“We can observe many varieties of suffering and at the same time recognize a common basis that applies to all beings. This common basis is omnipresent ignorance, and it expresses itself in a constant alternation between hope and fear.”
~Lama Gendun Rinpoche
Contrary to the relentlessly intimidating propaganda of this world, as well as all that seems threatening to us by virtue of our mere existence – of just having shown up here naked and wailing — we actually have nothing to fear. Believe it or not, it’s really true: when we finally awaken to how things really are, we are unmistakably made aware that all is well, all is perfect just as it is!
Why then is nearly everyone still afraid? In fact, fear is hard-wired into the human genome. Why? Fundamentally, it’s there to keep the system alive and undamaged. The program is always running, though it’s usually known by another name — the “survival instinct”, and no doubt it serves a critical purpose in the scheme of manifest existence, action and reaction.
Another seeming contradiction is that, even though everything changes, humans desperately resist change. Whether or not we are happy with the way things are, the prospect of confronting the unknown is typically quite challenging for us, and usually quite frightening. Everything changes, and so we fear what might happen when anything does. Maybe we won’t get what we want, or maybe we won’t like what we do get.
Most intimidating of all, we can’t help but notice that other people die. They are dying all the time, individually, or in groups. Based on the unavoidable evidence (which we’d really rather avoid considering), we too will surely die, survival instinct or not, and so how can it be claimed that all is well?
Indeed, at this very moment, death is stalking us, and so we are always anxious, even when things seem to be going along pretty well. We might make all sorts of efforts to avoid that fact, acquiring fortunes, relationships, pleasures, and distractions of every kind, but we know at some essential level that we are not going to make it, no matter what, and that itself is enough to leave us in a perpetually anxious state.
The fact is, the body comes with an expiration date, and that makes us very nervous. Every aspect of our life and relations is infected with this fear, whether consciously or subconsciously, and so in reaction we might turn to strategies that promise some form of longevity (like popular health regimens), or even a variation on immortality (courtesy of some hopeful religion or anecdotal reports).
In other words, even though we are fearful right now, if we can manage to convince and fortify ourselves with some kind of hopeful faith, and follow the instructions that come with our faith manual, we eventually won’t have to be afraid. Thus, relief is projected sometime out into the indefinite future, based on the implementation of a prefabricated scheme or salvation agenda.
Despite how things might appear, we’ve got a plan, a get-out-of-fear card snugly tucked away in the pocket of our chosen belief system. It might even come complete with a Savior who will ferry us across the river to a promised land of joy and delight, if we are good and play our cards right!
Alternately, there will be those who say, “To hell with it — let the chips fall where they may, we’ll grab what we can while we can! Life is short anyway, so why not savor every kind of indulgence possible? We’ll worship at the church of egotistical self-interest while ruthlessly trying to control the chess pieces, and thus avoid our fear by exploiting all the possibilities of experience until the curtain crashes down. Whatever harm we may do to ourselves and others in the process can be chalked up to being just part of the game of life, because when you’re dead you’re dead.”
Nevertheless, neither strategy – that of the hopeful believer, nor that of the nihilistic hedonist – can truly succeed in quenching the fear, because real release is neither a matter of working up some kind of enthusiastic idealism, nor does it consist of the raw exploitation of experience, both of which are ultimately mere impotent distractions. Even the intellectual effort to rigorously deconstruct it will typically fall apart when confronted by the visceral quality of living fear, because fear is stronger than reason.
When all other options are at last seen through and discarded, the only way we’ll find to skillfully address fear is to sit right in the middle of it, open-eyed and awake at the heart, directly recognizing that which is both prior to its inception and likewise present after the dissolution of all fear – our true nature and primordial condition. Returning again and again to rest in the sky-like spaciousness of our own awake awareness, both fear and hope are rendered moot – they have no place to attach and weave their stories.
As long as we are identified with the body-mind-self complex, however, it is virtually impossible to experience a direct insight into who and what we really are. The program runs deep, and is rooted in the subconscious.
On the other hand, we may suspect that such a discovery requires a kind of death to all that we currently take to be ourselves, and so the fear of letting go and losing that image of ourselves which we cling to and cherish stymies us.
Indeed, all we are ever really trying to protect and defend is some image of ourselves, and so it is counter-intuitive to surrender it, even though we may have some conceptual inkling of its fraudulence.
In order to resolve this dilemma, one skillful approach would entail taking a step back and assuming a position of detached witness, simply observing the mechanics of how we construe a fearful self-sense. If we are able to do so from a posture of equanimity, we can notice how fear chronically rules our lives, informs our thoughts, poisons our relationships, and sabotages our aspirations.
Even when things seem conventionally agreeable, we are still afraid of losing what we imagine we possess, not to mention the conditions of real and imminent threat which prevail on much of this planet and bedevil so many of its inhabitants. It certainly seems that fear runs the show and calls the shots on both the macro as well as the micro level.
If we persist in diligently inquiring into the matter, however, there is something else we can recognize. That is, there have indeed been times when the fear has been transcended, perhaps only for a brief moment, but nevertheless, it has happened. What stepped in at that time, causing our fear to shrink and recede? What else could it be, but love?
Upon clear inspection, we must realize that it is only love which is stronger than fear. It is love which draws us out beyond our reluctance, beyond our resistance, beyond our self-absorption, and beyond our suit of emotional armor which we have clothed ourselves in to defend against the fearfulness of embodiment.
Indeed, more than anything else, we can recognize that love is the reason we took form here, just as it is only love (or our failure to love) that we take with us when we move on. The more profoundly we allow love to rule our life and relationships, the more effectively the fear will be seen through and released, until “all is well” is no longer just a hopeful slogan, but the actual perception of how things really are, and how we really are, as unique expressions of love itself.
Love makes it possible to appreciate this human experience in whatever form it comes, without having to run away in fear of life into fantasies of escapism. True and complete fearlessness can only be the case when we let love live us, and so that’s the essential thing – to be Love, and not at some fictional time when everything else falls into place, but here, now, and always.
In that regard, the contemporary teacher Anam Thubten wisely writes: “May we now have the inner wisdom to love this precious human life. Not from these deep seated karmic habits but from this pure, intelligent, compassionate awareness, so that we can respond to every situation not with fear, not with hatred, but total love and courage. So we can wake up again and again a thousand times everyday day and to be enchanted by the unfathomable, the sacredness, the great mystery of everything.”
It’s been said that our ultimate desire is to be free of desire itself, yet here in this moment, heart to heart, it’s clear that all we really want is to love and be loved. This yearning for deep intimacy is at the core of all, in this and any possible worlds as well. Our self-consciousness holds us back, but love will exceed such fear.
Everything is only Love seeking for itself, and finding itself in everything. Nothing is at last immune to Love. This recognition will crack every heart shell open in its own sweet time. Why wait, when there’s an open invitation now? Even the burden of our fearful intolerance is but Love’s teasing play with itself for the joy of intolerance dissolving in Love.
Mystery begets Love for the sake of its own enjoyment, expressed as the infinite forms of you and I and everything. It is the simple innocent truth of our being, prior to any adventure of knowledge or experience. We are Love, and we are here to know and be it –hearts and souls together. The illusion of separation is just that.
Love will always outshine any fear, though some might imagine otherwise, as a way to test Love. What remains when imagination is itself surpassed by Love, but Love? All that we truly have is what’s here, now — this is everything, this is all the worlds, appearing and disappearing simultaneously with us in Love in this moment with no beginning and no end.
When we are humbled enough to relinquish our resistance to what is, what is reveals itself as Love. The awesome mechanics of the universe forming itself into the unique expressions of each one of us is beyond human comprehension, yet at the heart, Love is no mystery. It’s what’s most true of all of us, and ever so shall be.
“All a sane man can ever care about is giving Love!”