Sunday, February 17, 2013

"A domain of evil it is. In you must go."

Fear and dissatisfaction are the enemy.  If you're afraid, face it.  If you're dissatisfied, change it.

It's really that simple.  I did it just now, and I do it every day.  More often these days than in the past, but that's alright.  With more exposure to the world at large we generally expect to find more things to be afraid of, and to be dissatisfied with.  It's a numbers game.  I would never have thought to be afraid of dying before my thirtieth birthday before my cancer diagnosis, for instance.  I also never worried about being hit by a subway train before I moved to NYC.  I was never concerned about paying for sub-par deli meat and bagels before finding out there's life after Boar's Head.  And I most definitely never imagined how nervous I'd be that someone would find me out while masquerading as a marketing account manager for a beer company at a VIP signing party.  But hey, these things happen.  Also, a quick thank you to my bro Velasquez for smuggling me into that party.

This may be an obvious conclusion, but it's easy to remain unafraid of that which you have no knowledge.  It's easy to remain unconcerned with questions you've never asked and doubts you've never entertained.  Sometime, though, you will ask questions and have doubts.  And it's okay to have doubts and fears, because everyone does, and it's an unavoidable aspect of the human condition.

What isn't simple is preparing for these preexisting or sometimes unforeseen fears.  The difficult part is rising to the level of self-control it takes to be able to adjust your attitude and emotional state with relative ease.  It requires a great deal of personal development and self-knowledge.  Here is my step-by-step guide for $19.95!  No, I'm kidding.  Everyone acquires personal development from different sources, and self-knowledge is as subjective as there are "selves."  And there's no handbook to any of this.  People will tell you there is, but what they're really doing is trying to sell you their own handbook.  As a general rule, I'd advise not to trust anyone who won't allow you to find your own way.  As Basho reminds us, "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought."  No one can hand you inner peace, everyone must find their own.

My way is easy.  I consciously analyze my fears.  It's bizarrely effective to understand the roots and facets of your fears or dissatisfaction.  Maybe this is also fairly obvious.  But that doesn't mean it's accomplished very often.  For the most part, these things take the form of subconscious emotions.  They hide deep in the shadows of your mind, where they can't be fought.  They put up barriers that redirect and confuse your ability to confront them.  The minute you are able bring them to light, however, you can figure out how to deal with them.

I'll tell you a story.  After my year of immunotherapy treatment ended, I was very excited about things getting back to normal.  And I'd tell myself this every minute of every day; "Man, I'm so excited that this is over, and that now I can go to grad school and write another book and get a job and date."  I told myself this constantly, repeated it in my head like a mantra.  And if I had the courage at that point to take an honest look at what I was doing, I would have realized right away that I was in severe denial.  Justification mode was fully engaged, and I was making excuses for my behavior, which did not at all reflect the mantra I wanted so much to believe.  I wasn't ready for "normalcy," I was neurotic and terrified of everything.  The moment I realized this however, I was free of it.

One of my favorite quotes of all time, regarding the subject of confronting fear, comes from Michael Crichton's memoirs, Travels.  It describes a trip to the African Savannah where he comes to find out there's a giant elephant outside of his tent in the middle of the night.  It deals very nicely with the subject of true conscious awareness of fear as a way to quell it.  I'll post it here:

"We can all work ourselves into a hysterical panic over possibilities that we won't look at.  What if I have cancer?  What if my job is at risk?  What if my kids are on drugs?  What if I'm getting bald?  What if an elephant is outside my tent?  What if I'm faced with some terrible thing I don't know how to deal with?  And that hysteria always goes away the instant we are willing to hear the answer.  Even if the answer is what we feared all along.  Yes, you have cancer.  Yes, your kids are on drugs.  Yes, there is an elephant outside your tent.  Now the question becomes, what are you going to do about it?  Subsequent emotions may not be pleasant, but the hysteria stops... the minute we look, we cease being afraid."

I try very hard to challenge myself into examining my true fears, as well as my true desires.  The minute we admit to having them, we immediately find suitable avenues to pursue or deal with them.  Most people have fears with easily-identifiable sources.  Some people hate their jobs, but are afraid to quit.  Others are no longer in love but are afraid of breaking up.  And we can sit around complaining about our dead-end relationships, soul-sucking jobs, or whatever the case may be, or we can stop being afraid that the world will end if we deal with these things and actually get what we've wanted all along.  Maybe you want a better job or a better significant other.  You have to respect yourself enough to know that your time on the Earth is valuable and irreplaceable, and it simply doesn't pay to spend it not doing what you want.

These days, I have very clear goals.  It's been a long journey for me, but I've pinpointed my fears, and my desires.  I'm going after what I want.  I hope you will, too.

"The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."  - Joseph Campbell