Coping with Fear
Heightened terror alerts, worries over the state of the world: fear is everywhere, and many of us find ourselves stressed and paralyzed by it. Where can we turn to relieve it?
I did some research and found some comforting words of great wisdom from a Tibetan Buddhist lama, a Zen Buddhist teacher, and a Mohican chief. There is also information here about the Hindu goddess who dispels fear, the attitude of many shamans towards it, and a few Earth-based methods for coping with it.
How have some of the world’s great spiritual paths dealt with the problem of fear? Find out, here:
“The presence of fear means only that fear is present, and nothing more,” says Zen Buddhist teacher Suzanne Segal. Fear is only a problem when it causes inaction, when it paralyzes. If we can take action, we may be feeling unpleasant sensations, but that doesn’t make it fear.
In traditional Buddhism, practices such as meditation and breath-work have been used to calm fear. Buddhists also believe that meditating on the concept of impermanence and death will help alleviate it, and that only by eliminating the notion of a Self can fear be conquered.
In response to the September 11 terror attacks, Tibetan lama Kilung Tulku Tsultrim Rinpoche identified four actions that we can take to ease fear:
Wake up (stay conscious about what it happening).
Become aware of what is important. See where there might be benefit.
Speak out, if there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Tibetan Buddhism also teaches that visualizing an image of the Divine can help to ease fear.
Hindus have a Goddess of Fear: Kali, whose devotees are freed from fear through facing her difficult truths. Hindus find relief from fear by praying to Kali, making offerings to her, and accepting her lessons about the inevitability of death: they believe that by naming and witnessing our fears, we are able to walk thorough them.
Many shamanic traditions include teachings around fear. As Carlos Casteneda says in The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, “The first enemy of a man of knowledge is Fear. A terrible enemy–treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the man, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest. Once a man has vanquished fear, he is free from it for the rest of his life because, instead of fear, he has acquired clarity of mind which erases fear.”
Many shamanic initiations include experiences of death and dismemberment: once you have gone through your own death and somehow survived it, the fear of dying loses its potency.
Some indigenous people have lost their fear because they see death as a going-home to the great Mother. As the Mohican Chief Aupumut said in 1725, “When it comes time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”
Many native peoples teach that ritual actions such as purification and other ceremonies, vision quests, the making of talismans, asking for help from animal and other helping allies, and the singing or chanting of certain songs or prayers are all helpful ways to deal with fear.
Words have been used throughout history and across the world to alleviate fear, as well. It can be helpful to find a poem or prayer that soothes and calms you and read it, either aloud or silently to yourself, whenever you have need.
It may also be good to remember that both gratitude and compassion help to displace fear.
By Cait Johnson, author of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air: Essential Ways of Connecting to Spirit (SkyLight Paths, 2003).