As it turned out, my fears of the book ruining my life were unfounded. Nobody shunned me or threw me out of the journalism club. I could still do serious writing (although I realized taking yourself seriously is sort of a bummer). Some incredible filmmakers even started making the book into a documentary. What the hell had I been so scared of?
I still use the wave meditation for myself. It reminds me that we’re all individuals with complex stories — waves who think we have lots of problems, who think we’re separate from the ocean. But we all also have the capability, at any time, to remember we’re necessarily connected to all of nature, all beings, all times and places — oceanic. Every one of us contains water that has lived on the earth since the very first days of our planet. We are literally just water and sunlight being born and dying over and over and over again, recycled into various forms, various waves.
Some people call this oceanic self God or Buddha nature or the super-ego. I have no clue what it is. But my experience of life is that we fluctuate constantly between ocean and wave. When we put down our usual story and feel connected to the big picture, the ocean, fear doesn’t bother us. But it doesn’t take long to get caught in the spiraling churn of self-obsession again, where every little fear feels paralyzing.
The book tour made me realize this more clearly than ever, and I spent the next few years trying to figure fear out. I read reams of books and interviewed many of the world’s experts on fear: neuroscientists, psychologists, extreme athletes, sports psychologists, phobics, artists, meditation masters. I also started treating myself as a lab rat, pushing myself to confront the fears that I felt were keeping me from living the life I want to. Three years later, I’m far from being fearless — and actually don’t want to be. Fear has benefits, it turns out. But the research has been so life-changing, I put the story into a book called The Fear Project. The book comes out this winter from Rodale. But fear — like love — is such a vast topic, I could never fit everything I’ve been finding into one book. I also still have so much to learn. That’s the reason for this blog.
In a way, fear is the most basic, simple, primal emotion. It evolved in the same way in all of us. It functions in our brains and hearts in much the same way. It arises in the mind and can cease in the mind — a fabrication. That said, there are a million nuances to fear that scientists are beginning to uncover, nuances that can be extremely helpful in learning how to manage fear’s crafty ways. It’s these nuances that I’ll be focusing on here.
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll post discussions about fear, stress, and courage with the likes of a world-champion mixed martial artist, a Stanford neuroscientist who studies meditation, a record-breaking ultra athlete, a famous physician who surfs the biggest waves on earth, a pathologist who became a shaman, an extreme skier with ADHD, a Buddhist monk, a Mavericks champion who battled drug addiction, and so many others — as well as post my own experiences. A few of these interviews, in their raw form, are already up on my book’s website, www.fearproject.net.
Fear won’t go away. Fear is there for a reason, a survival tool. But we can change how we react and view our most primal emotion. It can be a huge deal that becomes literally what we are. Or it can just be an occasional flicker on the ocean of mind.