We all think that fear is awful and painful, yet the Buddhists—the master psychologists for thousands of years—don’t include fear in the long list of mental afflictions contained in the core teachings on Buddhist psychology.
Fear is a healthy thing, in general. It is awareness of danger. Fear is protective; it’s what helps us to avoid wandering into a hungry lion’s den.
But so much of our suffering—as individuals and as a society—is caused by fear. We can be made to do things out of fear, or to do nothing out of fear. Fear also stops us from speaking up when we know we should. We have a fear of being still.
Fear arises the moment you ask yourself, what is this all about? Inevitably, it has nothing to do with right now. It has to do with the future, but the future doesn’t exist. The only thing you’ve got is what’s right here, right now. And coming home to the moment makes all the difference in the world in how you deal with fear.
How do we work with fear?
It is very important to know where it begins, so we can get off on the right foot. You examine fear and dissect it into its components. Where does it arise? What is the sensation when you feel afraid? What kind of thoughts race through your mind when you are in a state of fear? What’s your particular pattern? Do you panic? Do you freeze?
At this stage in the path, you try to understand your experience, try to break it down and it would be helpful to write it down.
Understanding, examining, knowing, slowing down—those are the first steps in working with fear, the beginning of the path to fearlessness.
This power comes directly out of meditation. Each time you acknowledge a thought, let it go, and come back to the moment, you build the power of concentration. The more you sit, the deeper you sit, the more concentration you build, and the closer you come to the falling away of body and mind.
All the fears are not going to just magically disappear. We will need to develop stability and insight. Looking deeply in our fears shows us its nature and teaches us how to work with it.
As we look deeply, we can see that there is not an object of fear separate from the subject who is afraid.