Friday, October 15, 2010

Managing Fear

An acquaintance and I were discussing life the other day, and among the topics was the subject of happiness. "How would you define happiness?" I asked her. "The absence of fear," she replied. Then she thought for a moment and continued, "And acceptance."

That last piece is pretty important. We may never experience the total absence of fear in our lives. However, we can learn how to turn toward it, acknowledge it, and let it be. 

Many years ago, I felt paralyzed by fear. At the time, I was making my living as an actor, so this kind of paralysis is not a good thing. On the advice of a counselor, I began to imagine my fear as an inanimate object. I found a little rubber ball with an ugly, menacing face on it in a toy store, and I would secretly carry it with me wherever I went. For example, when I had an audition, it went with me and waited patiently in my briefcase until I was done. When I began to see my fear as no more threatening than a piece of rubber, I was able to manage it much more easily.

A few years later, I was in my early vipassana practice, when I began to feel that paralyzing fear again. During one sitting, the fear was so strong I was practically shaking. Finally I'd had enough. I "turned toward" the darkness where the fear was hiding and shouted inwardly, "Okay, you asshole! Let me see you! Show me what you've got!" Out of the shadows came the face on my rubber ball, which had been lost for quite some time. "Boogah-boogah!" it seemed to say, trying to frighten me. "That's it?" I laughed. "That's the best you can come up with?" The face seemed to grow very sad, and it slunk away back into the shadows never to bother me quite so much again.

Our fears are not real. They are objects of our mind. They are thoughts about an imagined future based on a remembered past. They have no more reality than this. When we can face them, and see them for the impostors that they are, then we have a chance to experience acceptance and, perhaps, happiness.


No comments:

Post a Comment