Overcoming Our Fears

By Armin Zebrowski
Beware of fear that spreadeth, like the black and soundless wings of midnight bat, between the moonlight of thy Soul and thy great goal that loometh in the distance far away.
Fear, O disciple, kills the will and stays all action. If lacking in the Shila virtue, -- the pilgrim trips, and Karmic pebbles bruise his feet along the rocky path. -- H. P. Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence, p. 53

All of us know the torturing, restricting, paralyzing feeling of the daily fears which destroy so much: fear of being wrong, fear of making a mistake, fear of being unprepared, fear of failure, fear of old age, sickness, and death. While it is difficult to find the root of these feelings, I believe they are largely the results of experience over many incarnations.

From the theosophical viewpoint, at the beginning of human evolution we were pure beings -- highly spiritual, but in a large degree unaware. We lived in peace, but evolution was very slow. To quicken our progress we needed the help of the gods. The serpent in Genesis, standing for divine wisdom, tempted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil and, once that mind was brought into activity, the great cycle of the "I am I" was initiated. Living in their human ego or mental self, people began to know themselves, and the self-conscious evolutionary process began. Because everyone was busy taking care of himself, the peace and silence of Paradise were over. There was no more unity, as humanity quickly fell under the illusion that individuals are separate from one another. This situation is symbolized by the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Today we are exactly what we have made ourselves during our long series of incarnations as human beings. We are the products of our own actions and thoughts, the sum total of all of our experiences. And what kind of experiences have we had until now? The greatest part of them, I believe, were related to our ego. The sense of "I am I" characterizes our daily consciousness. Clearly this human self has collected countless experiences -- many of which were difficult ones -- on the descent into the depths of material nature. Fear of routine, fear of life, fear of the next step, may be unconscious remembrances of former failures and inabilities.

As in the old allegory, the powers of light and darkness fight for the human soul. These powers are part of ourselves. Goethe said of this play of forces: "Two souls, aye, are residing in my breast." What are these powers? Below the mental principle or human ego is our animal ego formed of desires, passions, wishes, and emotions. Above the human ego there is our spiritual ego, whose compassionate force is our highest ideal. It is represented by intuition, for the divine part of us supplies us with inspiration, if only we will listen to it.

Fear is a feeling of our human ego which comes when it is drawn down to the animal soul, when the thinker is governed by the strong feelings of its lower desire nature. Look at the consequences of fear: the body pours out hormones, the mind is veiled, all senses concentrate on the one point which could harm the human ego. In vain the soul tries to bring the person back into a human state of mind. Fear governs the person; it makes us incapable of doing what is reasonable. This refers not only to concrete fears -- such as a bus running us down -- it concerns daily life. We often fail because we are not courageous enough to take the necessary and right step even when we know what is right, because we are afraid of the consequences of our actions. We often fail because we do not trust our ability to finish the job due to our projections which make the ego believe we would look ridiculous or unprepared.

Recently I came upon a motorcyclist lying under his bike after hitting a truck. Even though many people were there, no one would help. I had to pull the heavy machine from the man alone, although I was asking for help. The others just watched the first aid. Did they act rightly, or were they afraid to do something wrong, to spoil their clothes with blood and oil, afraid of AIDS or being late for work? I still wonder what moved them. The only explanation I have found was fear: they neglected their brotherly duty because all were overcome by fear. What terrible results fear has for us!

Fear and anguish are feelings of the lower nature which we must learn to overcome in order to continue our evolution. We see this situation posed in the Bhagavad-Gita, where Arjuna, the hero, represents the human ego. He is standing on the battlefield between two armies and must make a decision to fight. The two armies represent the two souls Goethe spoke of. Examining his duty, Arjuna is overwhelmed by despondency and asks Krishna -- his spiritual ego or intuition -- why he must fight. He tries to escape the duty he has to fulfill. Krishna chides him for his weakness and tells him to do his duty, but Arjuna, after showing his deep compassion for both parties prepared for war, answers, "I will not fight." Krishna responds:

Those who are wise in spiritual things grieve neither for the dead nor for the living. I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. As the lord of this mortal frame experienceth therein infancy, youth, and old age, so in future incarnations will it meet the same. One who is confirmed in this belief is not disturbed by anything that may come to pass. The senses, moving toward their appropriate objects, are producers of heat and cold, pleasure and pain, which come and go and are brief and changeable; these do thou endure, O son of Bharata! For the wise man, whom these disturb not and to whom pain and pleasure are the same, is fitted for immortality. . . . These finite bodies, which envelop the souls inhabiting them, are said to belong to Him, the eternal, the indestructible, unprovable Spirit, who is in the body: wherefore, O Arjuna, resolve to fight. -- ch. 2:11-15, 18 (W. Q. Judge recension)

We cannot escape life's experiences once we accept that we have to solve all the problems lying ahead of us: we cannot go around them, we can at best postpone them. When we recognize that our existence is not limited to this poor life on earth and know that our innermost essence is immortal, we have a wonderful basis for future action.

But how can we approach the overpowering feeling of fear? This, at least, is clear: thoughts mold people. Therefore, we must use the power of ideas, of imagination, and above all the power of intuition, to free ourselves from the influences of the animal soul and turn to the spiritual aspects of ourselves again. As G. de Purucker says:

Love is a mighty power. Perfect love casteth out all fear. He whose heart is filled with love and pity never knows what fear is; there is no room for it in his heart. Love all that lives and you then ally yourself with invincible cosmic powers and you become strong and spiritually and intellectually clairvoyant. You will never fear anything in proportion as your heart is filled with love and understanding, because love -- perfect love -- bringeth understanding. You will then never fear poverty; you will never fear.
You can overcome fear by visualizing to yourself actions and thoughts of high and noble courage. Think of yourself as doing courageous actions. Study and admire courageous actions in others. Study and admire courageous thought in others. Grow to love courage, so that you follow it. Then you become it and fear will vanish away like the mists of the night before the rising sun. There lies the secret of overcoming fear: it is to use the creative imagination.
. . . Men will be ruled by fear just as long as they love themselves; for then they will be afraid of everything that is going to happen -- afraid to venture, afraid to act, to do, to think, for fear lest they lose. And they will then lose. ``That which I feared has come upon me!'' It is always so.
It is the great men who do not fear, who venture, who act, who do -- for they are the doers; and they are also the thinkers of the world; because in either case they have no fear. They love the things that they do. Therefore they have no fear. -- Golden Precepts of Esotericism, pp. 118-19

The goal of evolution is a fully developed human being -- a god. All of us, even the smallest center of consciousness in and around us, will reach the level of a buddha and then move beyond. If huge or small fears hinder us from taking the right step, we must learn to overcome them. And everybody can do this for him or herself.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

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