me a lift. One bus driver offered me a huge orange, sweet and juicy and nourishing. One fellow passenger walked me to a place where I stayed the night to wash my sweaty, dusty self, and rest my head.
From this beautiful experience, my faith in humanity grew. I probably wasn’t far from danger and I might have sat next to some baddies, but harm luckily didn’t come to me. The more distance I covered, the more I realised I had nothing to fear. If anything unsavoury happened to me, then it would have been a story worth telling for public awareness or entertainment…which reminds me of a line in the film After Earth. In it, Will Smith’s character tells his son that,
“Danger is very real. But fear is a choice.”
Fearlessness is being open to the results of the experience: the good, the bad, the ugly.
What will happen will happen anyway. And as we cannot control 100% of the outcomes of our decisions, why not leave space for something new or something different or something exciting?
Embracing our fears can change our life in three ways (and more).
Firstly, it teaches us about ourselves — our vulnerabilities, our boundaries, our strengths, our patterns. If we remained fixed in our comfort zone, how can we explore other facets of ourselves?
Often, our fears are born out of traumatic experiences. Meditation and introspection are powerful tools in managing fears as they allow us to move forward rather than going around in cycles of unhealthy behavioural patterns.
Overtaking fears also provide relief.
Our imaginations are wild. This is the beauty of the human mind. But this imagination can get out of hand if we don’t train our mind to be present in the moment. Fear sits in the future, possibly stamped on to our subconscious from the past. But here in the now, we can do something about it.
For instance, some people have a fear of flying. Their fear can be so intense that they can picture their own death by plane crash — this is a future event* that may or may not happen. Still, they would forego travel as a result. That’s a lot of limitation for one fear.
One could argue that some people have phobias. I hear you.
But phobias are defined by modern society to keep us in a box. “Yes, you have fear of this”, they say. “Stay fearful. It’s ok. It’s normal. Look, we even have a name for it.”
But normalising fear is dangerous. It keeps us sedated, placid, unthinking, unexploring.
Don’t feed these so-called phobias. There’s a very long list of these irrational fears. If we took them to heart, we’d never get out of bed!
Best of all, fearlessness enriches our confidence in mankind. There is so much love out there. And because every one of us knows what it’s like to be terrified of something, you can be assured of receiving support and encouragement when you speak about your fears. Like dreams, fears are there to be exposed.
If you have fear of speaking because you have fear of being judged, communicate that fear.
You remove stigma by talking about the things that give you shame. And in removing stigma, you empower not only yourself but also others.
*On the side of morbid, we are all anyway headed towards death. The question, therefore, is this: Wouldn’t it be nice to die trying?