You must be the change you want to see in the world.
—Mahatma Gandhi

There are self-help books and articles that talk about courage and how to live courageously, but very few of them really talk about the significant role fear plays in our daily lives. There is more fear in us than courage. If we want to live courageously, then we must first clear fear and make room for new energies to come in. We are like a house full of clutter. If we want to bring in more valuable items to beautify our house, we must first clear the clutter. Before we can clear it, we need to first identify clutter. In this article, I will make an effort to present my understanding of what fear is and how it manifests in our lives.


Fear is an energy charge or an emotional response within us, that slows down or stops entirely an action which we wish to perform, and makes us either flee or fight. This energy charge may occur in response to actual or perceived (in our minds only) threats. This emotional response is so strong in some people that it is completely debilitating and may manifest as visible panic, anxiety attacks, paranoia, and so on.

All negative emotions, including fears described herein, are rooted in the fear of annihilation of the self or fear of death. In my opinion, fear mainly has two forms,

  • Physical Fear
  • Psychological Fear

Let’s take these one by one, and discuss them.

Physical fear

Fear needed for the survival of the human organism and prevent bodily harm. For example, fear of falling of a cliff, fear of being attacked by a wild animal, fear of being run over by a car, fear of being burnt by fire, etc., fall under this category. This fear is very instinctual and based on fact, and not rooted in constant random thinking. Physical fear has only a few causes and it is very much needed for the survival of the human organism.

Psychological fear

This fear is the strongest in most of us. This is caused by a lack of knowledge or uncertainty about situations and people. This fear has its root in cultural conditioning by families at the individual level and societies in a larger context. Some religions and societies are built on fear, for example, the fear of a wrathful God.

I said earlier that all fear is rooted in fear of death. What does that mean? Death ends us, as we know ourselves. This death could be the death of our identity as dictated by our ego or Narrow Sense of Self. This ego death may or may not lead to physical death in case of truly enlightened beings. Direct Physical death could also end this ego self. This we know at a subconscious level—even if we knew this at a conscious level, we may not be able to do anything about it. So, we want to protect our identity, as created by ourselves, our society and culture, at any cost. As an extension of the individual, there is the collective identity of nations themselves and these nations are willing to do anything to protect that identity. This need to protect our identity gives rise to fear. This fear is present in most people in about the same level, so they are called “normal people.” This fear, sometimes, manifests so intensely in some people, that they may harm themselves and/or others trying to protect their ego created identities. These people may be labeled as paranoid or insane by other so called “normal” people. Our ego mind likes “certainty,” but all it encounters is uncertainty. It tries to predict the future based on the past occurrences. If the past events had very negative real or perceived results, then it predicts the future events to have the same outcomes. Because of this, it goes into a panic and makes us feel that we should not take any action because the results are going to be negative anyway. This leads to procrastination leading to stress which further results in emotional, mental and physical ailments.

Its manifestations

Fear may take many forms. Sometimes we may not even know that we are fearful and we may give them names like, “being cautious.” The following are some forms that fear can take,

  • Fear of failure—This is very obvious and most of us go through this when we start a new project or venture. We become afraid and keep asking, “What happens to me, if I fail in this?” This leads to procrastination and great worry.
  • Fear of success—Oh yes! That’s right, thoughts of success may lead to fear as well! This fear manifests when we are uncertain of how our lives will change, if we are successful in a particular endeavor.
  • Fear of loss—This arises when we randomly imagine, “what if” scenarios of loosing something precious or a loved one. Or, our loosing our way in life.
  • Fear of being judged—This arises when we are uncertain of how we will be judged by others. This is one of the most common fears we encounter in personal and professional relationships.
  • Fear of rejection—This occurs when we are uncertain whether our ideas or as a person we will be accepted or not.
  • Fear of being hurt—This fear occurs when we are uncertain if emotional or bodily harm may have to be endured.
  • Fear of change or new circumstances—When changes in our life circumstances are to take place, we feel very uncertain what that change is going to usher in. If you are about to get married, as exciting as it is, you may still get cold feet because you are uncertain how your married life is going to be. If you are getting a new job, you may worry if the work environment will be as good as it was portrayed in the interview process.
  • Fear of God and Religion—Fear that if you do not believe in God or follow religious scriptures, you will be condemned and go to hell. This manifests, as a result of the inner conflict that arises when you have doubts about what scriptures say, but you are forced to follow them.

By looking at the above list we can conclude that all forms of psychological fear are rooted in time, which is a creation of the mind, as,

  • Fear of the future—Constantly thinking and imagining the worst about the future, creates this fear. Even before we attempt an endeavor we worry if we will fail, loose things or loved ones, be judged, rejected, or hurt, or somehow changed from the person we are, or our life will take an entirely new direction, and it is debilitating to the say the least. This causes physical, mental and emotional pain; takes us away from the precious present moments; prevents us from focusing on the work at hand. Unless this pattern is broken, this may spiral down finally to the negative results we were dreading.
  • Fear of the past—This may actually manifest as guilt or bitterness about what has happened in the past. These past experiences, if not let go, will condition us to respond through a filter created by them. Being conditioned like this we will always bring that past into our present thinking and working, and planning about the future, and worry, “I got this negative result earlier and I may still get a similar negative result, because I have to perform a similar thing again.” Even though the circumstances may not exactly be the same, mind likes to think they are the same, since it loves certainty. If it thinks that the circumstances are, even slightly different, then it goes into the realm of the unknown and it does not know what to expect without having something to model after.

These fears may manifest at many levels of the society as,

  • Individual—This pertains to the each and every one of our inner deep rooted fears.
  • Interpersonal—This is functional in personal relationships, family, friends, and so on. Fear of constantly working to measure up to standards set by others in the family and relationships. This fear may be extended to national or global levels, as the they are nothing but the individual identities in a larger collective context, as discussed earlier.
  • Cultural and Religious—If you do not follow the injunctions set by your culture and religion, you may be condemned by your peers or your priest and there is a fear of ending up in hell. If one breaks custom and moves away from “group think” to explore the cultural and religious boundaries, independently, one may be condemned to be an atheist, rebel or to have been possessed by demons. At the level of the religious belief itself, there is fear that somehow one religion will destroy the other religion(s).
  • Political—Now a days, we can see the all pervasive fear at this level. Fear that someone may attack us, fear of terrorism, fear of loosing jobs to other nations, fear of uncertainty about the future of countries as a whole, fear of culture of whole nations deteriorating, and so on. If you read international news magazines, you will gather that every nation on earth is going through this.


As individuals, we can eliminate all these psychological fears by functioning in the Now or being Present. It is not easy to enter the state of presence. One needs to, constantly, practice techniques that will move us into that state. As each individual enters this state, whole societies and nations could enter that state. Then, we can easily usher in peace without waging war against anyone or any concept. As Mahatma Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world.

6 Responses

  1. This article on fear gave me greater clarity on the different motivations for our fears. I really like your definition. “Fear is an energy charge or an emotional response within us, that slows down or stops entirely an action which we wish to perform, and makes us either flee or fight.”

    It’s interesting to become more aware of the emotional responses we experience that are really our fears.

  2. Tom,

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, you are correct that all emotional responses we experience are all really coming from fears, and all those fears originating from one primal fear—the fear of death.

    – Desika

  3. Alexei says:

    Thank you Tom.

    I enjoy your written thoughts, at one time I felt that our biggest fear was fear of rejection but now I understand that death dose not really exist I see that the two are related.

    Keep up the good work

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