Walking through the empty streets of Brasilia—wearing my face mask—I struggled to digest the feelings arising in my guts.
The grey sadness of Brasilia’s deserted pavements—missing the hurried steps of its frenetic citizens—contrasted with the memories popping up in my mind. Memories of a dinner table in Norway, with fifteen men full of laughter and singing; a chaotically happy train journey from the beautiful and calming snowy mountains of Lapland to the elegant Stockholm; a few beers with a great friend in an effervescent pub in London; and a Brazilian carnival celebration with so many vibrant people dancing, talking and kissing.
These things happened such a short time ago. Yet I can’t help but feel a horrible sense of nostalgia, as though such memories belong to a world that may be gone forever.
What should we make of this new world in which hosting a party is a despicable act and keeping two meters from everybody is an act of love and social consciousness?
This pandemic ravages no only our lives but also our culture. We have no idea what society will become after the pandemic. This mystery lies in the future. But the death of our culture is happening now, and it’s a painful mourning process.
We have immense challenges ahead. We must reinvent our relationships, culture, and economy. The post-pandemic world depends on what we start creating now, and we must act before fear penetrates and plants its roots too deep in our bones.
Can we conquer our fear?
Since the pandemic started, you probably heard, more than once, phrases like “people are afraid”, “the world is full of fear”, “fear spreads more than a virus,” and “don’t surrender to fear”.
Although these messages sound clear, there’s not much we can do to avoid or conquer our fear.
Fear is still a hermetic territory, rarely accessed by our consciousness. But we must bring some light there so that we can navigate this planetary moment with clarity and awareness.
Fear is not necessarily an enemy. As a shaman, I’ve studied it for decades. I’ve lost count of the times people came to me wanting a recipe to get rid of their fears. Fortunately, I don’t have such a formula; otherwise, they wouldn’t have made it so far to be afraid of the coronavirus now.
Fear is a fundamental element for our self-preservation. Without it, we are defenseless creatures with little chance in the face of the many threats that surround us. I know it’s uncomfortable, but fear is an unavoidable and necessary emotion.
When we take a step back and observe the role of fear in the evolution of humanity, we can see that it’s always been there. It’s both positive and negative. Fear is a pure creative force, like pigment in the hands of an artist called life. Life uses this pigment as part of the tapestry of creation and destruction; this living artwork made of order and harmony mixed with chaos and disaster.
Fearing dangerous beasts, the first men came together to protect each other. This same fear was the anguishing motivation for our early ancestors to push the boundaries of their brains and unlock their ingenuity to create the first rudimentary weapons. For fear of starvation, humankind left nomadic life and settled in agricultural villages. Fear pushed the development of science, to control the threatening forces of nature, from diseases to weather. Fearing the chaos and violence inherent to our kind, we’ve created laws, justice, and mechanisms of social control. Without fear in our guts, we would never have developed into the civilization we have become.
Fear plays a role not only in the development of our civilization. It’s also essential in its maintenance. We have wild instincts inside of us; instincts much stronger than our love and sense of justice. In the heat of a moment of anger, for example, what prevents us from exploding and seeking destruction is not the rational understanding that violence is wrong, and instead we should be positive and constructive—hearing something like this when angry would just irritate us more! What stops us is fearing the consequences of our violence. On a daily base, we do things we don’t want, accept things we don’t like, and repress many of our impulses and wishes because of fear. The social codes and rules so essential for the maintenance of order and understanding in our world would never work without deep fear in our guts, motivating us to respect them.
But the same fear that can bring us together and make us creative can also paralyze us and can turn us into the most despicable and horrendous creatures. We carry out atrocities because of fear.
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Fear is fundamental to our nature
Fear itself is not good nor evil. It’s just part of who we are—a core emotional component of our psychic structure. Our real struggle with fear began when we started fearing our fear. This is such a weird phenomenon, although it happens so often in our world.
Our patriarchal education has prepared all of us, men and women, to be warriors, to suppress our fears, and to show no weakness. To conquer a place in this competitive world, we must hide our many doubts and pretend we’re strong, wise, and full of confidence.
Showing our vulnerability is not safe, so we avoid talking about it even to ourselves. We’re scared of our fears!
Although, here we are, locked at home, sacrificing our freedom and our economies because we’re afraid of the consequences of human contact in the time of coronavirus.
Collectively humbling ourselves in front of our fear is a cathartic experience! Yes, we’re vulnerable, and we’re scared. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The same fear, which is preventing us from a vitriolic holocaust will only become destructive if it starts paralyzing us.
Two kinds of fear
There are two kinds of fear. One is instinctive. We can see that in every wild animal on the planet. Fear comes out as a response to a threat, overflooding the body with adrenaline and bringing us to an alert state, so we can better defend ourselves. This survival instinct is powerful, beautiful, and full of life.
But the second kind of fear is psychological, and it’s far more damaging. Psychological fear begins with our imagination. We create scenarios in our minds, trying to calculate the threats around us and delineate actions to avoid danger. In the name of survival, this kind of fear ends up undermining our life, turning us into paranoid fear-based creatures, always trying to control the uncontrollable.
The truth is that we are, and we have always been in danger since before the coronavirus started ravaging around. Life has never been safe, and we must learn to live with it.
If we’re going to try to avoid danger, we’ll have to avoid life.
When we are disconnected from our instinct, we are much more vulnerable to psychological fear. And as much as we surrender to psychological fear and try to control everything from our mind, the more we lose the grasp with our survival instinct. It’s a vicious cycle that weakens and undermines our strength, joy, and love.
This is a moment for caution (but not panic)
This a moment for caution and not for panic. We can go nuts, pathologically anxious in front of our current limitations, or we can use this same anxiety to push us forward, looking for creative solutions for the collateral damages of the quarantine.
We can lock ourselves down in a shell of selfishness, or we can also fear for those who are in situations more precarious than ours, joining forces to help them.
We can preserve ourselves at every cost, or we can share our words, art, gifts, and resources with others, participating in a collective effort for preserving our kind.
It’s our choice in the face of our fear that will determine who we are.
May we keep our hearts strong, cultivating love and compassion, so we can stick together and face this challenge not as individuals, but as a collective. It’s nobler, more joyful, and far more effective.
We’re already doing well in terms of self-preservation. There’s not much more we can do on this front for now. Let’s continue doing our best but with enough humility to accept the fact that we cannot control everything. This way we can be aware of other things which also need our attention. Life is not only about survival. Life is also about love, solidarity, and joy.
Don’t only fear for your life. Fear also for your soul. A life without soul is far worse than death.
What do you have to share with the world? What’s your gift? What do you consider essential to cultivate inside of you? What can you do today for feeling alive, instead of just surviving?
Take care of your love, passion, spontaneity, and joy, for these are powerful medicines in times like this.