By Priya Krishan Das
When you look fear in the eyes it vanishes, says Priya Krishan Das, who learnt this truth by applying this principle several times in her life
If there is a movie which has influenced me deeply, it is Star Wars. Perhaps the most important lesson learnt from it was to not give in to fear.
Life operates from two premises. One is love and the other is fear. All emotions, feelings, and actions can be traced back to either of these. So, whenever I feel angry, hateful, or experience emotions that are not aligned with love, I ask myself, “What am I fearful of?” I am invariably led to the right answer.
Look around, and you will see that all wars and violence stem from fear; fear of losing control, fear of having less than others, and fear of being left behind. For the last few years, I have been contemplating on fear and have come to the realisation that there is nothing to fear other than fear itself. Though I can’t say that I am completely fearless, I am learning how to overcome it and keep it at bay.
Look fear in the eye
I recently met an environmentalist who volunteers at animal rescue shelters on one of my trips. He told me something amazing. He said that whenever he goes to clean the huge cages of leopards, he keeps his eyes fixed on the animal. The leopard too has its eyes fixed on him all the time. If even for a moment he averts his gaze or turns his back to the animal, it will pounce on him and make him its next meal. Some programmes on Nat Geo and Animal Planet also say the same thing. Most casualties with wild animals happen when the victim has turned his back to the animal in a bid to escape.
I have a feeling that animals smell fear. Even stray dogs on the streets will bark and look ferociously at people who exude fear. Just experiment with this – if you are scared of stray dogs, hold back your fear when you see them and you would be surprised to notice that they leave you alone. That is true of all animals. I guess animals and reptiles like snakes, with their heightened perception, consider a fearful person as threat, since he is more likely to attack them. So in a bid to protect themselves, they go on the offensive. That’s how even human predators operate. They too smell fear and prey on women who exude fear. So it’s high time that we women, along with men, understood fear and tamed it.
The best way to handle fear is to look it in the eye. It means being aware of it without panicking. In my various experiences, from meeting with an accident in a bus in Manali, to being stranded in the mountains for a long time with no other woman in sight, to being alone in the forest at night with footfalls outside my room, to being fearful of people and strangers, I have observed that I have been least affected when I have been aware. I believe that simply being aware of fear makes it submissive.
My experiments with fear
Recently, during one of my exhibitions in a restaurant, I received around four emails and Facebook messages from an unknown person. The sender said that he liked my work and wanted my phone number, which was not mentioned in the visiting card. The Facebook profile showed the picture of a waiter in the restaurant.
The next day, before leaving for the venue, I sensed some fear in myself. I wondered, “Should I be angry and look away when this waiter shows up, or should I pull him up and complain to the owner about him?” The messages were neither lewd nor offensive, just asking for my number. When I sensed fear rising through me, I decided to be aware of it and focus on my breathing. I decided to go with the flow and react as the situation demanded.
Upon entering the restaurant the waiter did show up asking, “How are you, Ma’am?”. I smiled and replied, “I am good. By the way, are you the one sending me mails and messages?” My expression said, “Why would anyone do that?” Instantly, his face shrivelled with guilt. He said “Yes, Ma’am” and walked away. I was glad that I did not have to insult him to get my point across. Once before too, while painting a graffiti, I experienced fear when a homeless and shabby looking man, walked up to see my work. I was on my guard. But when I let go of my fear and spoke to him, he turned out to be a good person.
On my trip last year to South Karnataka, I stayed almost alone in the middle of a forest, with nobody to come if I shouted for help. There were no lights outside my room, and only a dim solar lamp lit my room from within. One night, at around 3 am, I heard footfalls outside my room. I was instantly awake and completely alert. Wind blew outside, carpeting the ground with dry leaves. An apt scene from a horror movie. Then I heard a knock on the door. I was terrified. That night for some reason I had left the solar lamp on. I knew that anybody could see me through the gaps in the walls, since it was a rustic accommodation. I was tense. For a few moments, I tried not to move, thinking about what to do, in case there was an attack. I reminded myself to focus on my breath. I thought of a possible object to arm myself with. There was nothing else but the humble nail cutter with a filing knife. I got up from the bed, went to the closet, picked the nail cutter, opened the filing knife and brandished it a few times in the air, to convey to the intruder that I could deal with whatever was coming. After the initial three intermittent knocks, there were none, although the wind howled outside. I stayed awake the whole night, completely alert, awake and extremely tired. Next morning during breakfast I told the owner about the incident. She said it may have been a wild boar scratching its head against the door!
That was my greatest test so far in being aware of fear, looking it in the eye, and overcoming it.
I remember once as a child I had dealt with fear in a way which amazes me now. I used to have recurring nightmares, when I was about five or six years old. In that dream, a demon kind of figure would be standing at the top of the stairs and as I climbed the steps, it would engulf me. I would wake up completely terrified. When I narrated this to my mother, she taught me the Gayatri mantra and asked me to chant it before going to bed. After learning the mantra, I told the ghost in my mind that I was ready to tackle him. And even before sleeping, I knew that the demon would come and I would confront it. The following night, as the demon stood waiting for me upstairs, I climbed up rapidly, chanting the Gayatri mantra and I lunged at the demon in a confrontational move. After some initial struggle, the demon vanished into thin air. I never had that nightmare again.
But all this is not to say that fear is bad. The feeling of fear is there to warn us, many times, against possible dangers. But the trick is to differentiate between the fear felt by the body, which is a warning, against the ones created by the mind, which is almost always imaginary.
It always helps to be aware of the fear, for in awareness lies the solution to dealing with it too.
About the author: Priya Krishnan Das is a self-taught artist based in Pune and owns a creative enterprise called Purple Soul. Her interests include traveling and Metaphysics
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