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Fear is your choice

I recently took a trip to Thailand and was ecstatic to experience the Buddhist cultural influences. I was out shopping when I noticed that many stores sell sculptures of Buddha in various poses. This piqued my interest. I wasn't aware of the purpose behind each of the poses so I did a bit of research when I got back to my hotel room.

As I was researching postures of the Buddha, I stumbled upon one that resonated deeply. The pose that captured my attention was that of the protection Buddha. This Buddha is identified based on a hand gesture. The hand is held in front of the chest with the palm facing away from the body. Much like you might put up your hand to indicate stop to another person. To protect yourself from someone that you fear is approaching aggressively.

Take your hand and raise it up in this fashion, as if telling the world to stop, protecting yourself in the process. How do you feel?


I become enamored with this gesture because of the significance of the expression. One might realistically put his or her hand up in fear, but what's fascinating is that fear doesn't exist outside of his or her body. Fear originates in one's mind. The best way to protect yourself from what you fear is to recognize the source of the fear and realize that often all you have to do is chose to overcome the fear that is brewing in your mind. All you have to do is raise your hand to protect yourself. 

Needless to say I sought a Buddha to bring back so that every day I could see this reminder that I hold the power to overcome any fear I have. All I have to do is chose to become aware of the source of my fears. And then I can raise up my hand to defend myself, from myself!

For example, I have an irrational, subconscious fear of heights when near the edge of a very tall building. Just last week my sister was in town. We decided to take a trip up to the top of The Empire State Building. I knew on the way up how I would feel once we reached the top. I could've given in to the fear and stayed home. If I had, I would've missed out on a glorious night time view of New York. Instead, I went along and I enjoyed reflecting upon how I felt at the top, knowing I had nothing to fear, but nonetheless still feeling my heart rate climb as I approached the edge of the top floor, looking down at the tops of buildings nearby.

What I find fascinating about this fear of mine, it doesn't manifest in airplanes, helicopters, on top of mountains and in many other situations where I'm at the top of a very large object. It's just tall buildings. Perhaps I fell off a tall building in a past life, if I believed in re-incarnation...

Not all fears are irrational. For example, when learning to ride a bike for the first time, it's likely you'll fall off. In this case it's a good idea to wear a helmet. It's a good idea to keep wearing that helmet even when you become comfortable because you still might run into a situation where you crash and it won't be pretty. 

Another rational fear, professionally speaking, would be worrying about a snowstorm the weekend of a national conference. This could spell disaster for the event and perhaps bankrupt the organization. But, this fear can be addressed, there are plenty of insurance companies that provide peace of mind. You could also consider scheduling the event during the summer instead of the winter, assuming you don't live in an area with tornadoes, monsoons, or other natural disasters in summer months.

When dealing with fear, there really are only two types of fear: rational and irrational. Rational fears are realistic fears, they underscore risks that are worth addressing. Fear stems from risk. A rational fear would be worrying about a blizzard in January in Boston. Irrational fears stem from irrational perception of risk. An irrational fear is worrying about an airplane crashing, there's simply nothing you're going to do about it. And it's highly unlikely.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama sums this up the best:
If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then also there is no need to worry. - The Dalai Lama
I chuckle when I read that last part, because I can hear the chuckle in the voice of the Dalai Lama whenever he talks about human emotion.

Rational fears are fears we can do something about. Buy insurance, reschedule the event. In advance, we can mitigate the likelihood (reschedule) or reduce the severity through contingent actions (insurance to minimize losses).

Irrational fears are fears we cannot do anything about because they are simply the productive of an overactive imagination. The solution is to raise your hand, observe how you feel, laugh at your own human nature and plow forward knowing the fear will dissipate soon enough.

FDR famously said:
the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself - Franklin D. Roosevelt
The truth of the matter is, there's nothing to fear. Fear is a product of your mind. Fear is a choice. Are you ready to raise up your hand, to protect yourself?

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