Fear is an instinct common to every individual. It is a powerful emotion excited by danger and accompanied by a desire to avoid or escape it. No one is absolutely free from fear. We are afraid of dying, we are afraid of not attaining what we want and we are afraid of losing what we have.
According to Swami Sivananda, fear is of two kinds: normal and imaginary. Only five percent is normal and the rest is all imaginary. Normal fear is healthy. It paves the way for one's progress and preserves life. For example, a teacher is afraid of the principal and the principal is afraid of his superiors, so both are keen for their students to obtain good results. Similarly, a doctor is afraid of getting a bad reputation so he takes great care of his patients and saves many lives.
Imaginary fears cause disease, deplete our energy, sap our vitality, shake our confidence and destroy our ability to function effectively. Constant fear of disease makes a person a victim of the actual disease. Imaginary fear breaks down the nervous system. It is the enemy of success, as it kills all effort. Failures are due to thoughts of fear. Due to examination fear a student who has completed all his class work with good scores becomes nervous and confused and is unable to write well. As a result, he either fails or gets very poor scores in the examination.
Brave and courageous people who inspire others also have fears. Swami Rama writes that once he was staying at Government House in Dehradun and a well-known woman, a world leader famous for her courage and power, was staying in another suite. She was not afraid of guns and had even been to battlefields where journalists and others were afraid to go. That day at midnight she began shouting and crying as if somebody was killing her. When Swami Rama asked her to open the door, she refused. When he insisted, that brave lady replied that it was not possible for her to open the door because there was a spider sitting on the doorknob!
Swami Rama himself was very afraid of snakes. He would check his pockets and even pillows and bedding in the hotel where he was staying, thinking that a snake might somehow have got in. His guru helped him to overcome such fears.
The happiest person in the world is one who is fearless. A fearless person has no conflicts and is balanced. Any of the following techniques can be used to overcome a fear.
Autosuggestion: According to Swami Satyananda, the power of suggestion is very great. If we think negatively, then our life will become negative. If we think positively, then we will surely become positively inclined.
Through the power of autosuggestion even a deep-rooted fear can be overcome. I had the fear of speaking in front of an audience. Inspired by Paramahamsaji's technique of autosuggestion, I started thinking how ridiculous this stage fright is. When I am sitting just a few steps away from the stage my heartbeat is normal, so why should the palpitations start when I go onto the stage? I also realized that when so many people do not have stage fright, why should I be afraid of the audience. Constant autosuggestions in this way helped me to overcome my stage fright to a great extent. Most fears can be overcome in this way.
Autosuggestion is most powerful when we are in a state of relaxation. The best time to make autosuggestions is after meditation or just after waking up in the morning and just before going to sleep at night. Suggestions made in the visualization stage of yoga nidra are also very effective as at this time the mind is particularly receptive. Eventually a new and different attitude to fear penetrates the subconscious, and the fear disappears. We should repeat the autosuggestion with intensity and feeling for a few minutes and believe wholeheartedly that the suggestion will bring about the desired change.
Self-interrogation: As we examine our fears we can learn that they are all somehow false and based on misunderstanding. There is no truth or reality in our fears. Many fears remain buried within us and we never examine them, so we remain at their mercy. To overcome fear we should learn to examine each fear one by one, to encounter them and then be free from their control.
Being one with truth: According to Swami Rama, to be free from all fears means to be one with the truth. Even ferocious animals such as tigers and snakes will not harm us if we know the truth. Once he was in silence in the mountains. He had climbed five miles and had to climb another four miles. He rested for a while, had his food and then found a cave to sleep in. While he was half asleep, he realized that something was crawling over his body and scratching him. Opening one eye slightly, he saw two tiger cubs playing, licking him and making a noise, thinking he was their mother. The thought came as to what would happen if their mother came. Suddenly he saw a shadow in front of the cave. He opened his eyes fully and saw a tigress standing there, waiting to enter. He remained cool, thinking that he had no weapon, was not hurting her cubs and had no intention of harming her. If she moved aside, he would leave and she could come in. That is exactly what happened. She stood aside and he went out, and then she came into her cave.
Swami Atmananda recounts that one day when she entered her room, she saw a snake sitting under her bed. She sat down in front of the snake and started talking to it. The snake kept looking at her as if it understood everything she said. After half an hour she told the snake to go away as she wanted to rest, and the snake left.
There was no sympathetic arousal or 'fight and flight' mechanism operating in either of these situations, which normally happens under such circumstances.
There is a simple saying in the Ramayana that the smallest of creatures and animals understands what is right and what is wrong. If our heart is pure, even the most ferocious of animals will not harm us.
Willpower and positive attitude: Positive always overcomes negative. Negative thoughts are the root cause of our fears. By cultivating courage, fortitude and firmness in meeting danger, we can overcome fear.
Sadhana: Through regular practice of antar mouna and meditation, fears slowly show themselves and can be uprooted from the subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind.
Direct confrontation: According to Swami Sivananda, we must first face those of whom we are afraid. If you tremble to approach your superiors or any other person, that must be taken up as your first duty every day till you gain sufficient moral strength. If we are afraid of something, we should look it in the face, and the fear will vanish.
Taking refuge in the Lord and living in the company of sages: Swami Sivananda says, "Surrender to the will of God. He bestows perfect security on his devotees and removes all sorts of fears. He transforms the sense of insecurity into one of confidence and faith." The essence of the Bhagavad Gita is that whatever has happened in the past was for our good, what is happening in the present is for our good and what will happen in the future will also be for our good.
So, have no fear because God is there.