“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” The quote, attributed to Plato, reminds us that to varying degrees fear is with each of us from childhood.
Ordinary people feel fear. Great leaders sometimes fear. So do great warriors, great artists, great men and women who are leaders in other fields. For the higher man and the higher woman, I believe, the question is not so much can we overcome fear? but what is worth fearing? If we can answer that then we will live a life worth living.
Some time ago, in my Kung-Fu class, I was asked to spar with a new student. I went very light. Then my instructor told me to me go harder. He was concerned that, if I went light, he might get a false sense of security in facing an attacker on the street, who of course wouldn’t hold back. After he told me to go harder on the student, (although far from using full force) I could see that he was nervous. But he immediately put all his effort into sparing with me, and landed some punches and kicks on me.
Most people see fear as a negative thing. But that depends on what we chose to be afraid of. Fear seems to grip us, to terrorize us, sometimes making small things into mountainous obstacles.
There are several reasons why most martial artists have a healthy outlook on life. Exercise causes the body to release endorphins, which makes us feel positive. (We’ve all experienced feeling stressed or low before working out, and then realizing that this has evaporated after just ten minutes or so of sweating.)
But I think the major reason is that martial artists have chosen to fear something greater. In choosing to fear — or to face — something greater do we overpower and destroy the ordinary fears that overwhelm so many people.
I’m not a Christian, but I always remember Proverbs 9:10: “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Perhaps this is shocking in a world that wants everyone to feel “safe” and with no pressure to change or improve. This is a great trap, and a great loss to anyone who falls for it.
From a certain perspective “fear of the Lord” is one of the most important teachings in the Bible. Although no doubt misused by religious authority, the command is not to fear the priest, minister, churchgoer, or church establishment. It is to fear nothing other than God.
And whether conceived as the Christian God, or Krishna, Kali, Buddha, as a pagan European deity, or as the Tao, or as Truth, etc. — if you fear “the Lord” — then you will not fear man. This is the essential lesson.
Fear is inevitable. But the higher man chooses to fear higher things. Yes, it is difficult, but we must choose not to fear the opinions of others, but to fear not speaking the timeless truth. We must not fear making a mistake, but not trying. We must not fear failing, but not pushing, developing, and elevating our understanding, our spiritual practice, body, skill, and character, forging ourselves into our image of our higher and noble Self.