Facing Fear (embarking spiritual growth)
Like many of you, my first taste of awakening was in my early childhood. In a moment of clean stillness, I closed my eyes, looked within, and touched upon an eternal empty space. Intrigued, I went back to it again and discovered this presence spanned all of time and space. I didn’t tell anyone, as a child, I was afraid this powerful immeasurable presence might engulf me if I looked too long. It was even more unsettling to sense this presence has complete awareness of me. Terrified, I pulled back and talked myself into believing if I just close myself to it then it will no longer to be able to “spy” on me, and if I just close myself to it then it will not be able to engulf me.
That was my first memorable encounter with fear of the void.
For a human being, fear always appears uninvited during a burst of spiritual growth. The mind is comfortable with the past or what it knows. However when it encounters a completely unknown territory, it feels anxiety, fear, or even terror as the body tightens, heart rate and respiration increase. Regardless if a potential threat is real or imagined, the hypothalamus will produce corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) that triggers the production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). In a series of unconscious physiological response, fear can quickly take control of the body. During the event of a spiritual growth the mind will undoubtedly enter a space of unknown causing fear in your body, without your consultation whatsoever.
Recently I went to a sathsang hosted by one of my favorite Zen teachers Adyashanti. There was one girl in particular when she voiced her fear, the body trembled. She described facing her fear is like facing a cliff where she must jump off of to find her freedom yet she was terrified what might not be on the other side. She is not alone. An Isha Yoga meditator I spoke to also wrote to me about his fear of the darkness when he looked within. Because he didn’t know what was in the dark empty space he refused to enter that space. As for myself, when I fall into extremely love and intimacy, my mind and body often encounter terror that quickly pulls me out of the experience.
Fear is natural. Fear often is a signpost to indicate that you are arriving at yet another point of exponential transformation. Well, tell that to the mind, it still isn’t very comforting. So what to do in the face of fear?
A lot of people will tell you that you must combat fear with courage. This strategy often worked when the ego was in tight control. In that stage, you can use your will to power through anything. In fact, you don’t even have to see the face of fear as you run your four-wheeler down the highway and kill any fear that might have stood in the way. As we progress in our spiritual development, we will begin to notice that the will is only an illusion. The fear we thought we had destroyed will come back in another form. With more awareness, we realize that we have no choice but to come face-to-face with our fear. We cannot fight it, yet we cannot turn the other way. We have to meet it. We have to talk to it. We have to be willing to understand it from the deepest level.
The only thing that is standing between you and your freedom is that little voice telling you to run away from or fight fear. The real courage is not to fight but the willingness to relax in the face of fear. Only from a relaxed place you can then allow yourself to dig digger into what thought might be the trigger of that fear. And next what belief you planted a long time ago supported such a thought. This is the willingness to relax and meet your fear face-to-face. This is the true expression of courage.
A few months prior to my big awakening I started to notice that everything I did and all the choices I made were being contaminated by fear. I didn’t write because I was afraid of writing an incoherent article. I didn’t do my ukemi in Aikido fearful of injuring my body. I didn’t let any cars drive near me afraid someone might change lanes and run into me. These were just the superficial fears. As I was digging deeper I found that same fear of the void never left me… In fact it had held me captive so I only pretended to meditate when I knew I was resistant to the state of yoga. I didn’t allow myself the opportunity for a deeper experience into God. What a prison I have built for myself. I finally started to become fully conscious of every single one of these fears and somehow once I know my “enemy”, it turned into a friend.
After talking to several of you on the topic of fear I decided we can revisit this old friend often. Fear is nature. It is a signpost that you are ready for the next stage of your spiritual growth. No matter what part of the path you are on, honor your fear, meet it face-to-face and know that “All is Well”. On the flip side one day, you might look back and laugh to yourself and say “what’s the fuzz?”