We react about seven times as much to pain as to pleasure, so it’s not hard to make the feeling of fear into a state of mind. A fear-based state of mind is called “anxiety”.
Being at peace is the complete opposite of living fear, and is one critical ingredient for living the good life.
Our fears always start rationally when something we trusted won’t protect us, but quickly become silly when subconscious beliefs that contradict reality overpower facts. It’s usually an unknown “dread” we can’t put into language to but don’t want to confront.
More than anything else, fear is the strongest motivator, though we’re often unaware of its presence in our minds. While love is a choice, fear is an animal reaction that can override our understanding.
When we have a fear-based reaction, we make iron-clad purposes to fix a problem we see. In the absence of knowing what to do, we tend to quickly explore solutions (also known as “panic”).
Since we have so much fear, we tend to hide it behind other language like “anxiety”, “resistance”, “nerves”, “sensibility” or “walls”. Very often, we only stop reacting in fear because of a greater fear we’re fighting.
We tend to be afraid about short-term issues or things we imagine (e.g., sharks, public speaking) and often overlook some of the things we should be afraid of:
- We can’t be precisely certain of anything, not even who we are or what really exists.
- We can’t predict the future in any reasonable measure, nor have full clarity about what the past even was.
- We’ll all die, with even less certainty of what comes next.
Fear of Pain
All fear is driven by perceived pain:
- If it’s pain from the past, it’s trauma.
- Pain of the perceived future is anxiety over perceived risks, and we feel plenty of anxiety because it makes intuitive sense for us to feel anxiety now instead of the pain about the matter later.
- If it’s in the present, it usually revolves around a decision that affects the future.
- It can be self-pain or pain upon others, depending on who we love more at the moment.
We can’t do anything about pain. We can only circumvent its effects and maximize other things like pleasure or virtue within it. Most of our fears around diseases and bodily injuries (as well as cultural taboos about them) are from how we imagine pain from the experience.
The pain itself broadly reaches to everything we are capable of identifying with. It could be physical suffering to the body, emotional suffering, the feeling of loss, or any perception of the same in others’. Its only limit is that we feel it’s something in reality.
Pain and pleasure aren’t entirely separate. The pain of pursuing a worthy purpose, for example, will heighten the pleasure after overcoming it.
The present itself doesn’t have too much pain. Even while being tortured, we can withstand each present moment relatively easily. The true pain comes from our past memories and what we imagine could happen in the future, which is a secondary product of past memory.
Fear of Death
No matter what form, death is when a critical organ fails when there’s not enough time or technology to find a reliable replacement. That organ could be pierced, crushed, or incinerated. Death by blood loss, for example, is from the heart running out of oxygen. Even if we keep everything intact, we reach the hayflick limit at around age 125, where cells stop reproducing and organs stops regenerating.
And, while we can reproduce most organs, we can’t do anything about a damaged brain. It’s the closest thing to whatever our soul physically connects to, and incredibly complicated. Transferring consciousness with a computer wouldn’t work because computers only make copies and delete the original. No matter how you frame it, death is certain.
The reason death is so difficult to take is from a few difficult realities combined:
- We can declare death itself to be an absolutely certain thing, far more than most things.
- Until we’re near death, we have no idea what will cause it.
- It always alludes to irreconcilable uncertainties of what happens afterward.
To stay mentally well, we’ve somehow found a remarkable way to keep it as knowledge separate from our feelings until we experience it firsthand, which allows us to not think about it constantly moment-to-moment. It’s a huge reason the topic is usually inappropriate in polite society and the reason suicidal tendencies make people generally feel uncomfortable.
To fight death, we tend to obsess about preserving life. The survival impulses for food, water, and shelter are themed extensions of death. We try to prolong its inevitability with risk management tactics such as weight management and preventative healthcare.
The fear of death contributes far more to illogical behavior than we often realize:
- We try to expand a legacy that outlives our passing, often through our children.
- People generally trust law enforcement believing they’ll protect lives or from fear of losing theirs in a fight.
- We’ll believe prophecies that promise to avoid death (e.g., rapture, immortality).
- As we get older and time becomes more scarce, we think about death more often, which contributes heavily to the purposes we pursue.
- Even wars, when not directed to destroying a people group, are fought with the appearance of fighting for scarce resources.
Since they reproduce some of the experiences of dying, we become insanely irrational when we encounter diseases, often with obsessive or excessive hygiene. Ironically, our bodies successfully fight 99.99% of them off without help, become stronger for it, and the thing that often kills us is the body’s response to the disease (e.g., inflammation, fever).
When we take that fear of death into a more broad application, we tend to create apocalyptic scenarios.
Fear of Truth
While it’s absurdly irrational, we tend to be afraid of true things because they force us to change. Every time we encounter a change our habits must reprogram and we introduce more of the unknown into something we had thought was certain.
Fear as Fun
We don’t do well with extended fear. All possible adverse events are likely with enough imagination, so we tend to become increasingly fearful of everything if we focus solely on our fears.
We’ll also often try to hide our fears from a fear of what other people think, which will make us even more fearful.
Most fears, when nurtured, become an obsession with power, mostly to stay safe against any perceived and imagined threats. At its farthest, a person becomes a victim of their reactions and loses their humanity.
If we persist in fear, we can extend our connection with death to other needs and wants completely unrelated to death.
Most worthwhile endeavors require us to face our fears. Over time, if we keep succeeding, we will start noticing that the presence of our fear is also where we can gain the most success. Eventually, we’ll start looking for things that scare us because those will create the most significant results.
Of course, on the other hand if we keep running from things that scare us, we will likely fall into a trap of addiction somewhere along the way.
Fear in Groups
One courageous person is capable of sparking a trend of boldness across an entire group of people, and it isn’t uncommon to see entire political revolutions shift from one person’s unwillingness to back down from an idea they believe in.
Leaders often become aware of the individuals’ trust in them, and can use a steadily reliable political trick:
- Heighten existing fears.
- Make impossible promises to make people feel secure.
- Claim that those promises can only work sufficiently if everyone honors the group’s standards (which are usually directing power toward the leadership).
The thought and image of something is usually scarier than the thing itself.
If you feel pain, you can dramatically cut down on its effects by connecting it to hope in the future or completely disregarding the future altogether.
We all must reconcile how to live our lives without fear, given how much death and pain we’re invariably going to experience. Releasing the fear is a difficult lifelong process, but is profoundly worth it.
The healthcare industry (and law enforcement, to a more abstracted degree) concerns itself constantly with death and pain management, so they have a very different perspective than the rest of society.