Sunday, July 24, 2016
Once a young warrior had to battle Fear. She did not want to, but her teacher insisted. On the appointed day, the young warrior stepped onto the field of battle, feeling small and unprepared. Fear stood on the other side, huge and fierce. Her knees shaking, the young warrior bowed respectfully and asked Fear, “How do I defeat you?” Fear, surprised by her gesture, thanked her for showing respect and replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and get in your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
I love this story, and it has guided me through many encounters with fear. However, no matter how many times fear’s advice has proven true, it remains a challenge to follow it.
Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m afraid. Fear wears many masks–anger, hatred, anxiety, judgment, for example. Can you think of others? We don’t always see fear behind these masks. When I’m afraid, I might feel weak or helpless. In contrast, when I’m angry, I feel strong and powerful. But underneath the anger, there is always fear.
I saw a powerful example of this the other day. A dad and young daughter were walking down the street. The daughter suddenly darted into the street in front of a car. Fortunately, the car was able to stop in time and the child made it safely to the other side of the street. But then the dad crossed over and began yelling at the child, who burst into tears. I knew that the dad was seismically jolted by the terrifying vision in his mind of his little girl being hit by the car. That horrible sense of helpless devastation flooded his soul and spilled out in anger directed at his child, but it was really unbearable fear of losing this precious daughter.
Indeed, fear is often so distressing that we are desperate to escape it. It is that desperation that fear counts on, because we are then willing to follow fear’s urging, thinking it will lead to relief. Southwest Airlines had a great series of commercials in which some hapless individual would be in a very embarrassing situation. The voice over would say, “Want to get away? Low fares to....” You knew that poor person would jump on the first plane to anywhere!
So fear sometimes tells us to run, or sometimes to attack (like the dad). And we are so frantic that we comply. But remember what fear said. If we don’t do what fear tells us to, fear has no power.
Sometimes, when I recognize that I’m afraid and I can identify what fear is telling me to do, I just...don’t...do...it. I tell myself that the images or stories in my mind are not real. If I can breathe into the discomfort, stay still and present, and wait, then amazingly, I can sense fear’s power begin to fade. My thinking clears up, and I recognize that following fear’s direction would have led me astray. I often experience compassion soothing my troubled spirit, compassion for myself as well as for whomever or whatever I saw as the cause of my fear. It’s like a mother soothing a child waking up from a bad dream.
Can you give it a try? What happens if you don’t do what fear tells you to do?
[I hope everyone recognizes that I’m not speaking here of a situation where your physical or emotional safety is in immediate danger. But even then, I submit that it isn’t fear that enhances our survival, but rather an instinctual assessment of and response to a threat. But that’s a conversation for another day.]