By Lalitha Sridhar June 2005 What is the cause of fear? And how do we vanquish it when it crowds around us with its insidious what-ifs, stoking caution, paranoia and doubt? Here, an exploration into the nature of fear and prescriptions on how to cope with it. Vanquish your FearsIn his book, Conquest of Fear, Swami Sivananda explains the ways to overcome fear:o Victory over fear (Pratipaksha Bhavana method): As you think, so you become. As you think, so you develop. As is your ideal, so gradually your life will become. This is so, because there is a great transforming power in thought.o Feeling the presence of God: God is all-pervading. He is always with you. He is in you, around you. He is not far to seek. He has to be realised through the inner eye of wisdom.o Devotion to God eradicates all fears: God bestows perfect security on His devotees and removes all sorts of fears. He transforms the sense of insecurity and fear into one of confidence and faith.o Meditation on atma (the Jnana method): Meditation on the fearless atman removes all fears in totality.Ancient words of timeless wisdom. If we can draw into ourselves any one of these methods, absorb the essence into our very being, internal harmony would be achieved with more ease.Freedom from FearDada Vaswani in his book Dada Answers gives us a few practical tips on overcoming fears:o Convince yourself that nothing that you fear is as bad as the fear itself. To be afraid is the worst thing that can happen to you.o Be sure you want to give up the thing you are afraid of. You must have the will to be free.o Never forget that fear is a kind of atheism.o Remember, that with God all things are possible.o To receive the power of God, learn to relax in His presence.o Do not be afraid of what may happen tomorrow.o Go out of yourself and bring help and comfort to others. There’s no better time to write about fear than a month when one has endured days of grief in hospital vigils. An average day’s routine included the rise of anxiety, a dread in the pit of the stomach, perhaps a sinking of the spirit, and soon, emotional seesaws became a familiar experience. I recently had to watch a parental figure in an impersonal hospital bed, growing frailer by the day, multiple organ failures weakening the physical body, even though, on a good day, the spirit rose with optimism and moments of surprising cheer. I learned to look at my own fear at close quarters in the humid corridors, in the faces of impassive professionals who had to temper cold facts with kindness. Within a week, the sum of it all contributed to the unmaking of presumptions of eternal health and happiness, and took me on a journey to unchartered internal crossroads – one to the truth of mortality, the other to acceptance. The Buddha said there is no family untouched by disease, death or old age. The essence of this one can grasp, but to apply it to circumstance is another task altogether. The Instinct asks, ‘Can’t you postpone this by a few years? The time is not of my choosing.’ But Time answers that these moments are never born of mindful choice, but of the soul-need. It is not so difficult to distance oneself from an abstract notion (under which term you might like to slot the reality of death and disease), keep it out in the cold and view it with fleeting interest. But any experience which requires understanding or resolution can first give rise to anxious fretfulness, furious denial and charge the atmosphere with negativity. Then, wisdom appears as a flickering light at the end of a deep, deep tunnel. Origin of FearsWhere do fears come from? Why do they arise? Spiritual masters assert that the root cause of fear is our separation from the Source. It follows that only submergence in the Source through enlightenment brings about the final dissolution of fear. Says Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh: ‘A sage beholds only the Immortal Self everywhere so there is no fear in him. There is fear only when there is duality, when there is a perception of an object or a person other than oneself.’ Adds the venerable Francis of Assissi: ‘What do you have to fear? Nothing. Whom do you have to fear? No one. Why? Because whoever has joined forces with God obtains three great privileges: omnipotence without power, intoxication without wine, and life without death…’ Because fear embodies separation and love unity, sages affirm that there are only two primary emotions, fear and love. Both are mutually exclusive. Where there is fear there is no love and where there is love there is no fear. A quick test of your spiritual quotient is the level of fear within you. The less there is, the closer to God you are. Indeed, the spiritual journey could well be said to be the movement from fear to love. Writes thinker Gerald Jampolsky: ‘Fear and love can never be experienced at the same time. It is always our choice as to which of these emotions we want…’ Jampolsky may use the word choice and in the ultimate sense he is right, but to get to the stage where we can have mastery over our fears enough to be able to choose having them or not, is not easy. Only deep and rigorous self-knowledge can help us reach this stage, but that finally is the road each traveler must go if he wishes to outpace fear. Types of FearWithin the blanket insecurity caused by detachment from the Self, there are other broad categories of fear. Chief among these is the fear of the unknown, of which the primary one is the fear of death. Says the Peace Pilgrim, who walked through the length and breadth of the US to create awareness of peace: ‘Almost all fear is fear of the unknown. Therefore, what’s the remedy? To become acquainted with the thing you fear.’ This is wisdom and is easily the best way to dissolve individual fears that come in the way of effective living. Says an animator and film-maker: ‘I always feared having and bringing up children, because I feared it would make me lose my individuality, but ultimately I overcame this fear, through love for my children.’ Equally crucial is the role of desire in stoking fear. As long as man is in the grip of desire, he will never escape fear for he either fears his inability to obtain the object of desire or having obtained it, his ability to retain it. The wily goddess Maya’s gossamer veil is chiefly constituted of these two components. Says J. Krishnamurti: ‘Fear is not to be put away by appeasement and candles; it ends with the cessation of the desire to become.’ Both these categories are finally rooted in lack of faith in oneself and in God. The more faith we develop in ourselves to cope with life and triumph over its manifold terrors, the less we fear the unknown. The more confident we are of our ability to withstand temptation, the more feeble is the hold of desire. And as our faith and trust in God increases, it pervades the dank and dingy places of fear with its genial sunshine and causes it to disappear. The annals of saints and sages all over the world are rife with wondrous tales of courage and valor, endured out of sheer love of God. Here, for instance, is the tale of one anonymous martyr persecuted as a Huguenot under Louis XIV, quoted by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience. A group of six women undressed her and rained blows upon her with a ‘bunch of willow rods as thick as the hand could hold, and a yard long.’ In vain the women cried, ‘We must double our blows; she does not feel them, for she neither speaks nor cries. ‘ This was the worthy woman’s response to her torture: ‘And how should I have cried, since I was swooning with happiness within?’ Perfect faith gives perfect security. The knowledge that all that happens is for the best can put to rout all fears of the unknown. It is this surrender that supported the great prophets of the world even in the face of death. Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and others were led to perform their mighty acts despite the threat of death because they were secure in their surrender. For us lesser mortals, it may not be quite so easy to sashay straight off into surrender, but a belief in God is the beginning of faith and faith is the final frontier. A strong philosophy that works for all seasons is a great shield against the onslaught of fear. Says Ashish Virmani, assistant editor at Mansworld magazine, ‘The most important thing to combat fear is to have a sound philosophy in life – a philosophy for life and for death. I think in many ways Buddhism has helped me overcome many of my fears. For example, I used to fear, as a teenager, that people would laugh at me or talk about me behind my back. Now I realise that it doesn’t really matter what people say or think because it is their privilege to think what they are thinking, and it is my privilege to carry on with my life regardless and achieve my goals.’ Go Beyond the Comfort ZoneThere’s much to be said in praise of tribulation, although the realization will come only in hindsight. Take a moment to survey the soul-journey and the physical stop-over, which has been scheduled only to study unlearned lessons. So then why fear anything? ‘Fear is illusory; it cannot live. Courage is eternal, it will not die,’ said Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh. So why do we let the temporary moment shadow the glory of the divine self? It requires a conscious effort to move beyond the circumstance and watch our own actions and words with a level of detachment. We are here to learn. Every situation of strife that you encounter is a karmic lesson and your own previous deeds have created today’s situation. Fears are largely the results of experience over many incarnations. When they haunt you, they are not to be seen as retribu
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