Overcoming fear sometimes seems to be an impossible task. The emotion of fear and its army of related mental states is a deeply rooted – and very powerful – experience to get lost in. Sometimes I would refer to fear as the “king of shadows”, truly a formidable opponent! It can be very sneaky and silent and it can crush in like a huge Tsunami of terror and panic. Fear is often pulling the strings, even when we would not expect it to. It’s the fuel of most stories, books and movies – the father of tension and hate, the mother of war and weapons.
The state of fear is at the very root of pain and suffering. When it wakes up, we might turn to spiritual practice for help. If this is the case, we need to make sure that we are following a proper method and receive qualified guidance from an experienced teacher. There are many great teachings available online but nothing can replace the direct guidance of someone who has walked the path into fearlessness. In this article I will present two of the most useful tools that have helped me deal with fear successfully. I am talking about Kindness and Insight-Wisdom.
Some say that there’s a spectrum of love and fear and we can find ourselves at either end or somewhere in between at any given time. I agree with this if we would define “love” as an intense liking of someone of something and “fear” as an intense disliking of something or someone. That would actually point to what the Buddha called “craving”. We can crave for something to exist or for something to become non-existent – it’s really the duality of like and dislike. When I talk about Kindness, I am not referring to love in the form of liking though (you don’t have to like something or someone in order to be kind).
Kindness is based on acceptance. There’s unbelievable power within the state of acceptance, even though it’s often seen as a sign of weakness. Acceptance doesn’t mean to be passive about what’s going on. It simply means to let go of all inner forms of resistance and aversion to the way it is (truth). Acceptance is to allow nature to express itself through it’s myriad forms within this present moment before shouting “NO” in the face of truth. When fear arises, I usually recognize it first. I see that it’s there – it has already arisen, it exists. Instead of going to war with it, I practice to give this feeling of fear space. I see it as one of the most natural human expressions. As the feeling moves through my body, I pay attention to it and mindfully allow it to do so.
Sometimes I am encouraging myself with kind words. I might say: “Dear fear, even though I am scared of giving you space I will try my best to let you run freely through my body. I will not interfere with your needs and I will not resist you, follow you, oppress you or fight with you”. It is also very important to drop the narrative at the time when the fearful feelings move through the body. Just see it as a wild and fiery natural expression of a primordial energy that lives within every being and has a right to exist. You need to take time for that, take a few deep breaths before you do that, perhaps. And if you have the chance to do this exercise in the presence of your teacher or guide – go for it!
The idea is that you gradually learn to relax around your fear. You learn to accept it with kindness as a natural part of your mind. You make peace with it by befriending your fear. It’s not really about overcoming fear – it’s more about accepting it. Once you have enough space to let it be, it can actually dissolve within your spacious presence. It is this knowing, conscious space that isn’t afraid of fear. It doesn’t have to “get rid” of anything and is at peace with all natural expressions. As I said before – this takes time, practice, patience and good guidance. If you really suffer from intense psychological fears it is always your first step to look for qualified guidance and help in form of a human being who listens with compassion, wisdom and kindness!
This one is also based on kindness and acceptance. It points to the ability to recognize the true nature of our emotions. Instead of looking at them with an attitude of openness and compassion, we work on realizing that these states are not-self. This means that we understand them as natural fluctuations in consciousness, feelings, thoughts – mental conditions arising and passing. There’s nothing or nobody that makes these states come and go. Also, there’s no solid or real self (me, I) that could be attacked or consumed by these states. Everything simply comes and goes within the space of consciousness.
The way to see these states as natural conditions requires some experience with Meditation practice. You need to be able to slow down the speed of mental states a bit and rest within the knowing and mindful quality. The challenge here is, that we tend to get lost within our emotions very easily. Being able to stay as an observer requires good guidance and very consistent practice. Once you are able to recognize that there’s a knowing or observing quality that can detach from emotions and thoughts. When you can relax into this state you will slowly begin to look at your conditioned mind and see it as ethereal, moving nature. This is the first dawning of insight-wisdom – and it’s already very liberating and empowering.
The key is that you learn to see everything in in the light of the three preceptions. You will slowly see into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self. I will not go into more details here as it would totally EXPLODE the article! 😀
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Tobi has been studying and practicing meditation since 2002. He stayed 7 years in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and currently lives in Thailand where he founded the Dharana Meditation and Retreat Center in Phuket with his wife Parn. In Thailand he continued his practice and found a spiritual home within local Theravada Buddhism. Tobi is known for an open and relaxed teaching style focusing mainly on a practical application of mindfulness meditation within a modern society. The direct experience of what the practical teachings point to is of foremost importance to him.