We all face moments that challenge even the strongest of men and women. We may be in an accident that debilitates us, making us weak and helpless. We may find that our child has contracted a serious illness and as they cry out for us to help them we feel powerless to relieve his or her pain. We may give birth to a child that has a mental challenge that requires all our patience and courage to help him or her through life. A loved one receives news that he or she has a terminal disease, and we must stand by their side through the final days. A fire, flood, or tornado destroys our home and all our belongings. The company to whom we gave thirty years of work is downsizing, and we are let go, uncertain of what new career to pursue. Few people pass through life without the challenge of facing some affliction.
Many of us are unprepared for life’s challenges. We often find that during those times we crack under its pressures. We may cheerfully care for loved ones who are ill for the first few days or weeks, but as their illness lingers and we find no change in their progress, we may feel that the strains of life begin to threaten our equanimity and patience.
Ongoing problems and setbacks often take their toll on us. If we lose our job, we may feel encouraged for the first few weeks that we will find a better job quickly, but after months of searching fruitlessly we may become depressed and hopeless. A child who gets a poor grade once in a while may disappoint us, but if the same child continues to do poorly in school year after year it causes us discouragement and frustration. Our search for a spouse may make us anxious, but if, after years, we still do not find the perfect mate, we may develop anxiety with all its physical symptoms. On the other hand, those who are in a failing marriage and seeking a separation, go through the pain of loss and all its stresses as well.
We cannot put an end to life’s challenges. We have no control over the outer universe. We cannot say for certain that we will not lose our job, our home, our wealth, or a loved one. We cannot prevent a hurricane, volcano, earthquake, tidal wave, or tornado from bringing destruction. We cannot prevent the inevitable end to our physical life. What we can do is face these challenges with a sense of fearlessness so that we are not incapacitated by fear and despair.
Fear arises from doubt and from the unknown. When we have doubts about how something is going to turn out, it opens the door to fear. When we doubt ourselves, we fear making a wrong decision or making a mistake. If we doubt our abilities, we fear that we will fail in a competition or a test. When we doubt whether an outcome will turn out right, we fear the consequences. If we doubt the existence of a controlling power, we live in fear of chance occurrences and accidents.
Untruth also leads to fear. If we tell a lie, we live in fear of being caught. We must create an intricate web of lies to cover the first lie. The number of lies becomes so great that it is hard to track what we said to whom and when we said it. Rather than bringing closure to the situation by telling the truth, we spend weeks, months, and even years spinning yarns to cover up the initial lie. Fear grips us any time someone comes close to knowing the truth, for then we will be exposed and must pay the consequences of the deed we were trying to hide.
We fear being weak. The young boy or girl on the school playground fears the bully. Each day as he or she walks home from school, the weak child lives in fear of being physically attacked by the bigger children. At work, the employee fears the employer. The employer holds the future of our salary and job in his or her hands. We may feel weak and powerless to speak up for injustices on the job because those who hold the power may retaliate and punish us for doing so.
If we examine our lives, we find that we are fearful of many things. As children, we fear and worry about how long our parents are going to be there to support us. As students, we live in fear of failing our examinations. As parents, we fear whether or not our child is going to be healthy or whether or not he or she will grow to be a good person. As business owners, we worry about whether our competitors are getting the better of us. Each one of us is fearful about one aspect of our life or another. Behind all these fears is the fear that is at the heart of each of us, and that is fear of the unknown.
We are more afraid of our thoughts of what is out there than of what is actually out there. Those who fear death, in actuality, fear the unknown. We all know that one day we are going to die. Many believe that the annihilation of ourselves is the end of our existence. That fear is always trying to eat us up in one manner or another. People fear the unknown because it may be unpleasant or painful. Since they do not know what to expect, anxiety and fear builds within them. There are many people who do believe in life after death. What they fear then is the unknown of how they are going to die and what they will experience at the time of death. They fear the pain of death. Fear of the unknown runs like a continuous thread in the back of our minds throughout our life.
The Soul’s Fearlessness
Our soul, which is totally conscious, is a part of God and, therefore, is without fear. Since God is all-consciousness, and the soul is one with God, it is God in a microcosm. God is without fear, and the soul is also without fear. It is only when we are out of touch with our soul that we begin to be afraid. The soul is truth; the soul is totally conscious. Being in connection with absolute truth means there is no fear. Thus, there is no fear in the soul.
The soul’s quality of wisdom gives it access to the knowledge of all that is. There is nothing potentially unknown to the soul. It knows what is and what is to be. What has it to fear? Those who have been in touch with their soul—the saints, spiritual Masters and enlightened beings— have come to understand the process of death through firsthand experience. This knowledge helps eliminate the fear of death.
The saints tell us that what dies is the physical body, which is made of matter. Being made of matter, it deteriorates, it decays, and is finally destroyed. But our true self, which is our spirit or soul, is eternal. It lives on and on and on. What we call death in this world of ours is only a physical death. For the soul, it is just the changing of a vesture. Therefore, the first thing to understand is that our soul is everlasting. It existed in the beginning, it exists now, and it will always exist. There is no question of the destruction of the soul; it is eternal. If we can realize this for ourselves, one of the greatest fears of our life, the unknown nature of death, will be eliminated.
Truth Knows No Fear
The soul is truth. Untruth lives in fear of being exposed. But as Mahatma Gandhi often said, “Truth always wins in the end.” Truth conquers all. If we live in truth, we have nothing to fear.
We may not want to recognize it, but there are laws by which the universe is governed. Ignorance of the laws is no excuse. We may think we can get away with deceiving others, with deceiving ourselves, with deceiving God, but we cannot get away with these acts. Sooner or later truth is revealed, and the consequences of our actions must be paid.
If we read the newspapers, we find thieves may rob a bank and get away. Parents lie to their children, and children lie to their parents. We may take money that is not ours from our place of employment. We may cheat on our loved ones. We may pretend to have power that we do not have in order to get people to do what we want. We manipulate others to get our way. We make promises we have no intention of keeping. There are numerous shades of untruths in which human beings are involved. But in the end the truth will catch up with us, if not in this life, then on our day of judgment. There is accountability for our doings.
Living in truth frees us from fear. We neither fear having to account for untruth, nor fear being found out. The prisoner who has served time in jail for wrongdoings based on lies, deception, and dishonesty decides to live a clean life of truth. How freeing it is for that criminal to wake up each day and enjoy life without looking over his or her shoulder in fear of getting caught. The person who speeds on the highway is always tense, wondering whether the police will stop him or her for a traffic violation. The driver can neither enjoy the scenery or the conversation in the car. But the person who drives at the posted speed limit does not have to drive in fear. That person can enjoy the sights along the way, the music on the radio, or the discussions with other passengers without fear hanging over his or her head.
The soul’s existence is truth. If we can tap into the soul, then our real nature as truth will govern our lives and free us from fear.
How to Develop Fearlessness
In medicine, to desensitize someone is to give one small doses of the substance to which one is allergic. By learning to tolerate small doses, the body builds resistance and can handle larger doses of the irritating substance. If we begin to practice fearlessness in small situations, we can grow in our ability to handle greater and greater challenges. To practice fearlessness we must come in contact with our empowered soul.