Fear. And how not to be afraid of it.
Fear is a useful natural reaction to whatever threatens our survival or well-being or those we care for. Hopefully we care for everyone, albeit in different degrees and ways, and we would not want harm to come to anyone. But fear can sap us of life more effectively than danger itself.
Some years ago I went to India with a group of young American adults. I think they were scared to go alone. They had grown up post 9-11 in a culture increasingly manipulated by a cocktail of political fear and excessive concern for security (= control of the unpredictable) in every area of life. As I saw their nervous response to the different health and safety standards and customs of touching, I recalled by own early travels, even younger than them. I wondered why I had been able to throw myself into new, strange situations so unguardedly. Their anxiety came to a head when we were staying at an ashram. Some local villagers of their age, obviously attracted to these bright, attractive Americans, invited them to their home. They approach me and asked what I thought. I said it was a great opportunity and not to be missed. What was their concern? They were frightened of being offered food or drink that was unhygienic or being in a germ-filled house. I said I thought that was their grandparents speaking to them when they were very young but what now, at their age, did they think? Most of them didn’t go.
An older person was facing a transition in his life and had to make a serious decision about his future. He had done his research and taken wise advice but was paralysed by indecision in fear of making a mistake that could not be unmade. I said I understood that state of mind well because it had often caused me to delay and postpone important decisions. I discovered that the longer I delayed the worse the fear and the more anxiety was heightened. But when I got to the place in life where I was expected to be the decision-maker in many situations and it was my responsibility to do so, something shifted in me. I still felt a certain fear of making decisions but was less frightened of mistakes. I had made many and felt the shame and regret they can cause. But no mistake or failure is final because another sun rises the next day and you can confess your error and re-route. He looked at me and said, ‘ah yes but you’re a monk. It’s different for me. This is a really important decision’.
The world is being taught many lessons about fear by Ukraine these days. Not to indulge tyrants. Not to become over-dependent on them for your energy supplies. To stand together on basic moral principles even if it loses you votes or hurts your economy. Listening to the first-hand reports from the shattered cities, the women, children and old people fleeing and the able-bodied fighting for their freedom, we see different ways of listening to and controlling your fears. If you are frightened for your children’s lives or your grandparents, listen to the fear and run for safety. What if you are able but frightened to stay and defend your home against the invaders? It’s a different decision for someone committed to non-violence and another for someone whose conscience urges them to fight. Each must transcend their fear and put their life on the line.
As one young woman said, ‘I’m not a soldier. They’re bigger than us. But I must stay’. It may not be rational but it has a nobility that one day will blow the viciousness of violence into the waste-dump of history and enhance the memory of your people, your culture. Culture is what we collectively remember of ourselves.

Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2022