Why do we fear the unknown, change makes us nervous, our differences concern us, the similarities bother us; we fear it all. To some, fear strangles them to be motionless; others it pushes them forward. The great Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty second president, the only president in American history to be elected four consecutive times, famously said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Instead we fear death, we fear life, we fear truth, we fear consequence and it all makes no sense.
At a young age we are taught to be afraid. Watch out for cars, do not talk to strangers, have a fire escape plan, an earthquake plan, get your annual eye, teeth and body checkups, we need to make sure your not dying of some unknown or hidden cancer. We learn to be afraid of the dark or being alone. Some put their trust or faith in God and others are perfectly happy without that, but what when you do not have faith, have you lost hope; you have become afraid of everything because of the endless supply of hardships that happen in life. Because the news tells you everyone is out to get you. Perhaps had you not been afraid, had you chosen a different path things may have gone differently. Now you are skeptical and nervous of change. Maybe you took the easy path and live in wonder, guilt or regret. Sometimes the road you take is the one you followed blindly, but ended up suffering anyway because it was your journey to take in order to see things differently. The hard road can sometimes be the more rewarding one, even if it is scary with an outcome unknown.
I do believe life is suffering, it is the first of four noble truths taught in Buddhism, life is filled with misery and pain when we accept that and know the fear is only in our mind. We become free. We learn to let go of what we cannot control. We can appreciate the simple, happy moments, but also learn to accept that it is not always that way, nor does it need to be that way. Life is hard, as young children we are taught to be cautioned by all around us. Marketing tells us we need things, shiny cars, big houses and expensive clothes to be happy. Media tells us to be afraid; look at all the bad things out there via the news. But what we need is quiet reflection, inner peace and acceptance of self and of death, as well as, letting go of our fears. I tell my kids all the time there is nothing to be afraid of because it wastes your time to worry or be scared. Usually if you assume the worst but hope for the best you should always be happy for just having done. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher, journalist and poet said “always do what you are afraid to do.” The point I am trying to make.
When you see death first hand you see life being ripped away, unfairly, tragically, when you understand suffering throughout the world around you, you learn compassion, and to feel sorrow and grief can teach us to appreciate the simple, fleeting happy moments. When you can see there is nothing to fear; then you can just live. When thinking not of you but of others and not of their opinion but of their well being you can help them and appreciate more. Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist and radio broadcaster has instilled in me her words “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.”
We are afraid to tell the truth, but we are afraid of lying. We seem to be afraid of living, so what if our honesty makes others uncomfortable. Is it better to bear grudges in the confines of our homes as to not upset anyone but ourselves? We have learned to smile, nod and pretend everything will be ok, that no one is going to die so long as we don’t talk about it and as long as we take all the necessary precautions to be afraid enough to stay alive. Get that giant rug and sweep all the unpleasantness under it, take our happy pills and wonder secretly if were addicted or why can’t we just be happy on our own. And one day when we lay on our death bed wondering why we wasted so much time being afraid, not taking risks, and trying to fit into the mold of others. Or we can acknowledge that life is hard it is not always perfect. We can see life’s struggles and its misery at face value. We can accept that in accepting our fatality I believe we can let go of our fear.
I tell my kids that nothing is free, most things are not fair and everything will be hard but that there is nothing to be afraid of. You have to learn, work hard and never stop trying. You have to keep learning and keep trying until you die. I choose to respect my kids growing brains and allow them to digest the truth. Hopefully they will understand hard work, accept death, let go of fear, work through frustration and live in reality not regret. But also appreciate the tiny happy moments because we do not know when the next one will be. Lastly, as Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence said “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”. If we can be more honest with ourselves and each other, about the reality of life, about the unobtainable expectations, understand that there always will be an unknown factor but that knowing would not change what we should do if we did things honestly. We cannot erase the unknown but we can ignore the fear it brings.
Thanks for reading,