Shifting Fear to Faith
Shifting fear to faith is the way forward.
Walking through the supermarket this morning gave me incentive to reflect on it. Fear was palpable. People staying their distance, barely making eye contact, the omnipresent voice from above frequently advising us to be a trolley length apart! Physical distance creating social distance! There is an ever-present elephant in the room at the moment – a situation we are all part of.
We are being layered with so many physical instructions at this time. I think emotional understanding is what will most assist our minds now.
How can addressing fear help settle our emotions at this time?
Fear is the most omnipresent of the five causes of suffering (klesas) according to yoga. (The 5 are – wrong understanding, fear, aversion, desire, ego/identity). Although we live daily with all the klesas to some extent, their impact is really felt when they are excessive for us. So if a little fear is good for us to keep us safe, excessive fear can start to affect us adversely. Understanding the difference is a process of self reflection.
Fear is present even for the most learned or wise. At an innate level we all fear death – this is instinctive. It is part of our survival mechanism. Fear is the klesa we are all wading through the most right now. Fear of change, fear of losing security, fear of the end of a particular way of life (for a time). Fear is confronting.
The causes of suffering that yoga talks about are actually a really practical way for us to examine our minds and behaviour at this time. At the root of the 5 is the concept of avidya (wrong understanding, incorrect knowledge). It’s often referred to as the trunk of the tree because the other 4 causes stem from it as branches, waving in the wind and creating disturbance.
Avidya is when we mistake something as being true, correct, the right way of seeing when in fact we are holding a wrong perception or clouded judgment about it. How do we know our perception is wrong? Sometimes we don’t know until later with hindsight after the comment has come out of our mouth, an action has been taken or another source has proven us incorrect. Often times we will get a sense of agitation or that little niggle that something is amiss in our attitude as we are making the judgement. An example with the current situation is to presume everyone you know is going to become really unwell or even die. Or to falsely believe you need to start hording food and essentials because one day what is familiar will disappear. This is an example of avidya. Our understanding is flawed and as a result we create a cycle of suffering for our self (and often others) by reacting with fear and a ‘me first’ attitude. Any of the causes of suffering can sprout from wrong understanding.
This is where it can be helpful to understand our own mind. We see everything through it. It is an instrument of perception. The mind is not essentially you, however it is an aspect of your multilayered system. We suffer when we begin to identify with it and all its activities. The mind is affected by everything you absorb and put in front of it – negatively and positively.
The beauty of the mind is that it can be as clear as a pure crystal – a state where we see truth, have perfect understanding and make wise decisions (the opposite of avidya). But as soon as it is influenced by something outside in the world in a negative way, the crystal clear mind becomes muddied as though something of colour has been placed in front of it. It becomes tainted. Take that ‘influence’ away and the mind can become clear again.
How can we clear the mind and address fear at this time?
Don’t overly consume social media or news. The mind will become agitated and in turn your emotional state will be affected. Choosing valid sources of information sparingly is paramount if you are going to break any cycle of fear that you may be caught in. Rather than being overwhelmed, start a chat with friends or family that can reconnect you with others and what you know to be valid and worthwhile in life. Have fruitful and positive conversation. Connect with simplicity.
Do things that make you feel good and positive. Humans are adaptable beings. How do you think we survived for 200,000 years? Start a project, revamp the garden, find an interest in the home! It is amazing how much satisfaction you can receive from making changes in you living environment. This can be a great incentive to make changes outside your immediate environment down the track when things return to normality!
Create perspective. Gratitude is never an overused word. You have abundance in so many ways – focus on that. Your relationships, a home to live in, the food you have, the beauty of nature. Whilst we all fear our freedoms are being taken away, we still have so many that we can reflect on instead. Perspective can be as wide or as finite as you want to make it!
Don’t water the ‘fear’ seed. The causes of suffering can never be fully eradicated, but they can be in different manifest forms. For example, the seed of fear will exist, but do we choose to water it? Settling into the news channel for half an hour is sure to water my fear seed. How much do I want it to sprout? I’m not talking about the other extreme here of not remaining aware (extremes are never good) but using judgement is important.
Acceptance of change. Somehow, I suspect this is the hardest one for us. Change is often uncomfortable, and we tend to want to push it away rather than embrace it (unless it is happy change). It is ironic that change is really the only constant in life but we often fight so desperately to prevent it. Making friends with it actually reduces all the causes of suffering – particularly fear. Acceptance is the first step to change. When we push change away the body becomes restricted and tight, the breath can become short and the mind overly vigilant or tight in its way of seeing the world. Creating space is the underlying catalyst for accepting change. The body is a great place to start!
The Yoga Sutras talk about how we need to be vigilant to the causes of suffering even when it seems they are not present. In other words, cultivate or take on some practices for yourself that ensure you have strong connection to your body, breath and mind. This is how you learn about YOU. No one else can do it for you – is is self-motivation. If it’s not a yoga or meditation practice, then some simple breath works a couple of times a day is equally as potent or perhaps another activity that links you back to self-knowledge. When you begin to learn about YOU, your understanding of others and the world changes. Perspective becomes greater. Fear reduces.
To travel well through this time the mind needs to remain strong and be influenced by what uplifts and supports it. Perhaps this is the challenge we are being gifted right now. Let go of accumulation, false identities, the fruits of actions, attachment to what is not permanent, to the things that are not serving your mind.
Make effort, take a step. Find your own personal, inner faith – in yourself and your own capacity. This can be your constant. I guarantee it is there – you are just being offered the chance to find it.