“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand—and melting like a snowflake.”
FRANCIS BACON, SR, 1561-1626
If I could I would get this tattooed on my eyelids. Okay, I wouldn’t but you get the idea.
The spiritual and psychological perspective are very similar on this topic. The source of all our fear comes from our own uncontrolled minds or “delusions”. This, to me, sits perfectly with the fear of death. It’s not constructive for me to fear what is inevitable after all?
So okay there’s a bit of a difference between heading out in the rain for a run and having that talk with your partner that you’ve been dreading but the root is the same, because the fear is always about the feelings. We can make a decision to do something but the action that is required to follow it through can get bogged down in the fear…and the greatest fear is that we are going to feel something unpleasant.
It’s more comfortable to sit and look at the doors than to walk through one of them and yes I believe this also applies to something as straightforward as getting back in the gym or the dojo. The result is the same in the end, both lead to the same conclusion so it can only be the uncertainty and the element of surprise that creates the anxiety. The ego stuff.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.
There are many kinds of fears of course, such as the fear and anxiety of not finding or being separated from something or someone we feel we need for security or happiness (attachment). There is the fear that arises from anger and hatred. Some fears are instinctive and natural such as the fear of annihilation and some are directly proportional to our feeling of being threatened which is the reason we get angry and mentally or physically try to push people away.
In particular, there are fears that arise from the mind of ignorance, and this is root of all other delusions, and thus the source of all fears. As Shantideva says in ‘The Way the Bodhisattva’:
“Buddha, the Able One, says,
‘Thus, all fears
And all infinite sufferings
Arise from the mind’.”
The reality is I will never know what’s behind the door until I make the decision to open it and walk through. The rest is my ego’s manufactured bullsh*t. The humiliation, the chorus of disapproval and most importantly the possibility of failure, all of this is just a fabrication of my grasping monkey mind. What about the feeling of loss? What have I lost exactly? Nothing. Sitting and looking at the doors isn’t choice, it isn’t freedom; it’s bondage and looking at a row of doors is boring after a while!
So what if I took more risks? So what if I fail? What exactly is failure? It’s just another fabrication of my mind in the end.
Think about it: In all those situations where we procrastinate and delay making a decision or having made the decision, procrastinate further; our greatest fear is that we will feel something unpleasant. What if you have that scary conversation you’ve been avoiding and it ends the relationship? It would hurt. What if you follow through on the business idea and lose money? It would feel terrible. What if you submitted the proposal and you were rejected? It would feel awful.
The thing is that most often our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship for example.
Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate. But how?
Practice; by getting up and doing it again.
“fall down seven times, get up eight”
The more we ‘fail’ the more we realise it isn’t failure (or death) at all and the more we can accept the projections of the mind for what they are; negative products of an ego shell that needs feeding to have any power.
The other way, of course, is to practice Meditation. For we can never control whether things will go our way or not, but we can learn to control our own minds, our responses, and our own conduct, and in this way gradually find a genuine liberation from all fear.
“.. it is not possible
To control all external events;
But, if I simply control my mind,
What need is there to control other things?”
When we let go of our notion of fear as the welling up of some unknown perhaps archetypal, paralysing force (procrastination) – and begin to see fear and its companion emotions as basically information, we can think about them consciously. And the more clearly and calmly we can articulate the origins of the fear, the less our fears frighten us and control us.
Sorted. That makes sense to me and usual it all comes down to practise, to experience itself.
“Even if things don’t unfold the way you expected, don’t be disheartened or give up. One who continues to advance will win in the end.”
This winning, from the Buddhist perspective, is not necessarily the successful achievement of these goals but rather our state of mind; the state of mind created by not being afraid to open the door and move forward. If we can acknowledge that the fear is simply an illusion (unless the door happened to be perched on the edge of a cliff ) and knowing whatever the outcome our feelings are also an illusion (even if they seem justified). If we can keep on pushing the sky away we will find an indestructible state of mind that knows no such thing as irrational fear (or failure).