I have often heard people say that we should “face our fears.”
What does that mean? And how do we do it? Fears plague me enough already – why would I go out looking for them?
In his great book, Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda recalls how, as a young disciple, he once asked his guru, Sri Yukteswar, to tell him a few stories from his own youth. (Link goes to a free online version of the book.)
Sri Yukteswar told several stories, each one with a moral.
“My mother once tried to frighten me, with an appalling story about a ghost in a dark chamber,” Sri Yukteswar said. “I went there immediately and expressed my disappointment at having missed the ghost. Mother never told me another horror tale. Moral: Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.”
Unfortunately, most of us lack the courage and clarity to do as Yukteswar advised – “look our fears in the face.” As a result, our lives may be guided by a force over which we have no control. Our fears seize us unexpectedly, and we spin into a tizzy.
When I was eighteen, not long before I began to study spiritual teachings, I looked around at the world where I lived, and I realized that the only completely negative emotion was fear. I couldn’t see anything positive about it.
A few months later, I was given a book by Swami Vivekananda. It included, among many other life-changing ideas, the statement, “Love casts out fear.” It was a quote from the Bible, though I didn’t know it at the time. But I had already decided that fear was an obstacle that I needed to overcome, and I was thrilled to find a method for dealing with it.
It took me much longer to realize that it is love of God, and God’s love for us, that finally chases away all fear.
God’s love is unconditional. Nothing that we can do will ever diminish His love for us. Love God, and you will cease to fear His rejection. Receive His love, and all your fears will dissolve.
A great French man of God, St. Jeanne Vianney, said, “If you knew how much God loves you, you would die for joy!”
Deep meditation is a wonderful way to dispel fear, because when we receive an inner contact with God, His love floods our hearts. In that perfect love, there can be no fear. We know that we are held in the loving hands of the Divine Mother.
Swami Kriyananda, in his book The New Path: My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda, remembers that many people would come to his guru’s ashram to be his disciples. And many of them would stay just only for a short while then leave. They would often explain their departure by saying what they hoped to find happiness by getting married, or finding a good job, or by going to another teacher. (Link goes to a free online version of the book.)
In fact, Swami Kriyananda said, most of them left the Guru, not to get away from him, but to get away from themselves, and the need to see themselves clearly. In the presence of the Master, everything was revealed. He was a pure light, a flawless mirror, and many people weren’t ready to see themselves so clearly, so they moved away from the light.
In facing our fears, the first step is to become perfectly aware of them, and to have the courage to admit that we are afraid.
Keeping our fears below the level of consciousness doesn’t remove them. Darkness is the natural home of fear. Instead of losing strength, the more we try to hide our fears from our conscious awareness, the more powerful they become.
Finally, the suffering that our fear causes us becomes greater than our fear of facing it. That is the moment when God puts us in front of the fear and we have no choice but to face it.
I’ve noticed an odd fact. If we have a negative tendency, often we are born into families and circumstances that make it worse. But God in His infinite mercy gives us the wisdom, light, and love to overcome it – if are open and childlike and honest and turn to Him for His help.
This is what Mother Theresa of Calcutta meant when she said, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I have always loved her further comment, “Sometimes I wish He didn’t trust me so much!”
To get past our fears, we don’t have to go digging in the darkness. Just do your positive spiritual practices with an open, receptive heart and mind. Not half-heartedly, but with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. God will show you what you need at the time you need it.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek help from others. If you are a complete mystery to yourself, you may need the help of an impartial third party – a wise advisor. If you feel this is appropriate, seek someone who is solution-oriented, who sees counsel as a means to a goal, not an end in itself, and who believes in God, preferably in the same way you do, or close enough that the guidance will be consistent with the teachings you follow.
Even if you feel that you’ve reached a gratifying level of inner strength, self-understanding, and self-honesty, you may still benefit from seeking the advice of someone whose impersonal wisdom you trust. We all need help!
Fear is ultimately a feature of our ego-self – the self that lives separate from God. I used to think that finding God required that we must first make our ego-self perfect, in order to be worthy of Him. But, in time, I realized that I didn’t have to be always worrying about how my ego-self was doing. In fact, I’ve come to accept that my ego-self will always be something of a mess! So I try to just forget about it and love God.
Love casts out fear. And when fear is gone, we know ourselves as we are – one with the all-loving, fear-dispelling Spirit. Then, whatever little foibles our ego has will seem as nothing, compared to that enormous love.
Ask God and Guru to guide you. Pray all the time. Don’t go near the inner darkness alone! Always take your divine friends with you on the path. When you put out your hand to open each door, be sure that the other hand is gripping Divine Mother’s hand. In the presence of Her love, all fear must vanish.