The Gift of Fear
Fear can be the greatest gift if used wisely.
If a child is sleeping peacefully, he is content in his own bed. But when he has a nightmare, he runs to his mother and seeks comfort in her arms.
This creation is set up to let us blithely fend for ourselves until we feel the need to turn to the Lord. As long as we feel we are coping reasonably well, we depend on our ego to protect us, and we spend our lives consumed by defensive thoughts – psychologists even say that every thought we think is defending our ego. But when we are faced with a terribly fearful situation, we realize how inadequate our ego defences are and we have a powerful motivation to take refuge in the fortress within. In our helplessness we turn to our Master and beg for his help. We take refuge in our simran, and the Master enfolds us in his arms. Maharaj Charan Singh says:
There is something wrong with us. We never want to be happy at the present moment. Either we are worried about what we have done or about what is going to happen to us. We don’t want to make the best use of the present moment. If we make this moment happy, our past automatically becomes happy, and we have no time to worry about the future. So we must take life as it comes and spend it happily. Every moment should be spent happily. And simran helps.1
Even if we remember the Master only because of our fear, this small remembrance grows our bond with him. Bhai Gurdas says: “If you take one step to take refuge in the Master, the Master meets you on the way by taking hundreds of steps.”2
Rumi tells the story of a youth who was tortured with love, but was stymied in every way that he sought to deliver a message to his beloved. He even sewed a love letter onto a bird’s wing, but the wing was burnt by the ardour of the letter. At last his mind was completely broken, and his soul was purified by his fervour. After seven long years of knocking, of waiting, of digging for the water that would soothe his heartsickness, he was out in the streets one night when the night patrol started chasing him. One watchman after another barred every avenue of escape.
The youth was greatly afraid and moaned that the patrol was the angel of death or a tyrant coming to bring him great harm. He ran from them, but finally came to a tall garden wall with no outlet. And then suddenly, with the goad of his fear, he was able to scale the wall and fling himself into the garden. And once there ... he beheld his beloved, radiant as a lamp!
So the lover prayed: “O God, have mercy on the night patrol! Unknown to me, you have created the means. From the hell of my fear of the night patrol, you have brought me to paradise, so that I may not hold even a single thorn in contempt.” For God says: “Do not consider whether you are on a tree or in a pit: consider me, for I am the key of the way.”3
Be Still in God’s Protection
Be still and know that I am God.4
This command from God comes in an intriguing context. It appears in Psalm 46, in which the Psalmist speaks of how God is our fortress even in the most dire circumstances. He sings:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.5
The Psalmist continues, telling us of the Lord’s power to protect us: although nations rage, when the Lord speaks, the earth melts, wars cease, spears shatter and chariots are burnt. And then, as the biblical story is told, God silences the Psalmist and gives the command: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
What are we to make of this? Why was this command given in this context? It is as if the Lord is saying: Stop all these words! There is no need to describe the Lord’s protection, his might and glory. Simply stop, be still, and know God. Know the God who is. As he bluntly put it when he revealed himself to Moses: “I am who I am.”6 Once we are still, we know God, and with this knowledge we rest wholly sheltered and secure in his unassailable fortress.
When we begin to foster stillness within, we discover that this quiet consciousness is our essence, that it is God’s essence. In this still presence we come to know the God who is, and know that we are one with that eternal Reality. We discover the Oneness that is “without fear and without enmity,” as the Adi Granth describes it7. In this tranquility, fear automatically dissolves, and when fear dissolves, enmity dissolves, for enmity is derived from fear. And then what exists? Love. Only love.
So how do we become still, how do we transform fear to love? The musical composer John Cage says:
If the mind is disciplined, the heart turns quickly from fear to love.8
“If the mind is disciplined”: such a big if! The mind has been habituated to constantly produce thoughts – to plot and to scheme. This is because the undisciplined mind mistakenly believes that the machinations of the ego can protect it.
However, if we don’t suppress our fear, but simply refocus our attention back into our centre – rather than allowing our mind to ricochet all over trying to think of ways to deal with the fear – we can simply feel without thinking. As soon as we stop thinking, we will feel the Master’s presence and automatically calm down. When the mind can be disciplined, quieted, and trained, we will be able to simply be aware of the fear, without having to do anything about it. At that point the heart turns quickly from fear to love.
It is not our mind that can turn us from fear to love – it is our true consciousness, our stillness. Our real self is not our ego, it is our devoted heart, our loving awareness, our still essence, which cannot be hurt or destroyed and doesn’t need protecting. It accepts all. The Nei-yeh (“Inward Training”) an early Chinese Taoist text, says:
When you enlarge your mind and let go of it,
When you relax your vital energy (qi)
and expand it,
When your body is calm and unmoving,
and you can maintain the One
and discard the myriad disturbances –
You will see profit and not be enticed by it,
You will see harm and not be frightened by it.
Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,
In solitude you delight in your own person.9
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Die to Live, # 69
- Bhai Gurdas Ji, quoted in Philosophy of the Masters, vol 3, p. 136
- Mathnawi, Book 3, 4749–4810; book 4, 40–80; retold by Bahaullah. The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. US Bahai Publishing Trust, 1991. p. 12-16)
- Bible, Psalm 46:10, New King James Version (NKJV).
- Bible, Psalm 46: 1–3 (NKJV)
- Bible, Exodus 3:14
- Adi Granth, p. 1
- John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings, 50th Anniversary ed., p. 64,
- Nei-yeh, ch. 24, tr. Harold Roth, cf. Original Tao, NY: Columbia Univ. Press, 1999, p. 92; Louis Komjathy, Handbooks for Daoist Practice, Nei-yeh, The Yuen Yuen Institute, Hong Kong, 2008, p. 41