Fear is one of the most vulnerable states you can experience. It has the ability to strip you bare and expose the most uncertain, self-conscious, and raw parts of your psyche. What happens when you think about things like death? Horrific accidents or traumas? The real purpose of life? If you never experience true love? If your biggest dreams never come true? Your heart might race or your hands might feel a bit clammy.
A tendency is to avoid fear through distractions—watching TV, listening to music, reading, or eating and eating (or drinking). Instead, I believe we should lean in to our fears to really understand what’s going on. The phrase, leaning in, means getting closer to something or someone to gain a better understanding. It’s usually thought of in a positive light—until you tell someone to lean in to their discomfort, or their pain, or the awkwardness of something.
So, why should we lean in to something that makes us uncomfortable? Imagine whatever you’re afraid of as a black cloud following you around. You’re able to avoid dealing with it directly, but you also know it’s there—lurking—waiting to make you feel troubled, depressed, or disgusting. There are a million things that can be lurking, following you around—low self-esteem, self-hatred, fear of not understanding the purpose of life, feeling ashamed of a past experience. You might be hoping if you just ignore a fear long enough, it’ll finally go away. But it won’t. Without leaning in to pain, it will continue to lurk in your life. So, why not just deal with it?
When we lean in to the things that make us uncomfortable, we are taking away its power. Instead of running from the black cloud of fear, turn towards it and lean in, getting a good 360-degree view to really understand the components that make up this thing that’s been following you. It might feel uncomfortable, but it will give you the power of seeing what's truly causing your fear. It will allow you to understand what’s causing your pain, giving you the ability to chip away at the cloud, little by little. In a sense, it will allow you to take away its power, because when all the components of that fear are lumped together . . . it's heavy, it’s large, it’s intimidating. If you lean in, understanding the different layers that make up this “thing”, then you take away some of its weight, making it seem less impossible to manage.
After leaning in, you'll feel lighter, freer, and more joyful. Avoiding fear can make us numb—and it's nearly impossible to numb part of our emotions. When we lean in and face things—and deal with the uncomfortable mess following us around—life gets richer and fuller.
Sometimes, we won't have all the answers when facing fear . . . and that's okay. Resting in the unknown can bring us to a place of stronger faith, a stronger sense of self, and a truer understanding of our vulnerability. Whether you believe in God or not, humanity is not supposed to know everything with 100% certainty. Part of the beauty of humanity is our wonder and faith. As a human race, our wonder has led us to discover truths in science that are amazing, yet even as we uncover facts and truths about our universe, we will never know with 100% certainty how far the cosmos extends.
My point is this. We should lean in, wrestle with fear, and come to our conclusions, while also accepting that we won't always have the answers. Not knowing all the answers shouldn't shut us down, cause us to panic, and jump at anything that gives us a glimmer of safety or security. My hope is that it drives us forward in a beautiful and complex way, pushing us to seek deeper, dream bigger, and keep fear from controlling our actions and shadowing our lives.