Recently I was staying at my aunt’s house in the UK. It’s a big old country farmhouse, probably 500 years old in parts, and rooms and staircases wind and weave in such a way that if you were sitting in the kitchen at night, you could never really be sure what might be going on at the other end of the house.
One night I was indeed sitting in the kitchen alone, having finished the washing up. It was Friday 13th. I looked at the digital clock on the radio, and it was 23.13. My mind jumped to the Friday 13th horror film series and was suddenly flooded by wild dark fantasies of strangers breaking into a distant corner of the dark house.
My wife and son were asleep two floors above me, and the silence, alive with terrifying horror-story possibilities, suddenly sent me into a cold sweat. I was properly scared. Scared of the dark, scared of who might be ‘out there’, scared all the scary things I’d ever read or watched or imagined. Just like the 7 year old me that used to lie in bed at night terrified of vampires.
But suddenly I was able to stand back and look at what was going on. I saw how my fear was simply based on all these wild fantasies my mind was concocting of what could happen in labyrinth, dark, isolated farmhouses at night. But they were just that – fantasies!
Something became very clear – Fear is Fantasy – ‘might happens’ and ‘what ifs’. Here I was in one of my favourite houses in the world, cosy, warm, a place I considered a second home, full of warmth and love, and my mind had invented a whole load of fantastical reasons to be frightened!
And it occurred to me that in the end all my fears were fantasies.
I’ve been scared of all sorts of things in my life, from flying to farming, dentists and doctors, and a whole host of everyday things that most people take for granted but at times I’ve managed to turn into a positive danger to my personal wellbeing.
And I see how all my fears in the end are just the fantasies of a mind inventing ‘maybes’ and ‘could bes’ and ‘just in cases’.
“La mente siempre miente” – ‘The mind always lies’, a teacher once told me on a yoga retreat in Andalusia.
“FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real” – said Mary Burmeister, a Japanese American woman who brought branches of Japanese wisdom to the West.
Ever since the night in my aunt’s farmhouse, whenever I find myself frightened of something, and especially if I suspect it’s someting that other people wouldn’t genereally be afraid of, I take a mental step back and say calmly to myself – “Fear is Fantasy”.
And the ideas my mind has been turning over and over (some of them for years) to make me feel insecure or afraid, ideas that I have no idea are actually real or not, dissolve away into a more peaceful reality again.
But, there are times when fear can seem very real, when ‘Fear is Fantasy’ seems inappropriate, as the evidence for this fear seems too reasonable and strong to ignore. Then I find I just have to embrace it and say, “Yes, I’m afraid, and it’s OK”. But the miraculous thing is, that by embracing it, it slowly dissolves away too.