When you begin to see life without fear, frightening things become acceptable. Or so it may seem.
At the same time, we may feel called upon to act in response to a world that is out of balance, whether it’s someone in trouble or larger harmful developments.
This world matters even if we are convinced our experience in this world will dissolve into oneness.
It’s a spiritual fantasy to believe that nothing matters, that the world before us is not real. The world is not real is the same way as the eternal inside inside, yet it functions as real in our spiritual journey.
In the late 1970s, Krishnamurti famously asked an audience whether they wanted “to know his secret.” Audience members reportedly leaned forward in anticipation. Krishnamurti quietly said, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”
It’s one of my favorite quotes.
Another quote I love comes from Angela Davis, and it seems to say the exact opposite:
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
This twist on the Serenity Prayer is a commitment to act in the world.
These two ideas live inside me comfortably, though it took a few years to understand they are not in conflict.
We offer ourselves to the presence within. We ask for guidance, and we ask to be useful. “Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will.” And we surrender the outcome.
We will be okay. The world will be okay. Whatever happens. And we give ourselves over to the guidance to do what we can do.
Fear was my biggest problem. I had no idea.
I didn’t know anger was fear. I thought my anger was justified. I didn’t like being angry, but I thought I couldn’t help it. It was a natural response to a broken world and its broken people.
I didn’t know anxiety was fear. I thought my circumstances warranted anxiety. I thought the solution was to change the circumstances. The circumstances were impossible to change.
I didn’t know resentment was fear. I thought my feelings of resentment were justified. My resentments extended back many years. They produced anger, sadness, and discomfort. I was stuck with them.
I didn’t know jealousy was fear. I thought my jealousy was caused by others.
I didn’t know sadness was fear. How could sadness be fear?
The negative feelings were with me for years. I thought they were a permanent part of me and intrinsic to all life. I prayed that the negative feelings would not manifest into illness. They felt like illness. They also produced negative behavior. I worked hard to separate my behavior from my feelings. I didn’t want to behave poorly just because I felt poorly. But I did.
I tried to be positive, but I worried I was simply putting a bright blanket of untruthfulness over the darkness. Wasn’t it better just to accept the negative? I didn’t want to be phony. I took pride in my ability to face the inky black void.
All the time, I was surrounded by light. I couldn’t see it. I thought this dark world around me was the entire world. But my dark world was a delusion. I was the problem. Remove that dark me, and the world goes light. So I removed the dark me.
Fear is the last of our negative emotions to go as we deepen our spiritual connection. That’s because fear is at the heart of all negative emotions. Its roots are deep.
Marianne Williamson wrote that “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.” That’s pretty close to correct. Actually we’re born with one fear – loud noises. That fear, though, may be more of a startle reflex.
Over time, we develop other startle-like reflexes: fear of heights, fear of objects hurling toward us, fear of the dark. These are handy to keep the body intact, and they’re not usually the fears that darken our paths. The insidious and dark fears we learn are shame and the belief that we are not good enough. Those are the fears that need to be relieved so we can grow.
There are thousands of tiny fears that grow from these – fear of speaking in public and fear of standing up against the crowd for what’s right. Gandhi said “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”
The fear of death is nearly a universal fear, but it can be overcome as we deepen spiritually. Anais Nin said, “People living deeply have no fear of death.”
The concern about the corrosive nature of fear goes back a few centuries. Lao Tzu said, “Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success.”
My favorite comment on fear comes from the Hindu Scripture Isa Upanishad: “Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”