In Anam Cara, John O’Donahue talks about fear and how fear keeps us from being ourselves, which constrains us from living out our unique God-given destiny. He relates a story from India about a man condemned to spend the night locked in a cell with a poisonous snake that will kill him if he makes even the slightest movement. The man spends the whole night standing in the corner, afraid that even his breathing might cause the snake to strike. As the first traces of daylight come, he can make out the shape of the snake in the far corner of the cell. As the light increases, he realizes that what he thought was a snake is actually an old rope.
It’s a powerful illustration of how fear causes our imagination to turn old ropes into snakes, to turn what is harmless into a monster. Fear distorts our vision, makes situations into something bigger than they actually are, and holds us captive to illusion. When we are afraid, we cannot be free.
Fear may manifest in jealousy, anxiety, insecurity, resistance to change or arrogance. However it masks itself, it is still fear and it keeps us from living fully. It constricts our spiritual growth, much like a pot-bound plant is unable to flourish. When we aren’t growing spiritually, we begin to lose ground, and like a pot-bound plant, we get weaker.
O’Donahue says that the way to transform our fear is to ask ourselves that we are what it is that we are really afraid of. What makes us resistant to change? What holds us in an anxious, insecure or jealous state of mind? If we can name our fear, we can begin to transform it. But we have to acknowledge it. We have to admit the emotion that holds us captive. We have to be vulnerable, and this may be the hardest step to take to free ourselves from fear.