This weekend I took part in the Shambhala Level II training in NYC. Meditation has been a part of my life since 2004 when I started studying at Naropa University and my personal practice has been an interesting on again off again process with varying levels of intensity and breaks. In one of the discussion groups we were talking about fear and fearlessness and the misconception of the meaning behind the words. One person brought up Nik Wallenda crossing a canyon near the Grand Canyon. It was one step at a time, keeping faith that he could do it (and had done everything he could to prepare), and letting fear exist to keep him safe while driving him forward without letting it overwhelm him.
Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It's being willing to do something and to be informed by the fear that arises without letting it become panic or immobility. Fear keeps us safe and alerts us to things we need to pay attention to. Without it we would have very short lives and our ability to make it over the mountain or across the abyss would be much less meaningful.
We need fear, but how you work with it or how much power you give it is up to you. Think about a scary obstacle you overcame. How did it feel once you made it through? Many people describe fear as a wave that, when doing something that scares us, at times seems overwhelming and will then fade back for a minute. It comes and goes until we either back out or push forward. What did you feel after pushing forward? Relief, exhaustion, exhilaration? What about the times you backed out? Neither is wrong or bad. It's okay to back out and sometimes the fear is very insistent for valid reasons that we should all listen to. It's tha ability to engage with the fear that allows each person to make an informed, courageous decision.
So, go out and face your fears. Let them help teach you and you will be surprised at how full your life can be.
Here is a excerpt from a talk Chögyum Trungpa Runpoche gave on fear. Read it!