Is fear real?

I had a great opportunity through work to attend a short lecture on timid souls this evening. It ended up actually being a talk about courage. The lecturer and author interviewed lots of people she felt were courageous and then wrote a book (and the lecture) about what she found. Her spectrum was fairly broad – everything from women giving birth, to dare devils and fantastic-feat-doers, as well as political and social heroes. She looked for common threads among them all and found a few. Here are a couple of the notes I made.

  • Courage is as infectious as fear.
  • When someone tells a story of a time they were courageous, they often start it out from a point of fear. So fear is a necessary ingredient and has a yin and yang relationship with courage. It’s important to stay balanced.
  • Being brave looks like a true and real thing on its own from the outside, but in reality, everyone is just pretending to be brave. If you aren’t afraid, then your courage isn’t actually real. There’s no need to be brave if there’s no fear.
  • Courage only really appears during the story telling. While you are living the moment, it can feel like it’s only fear.
  • Being brave is only about pretending to be brave. It’s about telling yourself a story and believing it.
  • Training yourself makes the courage come more automatically in fearful places.
  • Although it feels like courage can be about being confident in yourself and your own abilities when you are afraid, it can also come from a place of service to a group (think – “no man left behind” in the army). Both are equally powerful.

The last thing I wrote down was, “Is fear real?” After thinking about the process of fear – courage – joy, it’s hard to think that it is real. It’s just something our mind throws in our way, a stepping stone to the actual truth of joy.

Of course, fear feels pretty real. Sometimes it feels physically oppressive it is so real. Maybe it’s more like a different state. Just as an ice cube turns to water and then steam, so fear turns to courage and then joy. They are all pieces of each other.

It’s really cheesy, but the whole thing made me think about my days in Hawaii. I had to face so many fears on that trip. One of my friends there was helping me with my fear of swimming in the sea. I was getting really freaked out in a gentle sea where I kept getting picked up and put down by waves such that I kept losing my connection to the sand with my toes. He encouraged me to just go with the motion and when he saw I was visibly terrified, he kept repeating a mantra, “joy is the other side of fear.” So true! After defeating that fear, you are elated and courage is the only way through it.

I had many opportunities to repeat that mantra on that trip whether it was swimming in the sea, jumping off cliffs, performing music, or just making the best out of a bad situation. These days, I find myself faced with far more emotionally terrifying places. A wise person has given me the mantra of “patience, courage, stillness.” Such a simple reminder, and yet so powerful.

I think most of all patience with oneself is the biggest helper to courage and is something I often forget about. Patience with other people comes so naturally, but to see that I am being impatient with myself requires an observation of self at which I am not yet practiced. Having it as a tool is powerful though and has already fortified me in so many ways.


What does work mean?

One of my favorite people at work recently decided to leave us. She was feeling like her job was becoming more of a grind and less of a passion, so it was time to move on. She has no concrete plan nor is she seeking another job immediately. She’s going to take some time to decompress and then make moves to find her next adventure. Her brave ability to follow her heart is inspiring and definitely has made me think critically about what I do to sustain myself every day.

I’m very lucky that I work for a great company doing a job that I am actually passionate about and enjoy doing. But even the most enjoyable job has its downsides, and the ones in my job make it feel like it’s not entirely what I want to be doing with my life every day. How do we continue doing the same job every day without becoming jaded or exhausted? Does the perfect job exist of which you will never tire?

This article, “Buddhist Economics” by E. F. Schumacher got passed around work recently and it has some really enlightening ideas. This paragraph in particular struck me:

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

I love the idea that work has a purpose far beyond satisfying the worker’s monetary needs. That work is an opportunity to connect with others through being a team seems so obvious, but the value of that connection and collaboration is highly underrated (or perhaps better put as “ignored?”) by both workers and employers.

I can imagine working for a group of people that divvies up work and designs position for maximum fulfillment instead of maximum monetary efficiency. I would be very interested to compare organizations that work along these two paradigms and see if there is any long-term financial disadvantage to the more “Buddhist” approach. I’d hypothesize that whatever short-term monetary inefficiencies occur would be made up for in increased creativity, productivity, cross-departmental communication and collaboration, and company loyalty.

I also love the idea that working hard is honorable and important, and in the spirit of duality, gives real meaning to leisure time too.

What is the perfect job? One that leaves you enough freedom and time for leisure and self-directed explorations whilst allowing you to work hard along side other people building something you are passionate about. Or at least, that’s what I’d start with.

I’ll end with this little guy who visited me in the garden today. Adorable!