Like many of us, I have lived in fear for years and I didn’t even know it.
In my early 20s, I was striving for safety and security in all aspects of my life, from my relationships with others, to my career and health.
I graduated from a good university, completed an internship, and got my first office job. I ate my vegetables and exercised twice a week. I cut ties with friends who hurt me and entered a “serious” relationship with a committed partner.
I used to make decisions aimed at creating circumstances that were as stable and as permanent as physically possible. I worked hard to create a grounded and secure life, and when I did that, I feared losing it all.
What I didn’t know was that I was living in the illusion of safety.
The Lesson of Impermanence
My hard work and focus paid off: I had a well-paying job, a beautiful home near the sea, and a stable relationship. It all fell apart when my partner of almost five years broke off our engagement and asked me to move out. Within a blink of an eye, the ground underneath my feet has been pulled away. Even then, I still hadn’t understood the message behind the repeating pattern.
I proceeded to chase more safety and security, only to continuously receive the same message from the universe: the lesson on loss, endings, and impermanence of all things.
The truth is that nothing lasts forever and everything comes to an end. It’s the truth that many of us deny because it reminds us of our own unavoidable end. Yet, as Irvin Yalom once wrote:
“The physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death may save us.”
In death, there is hope. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that message until much later in life.
Living in the Illusion
It wasn’t until I heard of my friend’s death from incurable cancer that the illusion of safety and permanence I created began crumbling around me. Soon after that, my stable and well-paying corporate career ended, leaving me financially insecure.
Finally, the message from the universe hit me in the head like a hammer: the idea of permanence is an illusion. There is no such thing as a suffering-proof, safe, and secure life. At any moment, we could lose everything that we have and love—our jobs, people close to our hearts, even our own health.
We can, of course, minimize the chances of this happening; however, the risk never dissolves completely. We all know it, yet this knowledge is uncomfortable and painful, so we push it away into dark corners of our minds. We never dare to look into those corners. Each time our mind wanders in this dangerous direction, we reach for a glass of wine, a phone, or a remote control. We’re prepared to do anything we can to never face the inevitable truth: that nothing is permanent and that everything will come to an end. Instead, we live in hope of achieving safety and in fear of losing it.
We build a sophisticated network of beliefs, habits, and items that together form a cozy, warm, holding bubble. A bubble that can burst at any moment. There are plenty of examples around us of people whose lives were suddenly turned upside down: from Steve Jobs losing his health and life despite a big fortune and fame, to Sheryl Sandberg who lost her husband in a tragic car accident.
Our life can fall apart at any moment. Many of us have seen our lives slowly crumbling away since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others are sitting in their homes fearful of what will happen next.
We also fear leaving unfulfilling jobs and unhappy relationships. We’re scared of trying new things and projects because we might fail; we’re afraid of loneliness and terrified of being judged. All these fears are manifestations of our ultimate fear of death.
Every time we act in response to those fears, we move further away from who we were born to be in this life.
One day, something may happen in your life that will awaken you to the reality of death. Once the reality of death sinks in, we finally wake up to life. Until then, we continue living in fear.
Perhaps, reading this article has sparked the awakening process for you. More likely, you’re reading this because your process has already begun. You’re waking up and your bubble of safety is about to burst. You’re dying and there’s nothing else you can do, but live.
Stepping Out of Fear
Today, I know that even when we wake up to the reality of death, when we look at it bravely and see its colours and shapes, when we touch it and taste it and smell it, even then, the fear does not dissolve.
Yet, the awareness of that fear is what takes its power away. Through that awareness, we’re finally able to step out of living in fear. Fear is no longer in charge of our lives—we don’t let it decide anymore. Instead, our life is filled with love. When we gently invite our fear to take a back seat, we create a space for love to take over the steering wheel. When we ask ourselves “what’s the most loving thing to do?” and follow our hearts no matter how fearful the answer may sound, this is when we finally step out of fear.
Here, my story comes to an end. I finally stopped running away from fear. I recently started my own business, a step I never thought I’d dare to take. I’m in a relationship with a person who loves extreme sports. I’m about to face my vulnerability by publishing this article containing my personal story.
I embrace the uncertainty of it all and follow my heart. I choose love over fear.