Updated: Jul 10, 2020
When we feel fear, we want it to go away. And to make it go away, we tend to think we have to do something.
Not only is there an inherent restlessness in the feeling of fear itself, but that’s how our culture trains us: Action is the root solution to whatever situation we’re facing.
There is nothing wrong with action. And some kind of action at some point may be required in your navigation of circumstances.
But action always arises from something deeper—from its own root cause. This is what our culture misses. Action can arise from anxiety, fear, and anger, or from groundedness, love, and clarity. Any given action is valuable not because it’s strenuous and grand, but to the extent that it springs from a source that is itself valuable.
The spiritual teacher Sadhguru asks, if our arms were always spastically flailing around, how effective would they be in carrying out helpful actions? The mind and heart are no different. Our culture misses this too. I can testify that the calmer my mind and heart, the more effective and positive my actions.
Frequently, you will also find that when your first response is to quiet your mind, the situation you thought required action simply resolves itself. I have experienced this over and over. The simple act of trust is immensely powerful, not just emotionally but practically.
It’s also a subtle art. To trust is to even trust not trusting. We are so used to bullying ourselves that the habit persists even when we try to follow good advice. “Why can’t I be less scared?” “Why can’t I meditate better?” “Why aren’t I doing more for others?”
But no matter what contortions the mind is going through—whether fear, self-criticism, or wishing something would go away—it’s always possible to just watch that flailing. Not to identify with it.
This is the essential “teaching” (there is no information in this teaching) of all spiritual masters. We are not our thoughts or our emotions. These come and go, like clouds. We watch them from the only place that’s real. Fear, says the spiritual master Mooji, is a bluff of the mind.
Practicing this little side-step is something anyone can do, anywhere and anytime. Another spiritual master, Matt Kahn, says what I believe amounts to the same thing: “Whatever arises, love that.”
This sounds simple. It is. Its power is not in its conceptual difficulty. It is entirely in its practice.
The practice is different for everybody: turn off the news more often, walk outside, meditate, appreciate a blossoming plum tree or your beating heart, or literally anything else, even if just for a moment. When fear comes, consciously let it be there. If tears come, let them be there too.
Like practicing the piano, or anything, this kind of practice adds up, even if you can’t immediately tell. But you know you’re doing it right when you feel a little more ease than you felt before. The greater the ease, the less actions need forcing, and the more the right action just happens.
Childlike, the Universe says, “Try it.”
No wisdom matters
except the wisdom that you
practice every day.*
*from my book, The Truth Cannot Be Told in Prose: It Takes 101 Haiku
(email me for a copy at firstname.lastname@example.org)