The yogis looked at fear as a core affliction to consciousness. They called it, abhinivesa one of the five afflictions or ignorances of life. This kind of fear is a fear of death, or more specifically, a clinging to life. This is a very natural fear and one that we all share. It is the basis for the concept of survival of the fittest. Evolution exists because there is a natural instinct in living organisms to preserve life and to avoid death. So strong is this instinct, that over time the actual physical structure of an organism may shift to better suit that organisms survival within it's given environment. Yoga philosophy saw this as an affliction because it was a clinging to life based on a false pretense. That false pretense is that we as humans are just our physical bodies, so when the body dies we die. To them, that simply isn't true.
So what is fear? Fear is an emotion. It can be a very strong emotion. Like many emotions that exist first in the mind, it is accompanied by strong feelings in the body. Fear triggers an overarousal of our sympathetic nervous system. It increases heart rate and respiration, suppresses digestion and reproduction, tightens muscles, and stimulates cortisol production.
Why do we experience fear? We experience fear when the "i" self feels threatened or unsafe. There are two core practices to overcoming fear and they are:
1. Preparation: This is the act of gathering information and knowledge about the perceived threat. As the saying goes, knowledge is power and fear is rooted in ignorance. But knowledge alone is not enough. It must be applied in practice. A soldier is not asked to start on the front lines of a battlefield. The fear would be crippling. They first must go through training to gain knowledge about the art of war and battle. They then have to practice what they've learned in environments set up to simulate the same situations they will face in a real battle. This practice builds confidence. Feeling confident is the opposite of feeling fear. Preparation involves feedback as well. In preparing for a big speech or presentation you practice in front of a friend or trusted co-worker to give you honest and constructive feedback. This feedback allows you to adapt your presentation and feel more confident with the material and delivery.
2. Faith: In its truest form this is an unwavering belief in something bigger than the individual self. This "something" typically has a few key qualities. Faith in God is trusting that a divine being exists, loves you and is wiser then you are. Having true faith in God gives us peace. We know that all the events of our life, good and bad, are lessons presented to teach us how to become stronger and more resilient because God loves us and has our best interest at heart. When faith exists in this way we can accept easier the challenges of our life and not let them crush us. Another quality of faith is that we are not just a physical body. This faith is a belief in an eternal aspect of the self. If we have faith that the soul is the true nature of the Self and it cannot be destroyed or killed by anything of form, then we can take comfort in the fact that no matter what happens to the physical body, the soul, the "Self" lives on. This is what the Yoga Sutras refer to when using the term abhinivesa. To release the clinging to form. The body will get old, it can get sick and eventually it will die. That is ok because the soul will live on.
Threats come in many different forms. We cannot avoid them and so we cannot avoid fear. It is a part of life. We can, however, shift our perspective. Even a small shift in mindset from fear to faith makes a huge difference on the biggest fears. We can also do our best to prepare. If there is something in your life right now that you fear, begin to outline your plan to overcome it (see our blog on goals). Outline your vision, set clear goals and begin to gather the knowledge you need to reach those goals. Be persistent in overcoming your fears, do not let them stop you from pursuing your dreams. Use your fears as fuel to drive you through any obstacles on the path to your highest expression of confidence and purpose.