How Fear Reminds Us to Be Present

One take on how fear reminds us to seek change, take risks, and live a life we’re proud to call our own

Recently I saw a video that captured a young man who had quit his job and had spent the last year of his life living on his bicycle. Though he traversed several countries this way, the majority of his living was traveling by bike, seeing the world around him, and setting up a very simple camp each night.

Despite his choice of life direction being uncommon compared to most, there is no shortage of videos like this one in recent circulation. Videos, photo blogs, articles, interviews (you can even travel the world by boat with a very cooperative feline) featuring those who are choosing to live life on their own terms, in a version of normal that is quite alternative to the expected.

In this particular example of cinematic wanderlust, the featured man explained that the reason for his excursion was that he was trying to train his brain to stay awake. He used the example of how elderly people often look back on their lives gone by and observe how quickly the time has passed. The speediness of the clock, this video assumes, lies in the danger of routine. In avoiding this common pratfall, the subject encourages his mind to stay stimulated in his new surroundings. If there’s never a dull moment, you can never deaden to your life as it’s happening: constant change means you’re always 100 percent engaged.

More than inspiring me, this video scared me.

My best guess is that this video was put together to inspire others to examine their own lives and reject monotony in favor of a magical, fulfilling life full of ever-changing adventure and human connection. But I had a slightly different reaction: more than inspiring me, this video scared me. I mean, really, truly made me feel afraid that not only was my life far too boring to be memorable but also that my comfort in my daily rituals and patterns was a blindfold I willingly wore.

And while feeling afraid is not often an emotion we look at with any sense of fondness, in reflection I am grateful to have responded in this exact way. Not because I believe my immediate reaction was justified or I feel confirmed that my existence is on the whole dissatisfying or uninteresting. Mostly because it has been a little while, though only a little while, since I have asked myself if I’m living a life that I’m as much proud of as I am a part of: is it all enough?

Truth be told, I don’t want to spend my time biking through South America. I like my bike. I love the outdoors. I’ve never slept on the ground in the wilderness, but I’d try it. And even though that sense of seizing-the-moment is meant to be inspiring, I think we have to also be clear about which moments are ours to chase after and which ones are just meant to help us discover what we really want. If you don’t want the textbook adventure or getting off the grid isn’t exactly your forté, I think that’s okay. And I don’t think the ways we choose to shake up our own systems always have to be huge. We don’t necessarily have to sell everything we own every time we want to feel alive. We can, but we don’t have to. The important thing is to know the difference, and to know what parts of your life could use some honest examination. Some of it? All of it? That’s really only something you can answer for yourself.

I am grateful to feel fear, even when it’s unpleasant.

No matter how this video or any of the others have made me feel (some tears, some determination to change, some indignance, some general warmth akin to knowing happiness), the thing I most mean to capture here is that I am grateful to feel fear, even when it’s unpleasant. It’s not the sole emotion I want to act upon, but it does remind me to pay attention, to not let too much time go by before we actually do something about our lives and to create our stories, to stand by what’s shaped us and rewrite what no longer makes sense. It reminds me that life is constantly a lesson in adaptation, in forging ahead, and often in a painful form of rebirth. And that time isn’t exactly waiting for us to get on board. It’s speeding ahead either way, whether we can sense the movement beneath our feet or not.

If you can only take a moment now and then to take a step back and examine where you stand, you’ll see the spots that need some work. You’ll see the ones that are doing okay. And if what you see is a big, collective mess, than maybe completely starting over is something to consider. Maybe an unconventional existence, at least for a time, will help you get back to yourself. You can never know exactly how it’s all going to work out, and I think that if I’ve learned anything so far it’s been just that. Life, and everything in it, is just a big, fat maybe. Even when you work really hard towards something, it’s still only here until it’s not. And even though that should also seem scary, that’s where I find my comfort. It means we don’t necessarily have to constantly create our own version of what it means to be awake: because if you’re here, you already are.

Photo by Megan Kathleen

holstee_logo_2Originally posted on Holstee’s Mindful Matter, the best place to read stories and tips on how to live life fully.

Helen Williams is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She’s strives, every day, to be less sorry.