Fear. A four letter that has 46 synonyms on http://www.thesaurus.com.
We all live in fear at least for some moments in our lives. Even the most dare devils out there have scary moments well hidden beneath their courageous cloaks. I am not talking about being scared of spiders or cockroaches. I am referring to something more internal.
The fear that doesn’t let you be the complete you.
In Tamil there are two words.
- “Bhayam” that refers to being scared, the natural instinct that makes us shrink away from physically risky things.
- The other word is “Kalakkam”; the fear of the unknown. You know it is physically harmless, but you still won’t do it. This fear stops you from doing things that could be psychologically difficult; perceived harmful by the mind.
It is the second one that is more limiting than the first. Fear is construed as the number one enemy for spiritual progress; in fact, for any progress.
In an attempt to understand Fear a little more, I looked into mythology. Mythology and fables, at least the ones I know, glorify bravery. We admire the David who took on the mightier Goliath. We cheer the 16-year old Abhimanyu going alone into the enemy lines and fighting an entire army on his own. But there is not much insight into turning one’s self over and over; the agony of confronting and possibly overcoming a limiting fear.
In fact, when Sugreeva hides from his brother Vali fearing his rage, Rama does not counsel him to face his fear and find a way to mend the relationship between the brothers. Instead, he kills Vali and liberates Sugreeva from his fear.
The incident that comes close is the battlefield scenery of Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna leads his army to the frontlines of the battle, a battle of justice to regain the kingdom he and his brothers lost to their cousins in a game of dice. He sees that the enemy is none other than his own family; the boys he grew up with; the uncles who carried him on their shoulders and taught him archery and ancient knowledge of Vedas. He hesitates. He fears the repercussions of his action. He is tossed up between fighting for his rights and fighting against his family. Krishna steps in and delivers Bhagavad Gita, which rationalises the fear and gets him to move forward. I say it is “close” because it is hard to think of Arjuna’s hesitation as fear.
The more modern fables provide better insights.
The parable presented in the book “Who moved my cheese” is a very well written allegory of fear and how willing to see through the fear of change can help you move forward.
Then there is the beautiful ever haunting Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece, “The Sixth Sense”. The fear that lies beyond the words “I see dead people” is about being different. Being alone. Both very scary for a child (and adults). Bruce Willis’ character helps him look deep into the fear. When the boy understands that it is a power that heals and helps rather than something weird and strange, he is not afraid of being different anymore. Another modern fable that encourages understanding fear rather than shrinking away from it
These modern stories and lack of ancient myths led me to think that Fear is a more recent curse we humans have inherited. The latest edition from the Pandora’s box.
And it makes sense. Thousands of years ago, we had physical real things to fear. We had to stay indoors or risk being bitten by a snake in the dark or attacked by wolves. We feared traveling long distances. There were so many natural elements we had to protect ourselves from. Not to say these internal fear did not exist. But the explicit ones were so real and so big, we wrote about them and focused on them.
Now that we are relatively safe from the wild animals having either erased them off the face of earth or put them in zoos and protected sanctuaries, we have created these demons to haunt us. We fear the unknown. Not knowing how someone will react; not knowing how something will end; not knowing the outcome.
And we fear the disapproval of others.
Unfortunately we don’t always get a Bruce Willis or Lord Krishna when we need to be talked out of fear.
Like we built homes to shelter us from natural elements and built strong communities to fight off carnivores, will we build stronger mental walls and loving connections to overcome fear? Time will tell. But we sure will build stories that record the wins we do claim against fear for future generations to refer.