Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

Thich Nhat Hanh, HarperOne

Is there anyone without some fear? With the experience of fear comes a constant search for a way out of it. There is no instantaneous relief. But the enlightened Ones state there is a path to freedom from fear. First we must understand our fears and their source. Then the fear is transformed with love—love being the antidote to fear. Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-loved Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author of numerous books, offers compassionate wisdom along with numerous specific practices for insight into and release of fear. However, personal experience strongly suggests that there is no substitute for a strong, experienced guide.

In Fear the monk writes that the original fear is birth. We are thrust, often painfully, from the comfort and security of the womb into the insecure unknown. We suddenly experience cold, heat, thirst, hunger, the need to breathe. With this comes the original desire to survive now that the physical umbilical cord is cut. All other fears are manifestations of this original fear and the original desire, a need to feel that someone will take care of us and love us.

The original fear is alive in the feelings of loneliness, being abandoned, old age, illness, and death. The original desire for someone to take care of us is still as alive as in a small child. The insecure and fearful child remains within us even in adulthood. We are not aware of the countless umbilical cords that still continue to care for us—the life-giving sun, moon, the rivers and oceans, air, earth, plants, trees, farmers, and so on.

The point is not to suppress or deny the fears. Allow them to express themselves and acknowledge them without judgment, but without spinning stories around them and fantasizing. The fears must be embraced with love as one would embrace and comfort a small child. Fear prevents us from living fully and enjoying the present. We keep swinging from the fears of the past to the hypothetical fears of the future. Even moments of present happiness are marred by the fear of the moment ending.

As an antidote to fear there are practices in mindful remembrances, mindful breathing (some are very similar to the breathing tracks on this site), and numerous mindful exercises.

Fear, like other books by Thich Naht Hanh, is a balanced combination of explanation and explicit practices.

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