How to Lose Fear

secret beach

I found myself on the most deserted stretch of beach I know of in the world, near the southern tip of the island of Niijima. There wasn’t another person as far as the eye could see. The still air, the warm autumn sun, the coarse glass sand that coats the skin but brushes away just as easily, the gently lapping waves, the large rock protruding from the water a few hundred meters offshore – these were my companions for the afternoon.

I reached a place where I thought I might take a rest. The beach rose up from the water and gradually steepened into a hill, and I wondered about camping there for the night. I imagined what would happen if a large earthquake and tsunami struck and thought better of it. Still, I let the placid surroundings envelope me and sat down to enjoy the sleepy calm that had descended upon me.

Before I could even situate my backpack into a suitable pillow and flick my sandals to the ground, a piercing ringing entered through my left ear. Without thinking I stood up and walked urgently away from the area and rejoined civilization for the rest of the trip.

At the time I thought it was a typical episode of heightened fear, which occurred fairly often to me in those days. I would feel sniper rifles pointed at me while smoking hand-rolled cigarettes on my Tokyo apartment balcony, and I would lie down on the ground so that the guard rail would hide me from view. Then I would scurry back inside to the isolation of my living room, uneasy but alive. When panic pierced through me on the beach, I explained it away as a reaction to my previous imaginings of natural disasters. Only much later did I understand and appreciate the significance of what had happened.

I left my Fear on that deserted stretch of beach in Niijima. I released it into the wild, and for all I know it remains there, perhaps haunting the creatures of the rock just offshore. I haven’t been back there to check, though I’ve toyed with the idea of fulfilling that camping adventure. I doubt I would find it there in any case, or anywhere else for that matter. This is because when you leave Fear behind you never go back to it. That would be like unlearning how to ride a bicycle. When you leave Fear, you have learned something – you’ve learned that Fear doesn’t exist. Just as cold doesn’t really exist, only the absence of heat, Fear doesn’t exist, only the absence of Love, the force that expands knowledge and consciousness in the Universe.

Not to dwell only on the theoretical, the loss of capital F Fear has many practical implications in daily life. The most notable is a sharp reduction in the impact of small f fears. I no longer have fearful episodes like on my apartment balcony. I no longer fear talking to strangers, uncomfortable situations, speaking to crowds. More accurately I do these in spite of any fear I might feel – I’m scared, nervous, but not afraid.

Bloomberg, the data platform almost all institutional traders use, runs a quote of the day that appears when you log in. Curiously around the time of my quitting finance, a few years after the beach incident, it ran one quote a number of times: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Losing Fear allows you to do this. It has allowed me to quit my stable career to pursue learning and teaching, quit drinking for health and productivity, and most recently take steps to eliminate animal suffering from my diet for the betterment of the planet and our human condition. It has also allowed me to speak, sing, dance, and create on a level that I could not have previously imagined.

Losing Fear also helps us lose our bigger fears. I no longer fear loneliness, hunger, poverty – I no longer fear death. Notice these widespread fears share one trait – lack – lack of companions, food, money, life. When you understand that Fear doesn’t exist in an expanding Universe, you also understand that lack doesn’t exist in an infinite one.

And yet approximately 7 billion people continue to live in Fear. Most of the people I know and work with live in this state. The process of losing this binding force is likely to be different for everyone, but I will share my experience in the hope that it will give people some ideas to try. Once you have lost Fear, whether in a single event as in my case, or a more subtle process, you will know, and feel, that no fear is holding you back from anything in life. I also hope others who have lost their Fear, like Anton, cancer survivor and contributor to this blog, will share their perspectives on how this happened and how others can achieve it.

Though I don’t completely understand how it happened for me, generally I think I lost my Fear when I committed to the path of expanding my knowledge. A few factors of my Niijima visit also helped to culminate in the purging of Fear on that beach. For one I faced the fear of traveling alone – something I had never done before. I also camped out in the open air of a deserted campsite, which was pretty scary. So facing up to your small fears, realizing they are only holding you back, is one step.

Another in my experience was isolation. Niijima is hours away from Tokyo by jet boat and home to only a few thousand residents, with a population density of around 100 people per sq km – compared to 60 times that in Tokyo. I traveled there in the off season and the camp grounds where I slept were completely empty. In the square kilometer centered at where I was sitting the exact moment Fear left me, there were likely only a handful of people, if even that.

Physical activation and strain may have been part of it. I had communed with my campsite with a celebratory yoga session. I had walked all over the island, opting to go on foot instead of renting a bike as I usually did. I had felt hunger and thirst. By the time I reached the southern part of the island I had probably walked close to 10km with little food or water.

Another component I can pinpoint is immersion in Nature. In the lead up to the beach episode I had slept under the stars, woken up to crickets and creatures of the forest buzzing and chirping, walked in the woods and along the beach, felt the cool ocean, and the warm sun on my back. All of these helped me connect with something deeper that allowed me to relinquish the binding force of Fear in my life.

A final part of the journey that needs mentioning is the material I was reading at the time. The night before the event I read the section of Carlos Castaneda’s work The Teachings of Don Juan on the four obstacles to knowledge, the first of which happens to be fear. Some might say I am simply projecting my reading at the time onto the event that transpired later, and on a rational level I would agree with them. But reason only serves to explain a small part of our existence. Perhaps the reading unlocked a little bit of awareness that combined with all the other things mentioned above to create a perfect situation for Fear to leave me in a single instant. In any case, it did leave me, and I have grown stronger in knowledge as a result. Now if I can only get over that second obstacle that is currently holding me back. Read on if you are interested in finding out more.

Have you lost Fear? Confronted any of the other obstacles to knowledge? What challenges have you encountered, and how have you overcome them? Share your stories in the comments section, and productive week ahead!

4 thoughts on “How to Lose Fear

  1. Colleen

    Good read and food for thought! I am learning to embrace “groundlessness” these days, leaning into uncertainty instead of fearing it.

    1. bluebeltlife Post author

      I like the way you say “leaning into it”. Uncertainty surrounds us – it makes up close to 100% of the world. By leaning into that world of the unknown, we can eventually take steps into it, and begin to perceive and understand a small part of it.

  2. bluebeltkohai

    Enjoyed this piece, but I didn’t understand one part. It sounds like the moment that fear left you was a moment of great fear. Is that right?

    1. bluebeltlife Post author

      It appears that way, but I would say it was something more than just fear. It differed from typical modern-day fearful situations, where we hesitate, worry, or hide from what needs to be done. That day was more like a primal fear, where survival depended on my departure from that area. In retrospect I think it was what Don Juan would call a “cubic centimeter of chance” – a fleeting but life-altering opportunity, if only we have the presence of mind and body to reach out and take it. I think that ringing in my ear alerted to me that I had the opportunity to leave my great fears in life behind right then and there, and through all I had done in the lead-up to that moment – the isolation, immersion in nature, bodily strain – I was able to seize that opportunity.