Fear is an emotion, and is learned, or perhaps born out of an evolutionary means for survival. The sutras tell us that fear is rooted in ignorance. To improve our powers of observation, and face ourselves and the world in its truest context, our ignorance is laid bare and suddenly we don’t feel so scared any more.
Even though I carry this knowledge with me, fear tends to uproot me despite all the work I have done in the past. When I walked out of the Penndot office with all of my car’s paperwork in order, I felt accomplished and satisfied that I could now drive my out-of-state vehicle without fear of getting reprimanded by the government. My feeling of fearlessness was deflated when I realized that nothing in my physical world had changed, except that I had a different license plate on my car. My fear was invented entirely by my own mind.
When I reflected on this instance of fear, I applied some principles of self-reflection to the situation. I was afraid of getting pulled over, and having my California paperwork laid bare before the law. I feared vulnerability in the face of a uniform and a badge. Growing up I was drilled to recognize signs of implied authority and fear negative consequences from actions that become exposed to the authority. I was taught to have a “rational fear” of disobeying the laws dictated by the government, because the negative consequences could limit my survivability.
As a free thinking human being, I could deny the authority of the government, and accept the consequences as they come. I could also see the merit in the system of laws and willingly comply with them. For a couple of years leading up to this, I couldn’t make up my mind between the two, and floated along with a little bit of fear and a tiny fist raised, as I lawlessly drive my out-of-state Honda Accord. For whatever reason, I couldn’t shake that fear in the back of my mind, it was firmly planted and remained even when I was not aware of its insidious presence.
Scientifically, we roughly understand the consequences of sustaining fear in the mind and body. It keeps us in a box. Our bodies produce stress hormones that stunt growth and inhibit optimum digestion and sleep. It limits our body’s movement by restricting the allowance of motion in our nervous system.
Eventually I just wanted to be rid of my fear of the government, to allow myself freedom from fear. I worked to eliminate my fear of getting pulled over, but grew weary of the constant effort, which could have been put to use battling other fears instead. Eventually I concluded that I could sacrifice my freedom as an unrecorded out-of-state driver and gain freedom from my fear of roaming without the right papers. Not only that, I was able to register for a library card.
In the future, I hope to work on embracing my fears as a part of life. That requires vulnerability and a lot of self-acceptance, but I am confident that the rewards will outweigh the effort.