Fear is an emotion that all of us have experienced at sometime in our lives.
Fear is actually something that our culture actively encourages. We are told to be fearful of terrorist attacks, Economic collapse, cyberterrorism, identify theft, corrupt politics and a whole host of other, so called, ‘Threats’.
When President F.D Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”, he was really onto something. Yes, I realize that his comments were made in the context of the 1930’s Great Depression, but in its essence, fear is 90% imagination. In almost all cases, the fear of the thing which is feared is far greater than the actual thing itself.
When I think about fear, another great philosopher often comes to mind, Winnie the Pooh. A.A. Milne tells the story of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet walking through a wood on a stormy night. The wind is howling, the trees are swaying and the branches are creaking. Piglet is so scared that he turns to Pooh and says, “I can’t go on any longer, suppose a tree fell down Pooh when we were underneath it!” To which the wise Philosopher Pooh replies quite simply, “Suppose it didn’t!”
In those three short words, dear Winnie the Pooh sums up exactly what fear is, a negative reaction to what our minds perceive as a threat.
Remember back to when you were a child, was there a monster that lived under your bed or in your closet? You know now, I hope, that the Monster only ever lived in your head or your imagination. Likewise, the fear of, “What would happen if……..” is in your thoughts and imagination. It is a delusion of the mind.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it is healthy to respect some things that can cause fear, like the snake, the fire or the traffic; these are things that we can do something about in our present day situation. However, unhealthy fear is being afraid of something that can neither harm us or we can do nothing about or avoid, such as death.
Nowadays, it is common to see a statue of the Buddha with his arm elevated and slightly bent, palms facing outward and the fingers extended upwards. This is what we call ‘abhaya’ or the ‘Gesture of fearlessness.’ The Buddha identified that all fears are ‘delusions of the mind’ and that when we learn to control our mind and eliminate these delusions, the source of our fear is eradicated. This is when, like the Buddha, we become truly enlightened.
So, when you next start to feel fearful, try this little exercise.
1) Recognize what you are feeling is fear and accept it, be kind to it, don’t run away from it.
2) Take 6 deep natural breaths and be compassionate to yourself. Do not berate yourself for feeling fearful.
3) Meditate on your fear, how does it make you feel both physically and mentally. Is this a feeling you want to have? Breathe into the space where you most feel that fear.
4) Ask yourself. “Is this a healthy fear I can do something about or an unhealthy fear, a product of delusion, ignorance and ego.
5) Meditate on your fear, how does it make you feel both physically and mentally. Is this a feeling you want to have?
The more you practice these simple steps, the more ‘comfortable’ you become with your fears and how you can control them.
As my teacher, Ajahn Brahm says, “Go along for the ride and stop shouting at the driver.” Once you learn to do that, the happier and less fearful you become.
Credits: First handlettered image by Linda Dieschbourg.