Fear is one of the basic instincts of every living creature when confronted with some kind of danger. Whenever in its struggle for life the human being is confronted with the alternatives of either avoiding danger or-facing harm or destruction, the feeling of fear gives it the power necessary to secure survival. Hence the purpose of fear is to mobilise one's energy and effort to find the way of deliverance from danger and peril. Had the human beings of prehistoric times failed to avoid the various dangers that threatened them, the human species would not have survived.
This principle is valid not only in the case of dangers to physical life but also holds in respect of any threat to man's personality that gives rise to the feeling of fear. Common experience has shown that the danger of becoming subject to the domination of others is a greater cause of fear amongst individuals than anything else. Such a fear can paralyse one's active life for months, or even years, and bring active life to a standstill.
In fact, this anxiety arises from a threat to personality and the danger of its toss. Someone who is faced with such a threat feels as if he has no power to take any decision. He is compelled to seek others' help and decide his affairs through their assistance.
The stronger one's fear of tossing one's personality, the more intense is the anxiety that torments him. At times this condition may reach the point of madness. That which is said concerning inherent instincts, that they are beneficial for survival and for the preservation of life, is true only when they do not exceed the limits of moderation. But when they become extreme they can become harmful. Imaginary fears born of ungrounded imaginings and foregodings of misfortune and grief are signs of a kind of painful pathological condition which weakens the power of thought. As revealed by the researches done by specialists in the field, this factor not only leads many people to toss their well-being but also results in considerable harm.
It has often been observed that the state of crisis resulting from panic and anxiety becomes the cause of untimely death, for an unexpected bout of panic can upset the mechanism of one's life and bring life to a sudden halt.
Sometimes, the state of fear and anxiety is a prelude to severe psychic illness caused by some radical changes in a person's psyche; for sound and healthy persons do not ordinarily become subject to such states. On the contrary, they try with all their mental capacity to maintain and reinforce their mental equilibrium.
Some people are victims of vague and unknown fears. They cannot identify what troubles them, nor are those closest to them aware of the cause of their hidden anguish and pain. Age, of course, is of direct relevance in relation to feelings of fear and anxiety. These feelings are characteristic of childhood years, and all people, more or less, experience states of agitation and panic during their childhood years and well until the age of mental maturity.
In any case, this affliction destroys the urge for progress and immobilises all elements of success, diminishing the level of one's mental and physical activity. Its harmful effects become visible throughout one's activities and conduct.
Aside from the fact that such fears are of no benefit, and regardless of whether the expected dangers materialise or not, the fear that one feels at the present has no result except causing waste of time and diminished physical and mental vigour. Moreover, when the feared misfortune or calamity actually does occur, one will lack the power and courage to face it.
Fear and anxiety reveal themselves in various forms. Dr. Cowlest says:
Do you lack self-confidence and consider yourself incapable of facing the conditions of life? Do you suffer from a painful feeling of shyness and timidity? Do you find it difficult in social gatherings to face someone whom you have not met earlier and does that make you uncomfortable and anxious? Don't you feel really comfortable and at ease when you are atone? I your answer to the above questions is Yes, then you are afraid. Do you feel that people consider you to be senseless? That they do not understand you? That everyone is against you? Do you think and brood a time concerning your past and what you have lost? Do you feel that you have committed a sin in the past in relation to a certain person, regardless of whether such a sin has been committed or not?
Do you continually think about yourself and are continually in a state of anxiety about what will happen to you? Are you quickly affected by people's idle talk and frivolous remarks? When you get angry and inflamed, are you afraid that you would not be able to control yourself?
Do you, in general, loath to associate with people and have strong prejudices? Do you find it difficult to develop terms of attachment and intimacy with others? All of these are different forms of fear. 1
When one resolves to act in accordance with certain principles that one adopts in life and in a decisive manner, one will bear problems and misfortunes with courage and fortitude. Such a person puts up a manly resistance against hardships, and despair and despondency cannot subdue his spirit.
Many talented people who could attain a distinguished position in life by relying on this inner power and who possess adequate strength to expel fear from their minds, cannot make an initial movement on his path due to the lack of sufficient courage. As a result, they fail to climb the ladder of progress and their capacities languish for ever.
That which results in one losing control over one's life and affairs is indecisiveness. Wasting time worrying about events that may never happen will lead to irreparable harm. Shakespeare says: "Those who are afraid of the sting of the honey-bee do not deserve to possess the hive's honey."
It is possible for everyone at all times to get rid of unfounded fears and baseless anxieties and to replace them with optimistic ideas. No matter how strong one's will power may be, and however sublime one's goals should be, one cannot get rid of some habits instantaneously. Such habits must be eradicated gradually. It is not sufficient that one should be merely aware of being a victim to groundless notions; rather, one must make a consistent mental effort to guard one's personality against illusory fears. One should stop ruminating over distressing thoughts by opening one's mind to positive thoughts which are in complete contrast to them. In this- way one can prepare the ground for considerable progress.
A lamp is not lighted until it is turned on, and once lighted it will not go off until it is switched off. Similarly, when the darkness of anxiety overwhelms one's spirit, one should turn on the lamp of His intellect and take a deep took at the realities of life and its bright side so that one's mind is relieved from the stress of baseless fears.
Someone who is unusually prone to illusory fears even in trivial matters should first examine these thoughts which upset his mental composure so as to discover that fear and anxiety are incapable of producing any positive results and that every difficulty requires thoughtful attention, then he should plant the seedlings of hope and confidence in the garden of his soul instead of cultivating the weeds of baseless anxieties and devote himself to their cultivation and care like an skilled gardener.
Without doubt, fear and anxiety are products of mans imagination and have no place outside the mind. When one realises this fact, one would be able to dominate fear to a considerable extent and obtain peace of mind is which is the most valuable of things.
1. Cowlest, Edward Spencer, Conquest of Fear and Fatigue, p. 510
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
Share this article