Its a curious irony that our survival instinct works to protect us from life. But, the same energy that was originally intended to wake us up, has begun to shut us down. Once triggered, we shut off and check out into patterned reactions. However, if we hold our awareness and balance, we can open up to fear. In this way, we actually become more fully present, and alive. We are, in fact, more able to protect ourselves then if we had shut down behind a wall. Awareness is the best defense. In the same way, we can open up to joy and love and life and be more capable of enjoying ourselves. We need fear. Fear keeps us alive, but it can also keeps us awake. It provides an edge to things that help us stay present. Athletes, performers and meditators all use fear to stay present. Rather than shutting us off from life, we can ride fear to actually connect us back to life.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition looks at fear as a protector; a dangerous friend we can employ to actually help us stay awake. But, like a protector, we can employ it or, if we abdicate our authority, it can employ us. And, if we refuse to pay attention, it can actually become the enemy. But, if we take our set as the leader of our experience, it can be a friend. Like a dog. Our best friend, maybe. If we learn to tame the energy and work with it we can lead the energy of fear into further waking.
The key is assertive kindness. I call it channeling my inner Cesar Millan.
When a dog barks, we are alerted. But, we generally don’t follow the dog out of the house yelling into the street or wrestle the postwoman to the ground. We wake up, pay attention and then, sussing the situation, calm the dog. We settle the dog with assertive kindness, as further aggression will only agitate the animal. And passive acceptance will do nothing to calm the animal. With awareness, we become familiar with the relationship and making friends with fear, know its only following the protector’s program. We might actually be grateful. We patt the its head and say “good dog.” Then, we can open to the situation non-aggressively with confidence because we are awake. And, of course, if there was a threat, we always have the dog. So, we can actually have confidence in the reliable old system, as long as we learn to use it, instead of being used by it.
I’m not saying its easy. There probably won’t be anyone addressing our panic with a frisbee in the park saying, “Wow dude. Sweet fear. Its soooo cuuuute.” But, of course, if someone did, it would be because we were being kind to the fear in the first place.
So, it really comes down to self care and respect. When we forget ourselves and lose our connection to our basic human dignity, gasping and grasping groundlessly through life, we scare ourselves and the fear takes over and controls our life. However, when we are in touch with our basic human dignity, we regain authority over our life and fear simply alerts us to the present.
And for that, we can actually be grateful to the old beast.