This day before dawn I ascended a hill and looked at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit, When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we be filled and satisfied then? — Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 46
I have often wondered how many of us feel the reassurance, the comfort, that warmth brings? The comfort and reassurance that quietness brings, and that a sense of rootedness, of connectedness, of belonging brings? Modern medicine informs us that our earliest feelings were those of warmth, quiet, and security. We felt these as we grew within our mother's womb. It is interesting to note that today we often seek to experience these again and again. We seek to be warm and comfortable, we retreat to a quiet room or a "resting" place now and again, and we want to be securely rooted in our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual life as well.
Fear is a feeling of anxiety and agitation. Carl Rogers defines it as the passion of our nature which excites us to provide for security. To overcome fear is therefore to gain superiority, to be victorious over it — to master fear, not to be mastered by it. How, then, do we overcome fears?
The Lord Buddha suggested that we curb, if not completely eliminate, our desires and wants. Buddhism suggests the middle way; it suggests dispassion. Other Eastern traditions suggest transcendence; Christian traditions teach the love of God, of Jesus Christ as our only salvation. The practical philosophers make available to us tools that will aid us in curbing our desires which, they say, will eventuate into our being in control of our self in order that we become our Self.
K. O. Schmidt tells us that "fear is the fruit of insufficient, limited or distorted knowledge and, in the final analysis, a symptom of disturbed inner unity." What we need to do, he suggests, is to
first relax, then analyze ourselves calmly until we become aware of the real causes of our inner inconsistencies, tensions, and anxieties. Then the truth dawns upon us that they have nothing in common with our innermost being. Neither have they independent existence, but sponge upon our misdirected thought energies. — Cf. Applied Cybernetics: Atomic Energies of the Mind, trans. Leone Muller, pp. 72n, 179
Schmidt suggests two solutions: (1) to embark on a path of self-liberation; and (2) to engage in a reprogramming of our life. He suggests eight steps: self-relaxation, becoming still, turning inward, concentration, meditation, self-reflection, self-invigoration, and right self-polarization.
What Schmidt offers is not new. We have heard these suggestions before in many ways, in many places and races, in many times through the ages. Our first step is necessarily to engage in a course of self study. We have to do it! We have to look at ourselves objectively as we would a machine or a chair. We need objectively to take stock of our self. What are our strengths? What are our limitations? What are our needs? And what are our wants, our desires? When we have discerned these, we need to learn to let go of that which is not necessary in our journey toward our possible evolution, our conscious unfolding.
When we have studied our self objectively, we can learn how others have done it before us. The reading of theosophical, philosophical, spiritual, and scriptural accounts may help us. Autobiographies and biographies of those who have come close to their own divinity are also available. All these are like markers or road signs. We find we are not unique. There are others on this path called life who experience similar quests, perhaps, in a different way. The knowledge that all these bring forth allows us the consolation that we are not alone. We find also that we are each a mirror to the other. And we are all in this together. We need to learn this early in life. Jean Rostand, a French biologist, said: "A person too early cut off from the common interests of men, is exposed to inner impoverishment." Let us not cut our self off from others.
The Delphic Oracle tells us: "Know thyself." The great philosopher Socrates once assured us that "the unexamined life is not worth living." And we learn that in order to know our Self, in order to acknowledge our oneness with others, we need to trade off personal comfort for universal love or compassion. Trade-offs — the giving up of what is not useful for the prize of our true Self in order to complete ourself. The great Sankara said that we are thrice blessed: our human life, a way or a teaching and a teacher or guide, and the company of others.
Overcoming fear is only one of the ways we can truly appreciate our humanness and humanity. There is a service that we can do for each other, and that is to be who we are and to be open to one another in a trusting, loving, and truthful manner. In his first Epistle, John said: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear" (4:18). Walt Whitman challenges us by saying,
Long have you timidly waited, holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again . . .
Sri Ramakrishna assures us that "one cannot succeed in religious life if one has shame, hatred, or fear. These are fetters. Haven't you heard of the eight fetters? How can one who is eternally perfect be afraid of the world?" (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 689.)
Robert Muller, author of Most of All They Taught Me Happiness, when asked in an interview what he would advise today's generation, gave four suggestions: (1) always have a sympathetic view; (2) do not be afraid to try new things; (3) constantly search; and (4) love life.
I would like to end with this poem of Swami Paramananda from his Book of Daily Thoughts and Prayers:
Fear not, my heart,
Even the darkest night must end at dawn!
Clouds and mist may come and go,
But they cannot rob sun's radiant glow.
Look up, mine eyes, keep steady watch,
For never must ye lose your guiding star. . . .
Hold fast! Hold fast!
Rest will come when thy toil is done.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1999; copyright © 1999 Theosophical University Press)
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We live on an arm of the Pacific Ocean, and every spring many Mallard hens with their ducklings arrive at our dock after the frenzy of mating season. But last year only a single hen and her nine babies took up residence. Two of the babies died, apparently the result of a congenital weakness, for the others thrived.
It is rather traumatic when creatures that have come into our care die. As I held a dead duckling in my hand, I was struck by its perfection in bodily form — the unformed stubs of wings, the perfect beauty of the bill with its tiny breathing holes, the precise groupings of feathers, yellow and buff. The downy fuzz all over its body was so fluffy and alive, its orange legs and tiny black webbed feet perfectly shaped. I couldn't help but ponder upon this little bird being born and then dying before it could experience much of life. What force shaped this tiny creature? Though in appearance it was perfect, something caused it to die. Truly there is a divinity that shapes our ends, and in animals as well as humans, karma acts, as it does in all things on earth and in the universe.
A sudden death, especially of a young person, is shocking and sorrowing. But death may come as a welcome friend to those whose bodies have worn out, who have grown old and weary of life. Eventually we reach a harmonious neutrality about death. And it will follow that when we have gone beyond death and rested from our encounters with life's problems and joys, we will become aware of the inevitable and irresistible call to reimbody, for life is the learning place. And who knows? My little duckling has not just gone into nothingness; perhaps he may come paddling down to our dock another day.