I’ve been scared of the dark ever since I was a child. As an adult I used to be embarrassed to talk about it – a childhood fear that should have long been overcome. Yet, bringing this fear into the open was less embarrassing that I thought – actually nobody seemed to really care. Exposing the fear to the light of day also gave me a chance to explore it rather than hiding it away. What I discovered was that I actually wasn’t afraid of the darkness itself, but of what might be lurking in it. I imagined strange and threatening creatures – monsters against whom I would be powerless. Discussing this fear with others and working on it through various means I’ve come to realize that the shadow, the demon that I was most afraid of discovering in the dark, was myself.
I was gifted recently with a link to a wonderful excerpt from Osho (The Spiritually Incorrect Mystic) called Greatest Fear of All. Osho’s words always stir up for me some uncomfortable but simple truth. In this excerpt he says: “The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom. Buddha has actually called it the lion’s roar. When a man reaches an absolutely silent state he roars like a lion.”
As I read the article I began to wonder. What is it that we’re really afraid of? Through my own work and working with others, it’s clear to me that there is always the deeper fear beneath the one we’re willing to admit to. I wondered – is it that we actually fear discovering our own selves?
Sakyong Mipham pointed out in “Turning the Mind Into an Ally” that we spend most of our time thinking about ourselves. Yet the thoughts we’re thinking about ourselves are not usually compassionate, complimentary or generous. Even the habitual ways we react to our own behavior can be so hateful. We get into the habit of scolding ourselves for minor ‘failures.’ Off-handed statements like “I’m such an idiot” or “I’m such a clutz” become unconscious habits that create impressions in the shadows of our minds. Then in our interactions with others, a fear arises. Maybe on some level we know the imprint is there, and maybe we’re afraid that it will be brought into the light of day and confirmed as truth. Maybe our greatest fear is actually of meeting ourselves and not liking who we are.
But what if meeting yourself could be liberating instead of terrifying? In yoga we frequently talk about samskaras – latent impressions that influence the way we think and behave. It is sometimes described like spinning on a wheel – you can’t get off the wheel because you’re controlled by these unconscious impressions. So you relive the same story over and over again, not knowing how to change it. And still these impressions, these habits are constantly being reinforced through lack of mindful awareness and, I think, through the fear of seeing ourselves clearly. To get off the wheel we have to see these habits for what they are – our own shadows in the darkness. Brought to the light of day they have very little substance. Left in the darkness they are monsters keeping us on the wheel and away from a full appreciation of ourselves.