Teal Swan, American spiritual teacher, says, “We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we project onto the unknown.”
I had a personal experience recently which made me realise the aptness of the statement.
I was in hospital for eight days in May due to covid infection. I was on oxygen support for the first four days. I was apprehensive if I would survive. I would wake up with a start every couple of hours, only to reassure myself that I was alive. The first night that I was taken off oxygen support, I asked the nurse to keep checking my oxygen levels every hour. I slept slightly better that night.
I also had a dream early on the same morning, where I heard a doctor telling the nurse to pre-date my death on the death certificate. This woke me up; but surprisingly, I was neither sweating of fear, nor had I considered it as a bad omen.
Death is the ultimate unknown about which we know nothing; and if for some reason we are in a situation where death is a distinct possibility, we lapse in denial – worrying endlessly, not doing anything – in short, refusing to move forward, almost denying ourselves the opportunity. The movement forward, if we continue to act, is most likely to result in progress for us. We squander the opportunity.
This is an all too familiar phenomenon that we encounter every day of our lives. As we start going up the professional ladder, many of us tend to follow the time-tested formulae, as handed down to us by seniors. We hesitate to take decisions that are contrary to the norm, even though such decisions may result in substantial gains, within the framework of certain acceptable risks. It is that one decision in 10, which did not click, and our apprehension of the reaction of peers and seniors that decides all our future acts, overlooking the nine others which did work well. In our personal lives too, we are told to pursue our dreams, but are guided towards the more tried, and considered safe, options.
We tend to forget that as a child we had no fears when we started exploring the universe around us. We fell, as we tried to get on our two feet, but were encouraged, or even forced, to keep trying till we mastered the art of walking; or for that matter everything. We also tend to forget that we were not scared to take up a job after college, even though we knew nothing about the work that we had to do – we simply learnt from our mistakes. The worst that happened was that we failed the first time, and the best was that we succeeded eventually. Ah! The joy of success! Nothing could beat that.
We also overlook the fact that we have evolved as humans out of this spirit of exploring the unknown, without any fear of the consequences. New worlds were discovered, new inventions were made, new scientific discoveries were made – all because a few were not afraid to venture out into new realms.
It is not that we do not have this spirit – it is just that generations of conditioning have made it dormant, till we are in a situation with our backs to the wall. Nowhere is it more in evidence, than in our own jugaad, the flexible approach to solve a problem in an innovative way when one has limited resources.
Can you imagine what a society can achieve when everyone is encouraged not to fear the failure of the unknown, but to think about sweet success, and is free to follow his or her heart!
Step outside without an umbrella when it is raining, let yourself get drenched – you do not know what good is in store for you. Let the sky be the roof over you. At the end of the day, you should not be left with the regret that you might have led a better life if you had done just that.
Esmeralda Santiago sums it up so well. “How can you know what you’re capable of if you don’t embrace the unknown?”