On Fear: A Discussion and Book Review

fear book

“I was afraid as a child. I was afraid of everything. I was scared of water–I couldn’t swim–I was scared of trucks on the turnpike, and mostly I was scared of ghosts. But at some point, I realized something. A ghost is something you create yourself–a man’s mind makes it happen. If there were nobody on Earth, would a ghost still have a chance to spook somebody? No. You manifest ghosts through fear.
The words of Marcus Garvey resonated with me. He said, ‘Fear is a state of nervousness only fit for children. Men should not fear. The only thing man should fear is God. To fear anything other than God is to offend God.’ I carry that to this day: Enlightened men do not fear.” – RZA

At any given moment you can make a choice. You can choose fear or love – cause it turns out that everything can be broken into one or the other. Whether that be in response to someone cutting you off on the freeway, or what you say to your kid when they spill they’re sticky juice all over the floor… Or, how you respond when you hear about bombs being set off all over the world.

There are so many reasons to fear. I’ve struggled with it my whole life! Some of you may have read about it in one of my previous posts. I’m learning, through simple observation of my thoughts and behaviors, that fear has been the driving force in my life for pretty much as long as I can remember. Indeed, I came to the recent understanding that I’m addicted to it. I’m scared almost all of the time. Of the future, mostly…

But I think we’re all scared. And it’s time to stop. See, the trouble with fear is that it’s always in disguise. Sometimes we’re terrified and we don’t even realize it. Instead, we think we are angry or disgusted. But really, we’re scared because someone has threatened us in some way. Whether it’s our pride and safety, or our home, or our food security, our lives – anything…

Fear can be useful. Fear saves lives. But fear can also be used as a way to manipulate situations. And this, my friends, is what’s truly scary. Fear can be used to perpetuate hate, as can be seen all throughout history and our current situations. I’m afraid that if we don’t learn how to break out of our fears the whole future of the human race will be compromised. Our future depends on LOVE. Our future depends on the opposite of fear.

So, when I came across “Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm” by Thich Nhat Hanh, I knew I had to read it immediately. Thich Nhat Hanh changed my life. It is because of his wisdom that we’re on the food path we’re currently on. It’s because of him that we haven’t supported any fast food chains for over 10 years. But that’s not the point right now. Right now, the point is that we’re in a critical place in our history. A place where we must change, and evolve and do it FAST. Love and compassion are the way and those are cultivated through mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh addresses many layers and reasons for fear in his book, so many that it’s impossible to cover all of them in this post. It’s one of those books that are best read at least twice, because different things will resonate with you at different times. In this case, I will highlight some of the notions that made a strong impact on the self I project right now.

“All that is dear to me, and everyone I love, are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.” This quote comes from what he terms, “The Five Remembrances,” which also includes the statement, “I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death.” According to Thich Nhat Hanh, much of our suffering comes from the fear of death. And I guess he’s right. When it comes down to it, all of our lives as we know them, will come to an end. We will die and that means we will be separated from everything and everyone that we love.

It’s a tough realization, but a necessary one. This is where mindfulness comes in. If we can be mindful of our lives while we have them, we can learn to appreciate them and love them for the precious gifts that they truly are. Cause they’re damn short! If we can tap into the moment and be thankful for something then we’re on the right track.

One exercise that he offers to aid in this is the simple task of staying with the in breath and out breath. Give your breath your undivided attention going in and the same going out. If you can do this, then you’re alive. If you’re alive then you have something to be thankful for. When we feel afraid, we must learn to “embrace fear with the energy of mindfulness.” “If we’re afraid all the time, we miss out on the wonderful fact that we’re alive and can be happy right now.”

If we can learn to address the many fears within ourselves, we can begin to look at our neighbors with compassion. Because really, we’re all suffering, “everyone has a knife buried in their heart”. “If we can relax when our strong emotions come, then we don’t pass fear on to our children and future generations.” “All around us people are afraid and acting out of fear. In the midst of all this fear people long for peace and security.”

What we really need right now is to get to the root of fear. Because what’s really scary is that fear leads to violence. Every single day people are expressing their fear through acts of violence. Every single day people respond to those violent acts with the same violence. “Responding to violence with violence can only bring more violence, more injustice, and more suffering. Not only to the ones we seek to punish, but also to ourselves.” This here is the key.

What we do unto others we do unto ourselves. It’s the new golden rule for the new golden age. We can either be part of the problem or part of the solution, but it begins right here, right now. In your beating heart and with your in breath and out breath. STOP BEING AFRAID. Whatever it is that ails you, look it square in the face and send it bright, radiant love.

“Ain’t no time to be scared and sad
What I got’s much rarer than that” – The Grouch

That means that whoever or whatever has hurt us must be forgiven. We must soften our hearts, and learn to listen. A significant portion of the book is devoted to listening, as love and forgiveness is rooted in it. People just want to be heard… And with that, I thank you for hearing me, because each time I write about and express my fears, it’s grip is loosened…

fear book2

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