“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” - Frank Herbert, Dune
I first read Dune when I was 13 years old. It was about a year after my parent’s divorce and I was very afraid. My whole life had been turned upside down. My parent’s marriage, the bedrock of my stability and sense that all was right with the world, had been proven a sham.
It seemed as if all I had assumed to be true about the world was false. My parents didn’t love each other. God was either dead or indifferent and I was completely adrift, untethered to any sense of what was True.
I was afraid of my father. The violence of my parent’s divorce had left my brother and I damaged beyond anyone’s true reckoning. The worst night, the one in which I finally asked my mother if she and Dad were getting a divorce, involved my dad grabbing my mother forcefully and my mother striking him back. I was stuck in the bed paralyzed with fear. My brother, nine years old, had ventured down the hall and saw what happened, but repressed that memory for years.
Over the ensuing years fear became a constant companion. At times I feared for my safety. I feared failure. I feared rejection. I feared violence, both emotional and physical. As an adult, having finally faced many of these issues I found myself even fearing success.
But here’s the thing about fear. IT”S NOT REAL. Fear is always about what might happen. I am afraid the tiger before me might eat me. Once the tiger is actually eating me I am no longer feeling fear about being eaten. I’m feeling pain, yes, but not fear over being eaten. I may be feeling fear I might die, but that is another fear, again over something that might happen.
This may look like splitting hairs but it is vitally important.
The feeling of fear is, of course, real. I won’t deny that. But the thing you fear is not, at least not yet. Once it does become real you no longer fear it, mainly because now you’re dealing with it.
Fear can be a good motivator, but only in the short term. Because it’s not real it has no lasting power. The doctor tells me, if I don’t lose 25 pounds and increase the healthy function of my heart I’m going to have serious health issues and an early death. I am afraid of these things and so I’m motivated to start an exercise regime and improve my diet - for about two weeks. After that other issues grab my attention and the initial shock and fear of an early death begin to wane.
My Professor and I were discussing this the other day after class. I initially became interested in martial arts because, like most people who start I was afraid. I was afraid of my father. Let me be clear. He never hurt me, but he showed a capacity for violence and a loss of control that scared me. He seemed so big and dark and serious. He was a visceral example that violence existed in the world. That it was unreasonable, chaotic, and uncontrolled. It could come from anywhere.
As a kid I watched kung fu movies. I was enamored of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and David Carradine. The power that the martial arts seemed to give these men to protect themselves and others was very attractive to me. Joining a school as a kid was just outside my reach, but as an adult I began a study that has been life long.
Fear is incapable of sustaining a study that has spanned nearly 30 years. Fear eventually gasses out. One can be simply too tired to be afraid anymore. But love, the opposite of fear, is a completely different animal.
Love is self perpetuating. I continue to train martial arts because I love it. I love everything about it. I love the discipline, the movement, the challenge, the camaraderie. I love that it is difficult. I love that it makes me better. Better physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
There is a fundamental difference between fear and love. Fear is directed inward. I fear for me. Love is directed outward. I love you.
Sure, I can fear for you. I am afraid you will hurt yourself. But am I afraid over your potential pain or my own? Aren’t I really afraid of how your pain will make me feel?
I can also love myself. But true love of self, is that not love of others? If I make myself the best I can be who benefits? If I love myself to the exclusion of all others is that love? I think if you unpack it far enough, eventually, you will find that at the base of anything exclusive is fear.
Turning your attention inward for a time can be helpful. Understanding yourself so that you can understand others is beneficial, but there comes a point when it becomes navel gazing and ultimately destructive.
I work on myself because it feels good to be in shape. I enjoy exercise, being physical, and having a sense of power and capacity in the world. You know what else makes me feel good? Cookies. And beer.
If my motivation to train was based solely on me my motivation would waver and the days I just didn’t feel like it, believe me, they happen, would be reason enough not to. But the real reason I train is for my family. I am better when I train. I’m a better father and husband. I’m better at my job. I’m a better friend. This is what gets me to train even on those days when I’m a little more tired or a little less motivated.
The cookies and beer? I still have those. I find they taste better when they’re earned.