Fear: it is a powerful emotion, capable of submerging us so completely that we can no longer even recognize how it influences our thoughts and actions. There are primal fears such as concern over one's physical safety, which is an essential trait for our survival. However, there are also those fears caused by past trauma, which, left unchecked, have toxic effects.
For example, fear will kill off our ability to be open and authentic in our relationships. Rather than connecting deeply with our communities and ourselves, we instead choose to escape: excessive drinking, substance abuse, video gaming, overwork. These mechanisms serve to shield us from a world we are afraid to explore, be it the world outside, or the one within.
While walling ourselves away does keep us emotionally safe, it does so at a significant cost. Like a recluse who refuses to go outside for fear of encountering some possible physical threat, the emotional shut-in never truly reveals themself to others.
This behavior, in its most unhealthy form, results in isolation, disconnection, addiction and suffering. Aside from these emotional costs, loneliness can take a deep physical toll as well: recent research has shown that disconnected people have more risk for disease and death. It is clear that we must learn to manage this type of fear in order to thrive and be truly alive.
I have observed how my own personal fears have created negative patterns in my life. In trying to work with it, I have tried mitigating its insistent influence through a variety of ways with varying degrees of success: psychedelics, meditation, therapy, exercise. But martial arts, of all my experiences, has been the most effective in terms of its overall effect and durability as a discipline.
On its face, the pursuit of martial arts is the development of a physical skill for self-defense, which is certainly an important facet that addresses any physical insecurities that people may have. But it also has a significant impact on emotional health and resiliency as well. It is a path that can gradually clear certain shadows from the mind.
At its core, a true martial art will teach us how to be strong, relaxed, and present in the face of extremely adverse circumstances. Success in this endeavor requires the fusion of mental, spiritual and physical into a singular purpose and focus through dedicated training. And with each step in this type of training, you are training yourself how to be in an operational state of total presence in the face of incredibly stressful situations.
Fear cannot survive in the mind that is present.
It also is a great discipline through which to blunt one's ego. Ideally, during your training, you will be bested. Often. This process of repeatedly losing, standing back up, and trying again, over and over, shows us that we have a resiliency and toughness that has some threshold that we have yet to find. You learn to be humble, but in a way that is very, very strong.
After enough of this training, it will carry over into all facets of your life, instilling an internal strength that allows you to be more relaxed and free when confronting challenges elsewhere.
Instead of fear, you will find a strength and an open heart.