I’ve been recently thinking a lot about the psychology of fear and fearlessness. What is it that makes a person fearless? Fearing God is a good answer, but I feel that it is not explained well (by people) from a psychological perspective.
Conquering fear does not seem to come from the lack of fear, but from building up courage in the face of it. In my observation, many of the people who live lives full of anxiety and fear are usually individuals who are lost in the world. They have no grand purpose in their lives, and if they do, they have not set the proper mini or step-by-step goals in life to reach them. It is like being smack in the middle of a city. If you know what you are supposed to do, and you have the directions, then your time in the city will be a breeze. But if you have no purpose in that city, and no directions, then it is likely that anxiety will set in.
When you set a noble purpose in your life and define it properly and realistically – not all aims are realistic, so you must set your aims high enough to bring about a transformation in you but low enough so that they may be realistic – along with the small steps required to reach them, then what you do is cultivate courage in your soul because now it is oriented properly (so make a note of this: anxiety is often the result of disorientation in life). Through the cultivation of courage, your entire being – both physical and spiritual – sees a transformation. Events and accidents in your life that would usually paralyze you with fear and stop you on your tracks become opportunities and challenges that help you realize your inner weaknesses and deficiencies and ultimately open the door for you to overcome them and become stronger.
Becoming a saint (walī) is an example of a noble purpose in life. For regular human beings, saints are not born, but forged in the tribulations of the world. Becoming saintly is an ability that is cultivated by reorienting life’s purpose to acquiring divine grace through the culmination of small but measured steps in obeying God. It is in this way that courage is built up and eventual fearlessness (of anything other than God) is achieved.
Begin with sorting out your life by organizing it. Clean out your room, house, car and organize everything by category and stick to it. Keep a balanced and healthy diet and try to exercise consistently (however little it is). By organizing and cleaning up your life, you will then be ready to sort out your time and life schedule properly in order to reach your purpose in life. Without organization and scheduling, you will achieve very little. Once organization, cleanliness and scheduling is set in your life as an automated habit and routine, you will find improvement in your relationships because much of your neuroticism will be tamed or perhaps even vanish. Yes, emotional instability in many people is the result of the lack of routine and organization.
Whatever you do, do not take the all or nothing approach. You will make mistakes, you will revert to your old habits and you will occasionally feel burned out. The key here is persistence. Think of this journey as a moving train; sometimes you will get knocked out but you should try to get back on it again. Do not measure your success by having been on the train all the time but measure it by how many times you have been able to get back on it despite falling off many times.
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California