Updated: Jan 13, 2018
By Todd Pressman, Ph.D.
In his book “Learning to Fly” (Broadway Publishing, 2000), Sam Keen describes his adventures taking up the trapeze at age 60! He wanted to feel fully alive and knew he'd have to break out of his routine of safety and predictability to get that feeling. So he took up the trapeze and discovered how thoroughly it challenged his mind, body and soul.
In the book, he has a great line: “A fear a day keeps the psychiatrist away”. Why? Because facing our fear is the ONLY way to get free of it, and getting free of fear is the ONLY thing we need to do to be truly happy and fulfilled. Once free of fear, our true Self emerges, shining with incredible potential, full of an amazing capacity for Joy. Until we get free of fear, however, our light is “hidden under a bushel” and we become dark and heavy as we try to squash ourselves into its restrictive ways. The expectations of others, fear of risk, and our faulty ideas of ourselves all conspire to keep us in this straightjacket. Fear is at the source of every emotional upset, guilt, depression, stress, jealousy, grievance, and anger. Actually, it is at the source of every negative experience we can have. No matter how much it looks like something else, if we're not happy, if we feel cut off from our inner peace and fulfillment, you can be certain there is a fear operating behind the scenes.
That's why getting free of fear is the answer to every problem we have. That doesn't mean, of course, that the problems necessarily disappear (although, often they do—if we don't test out whether the fear will come true or not, how do we know it was ever real?). Rather, it means that we can become peaceful and accepting of whatever comes our way. And with acceptance comes the freedom to dance gracefully with life as it is, no longer struggling against it, afraid it will take away our dreams. This is more than turning lemons into lemonade...it's using the very thing which held us back—fear--to catapult us into an experience of power and joy.
A friend of mine found another way to fly. He was on an Outward Bound program and his group was standing at the edge of a huge ravine, with a drop of hundreds of feet. There was a zip line crossing the ravine to the other side. When it was his turn, he went up to the edge, holding on to the zip line for dear life, but found he could not let go with his feet. In an effort not to embarrass himself in front of the group, he pushed his body over the edge, but still his feet would not let go. Only when the rubber at the tip of his sneakers peeled off—that's how intense his grip was!--did he inadvertently let go with his feet. At that moment, he said, he began soaring like an eagle and all his fear turned into pure, life-loving exhilaration. Even better, the effect generalized to other fears he was carrying and he became a much more confident, peaceful person after that time.
Isn't it worth finding out if the fears which have been stopping us all our lives are real? We don't have to terrorize ourselves to do so. Even a little exposure to risk and challenge, something manageable to begin with, shows us that the fear truly does transform, and sometimes disappears altogether. This gives us the courage to take on the next challenge, a bit more daunting perhaps. And taking on challenges like this to release ourselves from fear and dive into life more and more fully is the secret to fulfillment, the key to meaning, and the path to real happiness. There's a beautiful parable that illustrates the point:
"Come to the cliff", he said.
"We are afraid", they said.
"Come to the cliff", he said.
He pushed them.
And they flew.