“Fear can be known as the most virulent and damaging virus known to humankind.”
― Gerald G. Jampolsky,
I”m not afraid of dying. It’s the “being dead” part that I haven’t always been so keen on. Which is kind of paradoxical because in the past I wasn’t always so keen on life either.
I’m not talking about angst over my corpse lying in the ground somewhere, or perhaps my cremated ashes scattered. I’m not really worried about whether or not people will come to my funeral or remember me for any amount of time after I’ve passed.
Like every other human, I don’t know what happens definitively after we die. Do we join up in a great gathering of souls? Do we reincarnate? Do we meld back into Ultimate Consciousness? I have fewer and fewer convictions about life after death as I grow older.
In general, what we do after we die isn’t quite as important to me as the “how long” that doing takes. Does it have an endpoint, or do we just recycle indefinitely?
When I was very young, as I alluded to in my essay, The Surreptitious Subtleties of Space, I began to develop a panic disorder surrounding the idea of eternity. It all began one evening when I was standing outside in the dark, on the ranch I grew up on in South Texas, looking up into the ebony night sky with its billions of stars. What I first saw as beautiful soon morphed into a terrifying expanse that drove crushing terror into me.
For the first time in my life, I had a real sense of my small-ness; I didn’t possess an understanding of the size of the universe at that point in my life, but it was pretty obvious when looking into space that I’m less than a dot…a nothing when compared to all the Something out there. At that time in my life, I believed that when we die, we either go to heaven or hell for an eternity. I had accepted Jesus at a age six, so I wasn’t so concerned about which place I’d end up at, but I was less than thrilled by the idea of “everlasting”. How could something good last forever? And who really wants to live forever in some static celestial city where somehow God builds us mansions according to our particular preferences and specifications? The ideas of the afterlife that had been passed on to me seemed dreadful.
My sudden fear of space didn’t help. If I’m this small compared to all that exists, and there are millions of other people out there, I’m sure to be marginalized by God and pushed to the fringes of heaven. My poor 7-year-old mind.
These horrible panic attacks stayed with me as I grew up, coming and going in waves. I only told a few people about them because NO ONE understood what I was talking about. Most people I was brave enough to tell about my paralyzing fear were dumbfounded, wondering how anyone would NOT want to live forever? “Is nihilism a better option?” they would ask me. Others would blow me off with trite statements, like “You just need to trust God.” Anyone who struggles with panic knows that you can not reason or logic your way out of it.
But, as is the case with all secret fears, they become less powerful once you keep speaking about them. As I expanded my understanding of spirituality over the years, the frequency and duration of these attacks gradually decreased. And to my utter delight, I discovered a few people here and there who panicked over these very same reasons I did.
In the Old Testament book, The Song of Solomon, the writer proclaims that there is nothing new under the sun. Everything, in general, that happens now has happened before. This is why I’m now a firm believer that we who have walked through the fire of our fears and come out the other side need to talk about them, so that those who are still afraid know that they are not alone, and so they can loosen the grip of that fear that holds them by learning to speak out as well.
Dealing with big fears seems even easier when there’s a name for them, when enough people struggle with the same thing that they have to describe it with a fancy Greek derivative. This makes you feel less crazy and less alone. In my case, I accidentally stumbled across the name of my specific panic attack fear in an article in The Atlantic last year. Apeirophobia. I was thrilled…just one more area of my life where I realized “It’s not JUST ME!”
A while back I decided to do a search on Apeirophobia on YouTube, because what can you not find on this platform? Amazed, I discovered a video where a man described this phobia, and people….it was like he was describing my life and putting into words all that I haven’t been able to say about apeirophobia. Take a listen – it is SO good:
I still have occasional panic attacks in the middle of the night during periods of stress in my life. They’ve changed over the years as my belief systems have molded into new ways of thinking and perceiving what is around me. In some ways though, wrapping my head around the idea of eternity and neverending-ness is harder because of Einstein’s space-time contributions. If time really is an illusion, are we just experiencing eternity right now, and will time not concern us once we die? I also think of the Buddhist understanding of the temporal nature of everything. Ultimately, we are just waves that rise up out of the ocean for a short time and then merge back in, coming up later in another form? I still have apeirophobic tendencies with these trains of thought, but they sure seem to be much more appealing options than chilling out in my mansion over the hilltop for an everlasting period of linear time.
So, after all that, what is the point of this post?
- If you’re terrified of something, it’s pretty darn likely that at least someone, but more probably, many people, are worried about the same thing.
- Fears lose their power when you bring them to the light.
- Speaking your fears also brings freedom for you, and freedom for others to speak their own.