As I prepare to embark on my third trip to India, I find myself thinking back to my first time there more than a year and a half ago… I remember sitting around a large fire pit, chanting, with about twenty other people. We were waiting patiently for our teacher, or guru, to tie a symbolic red thread around each of our wrists; the thread, representing a change that we wished to occur inside of us, would be left on the wrist until falling off on its own, which it would when we had fully integrated that change into our lives. As our turns came to kneel before the young, handsome, Indian man who glowed with not only the light of the fire, but also with a divine light, we each threw two small pieces of folded up paper into the fire. On one we wrote what we wanted to bring into our lives, and on the other, what we hoped to give up. For what I wanted to give up I carefully wrote: “Release my fears.”
It was a very simple goal. I’m not even sure now what prompted me to choose it, but it seemed right at the time. As I bowed before my teacher and he tied the red thread by firelight, I thought “I hope this time it doesn’t fall off.” (My last fire ceremony thread only lasted about a week before coming undone.) As if sensing the thought, my teacher suddenly knotted the string three more times. This one wasn’t falling off.
After arriving back home in New York I monitored the string. It was, after all, a foreign resident on my wrist. I looked for signs of wear and tear, but nothing. After a few weeks it was all but forgotten, except when I would occasionally look down, catch a glimpse of it, and fondly remember the commitment I had made to myself that evening around the fire. It was a nice memory, yet I had no idea what fears I would be releasing or what that would entail.
It started out easy. One of the things I loved before going to India was television – on my about page I describe how I grew up with it, and that even my career choice was influenced by it. In my house, TV was something that was always on in the background and without the ambient noise I tended to feel uneasy. I thought that since I lived alone, I was used to being alone; I didn’t realize that the distraction television provided was keeping me from knowing what silence was like, and from truly knowing myself. The idea of just “being” was a foreign concept to me, as it is to most – because whether it is TV, or work, or shopping, or food or something else, we all use similar distractions in life to avoid the thoughts and feelings that often come in silence.
Yet suddenly, without reason or even trying, the idea of TV bored me. I tried to sit down and watch a few episodes, but nothing. The distraction held no interest anymore; I would rather be in silence, with my own thoughts – I feared them no more.
The next fear up was a difficult one, though – my genetics. I don’t have the best, to be honest with you. Both of my parents died of horrific neurological disorders, so this body doesn’t have good odds in that department. I was in high school when I learned of my father’s health issues and that I had a 50% chance of inheriting them, which was a lot to take in. I coped with the news as many teenagers do – denial and avoidance. I pushed the thoughts of impending illness and death that haunted me to the recesses of my mind, coating them with a layer of alcohol in college, and telling myself that I had worked through my fears. I hadn’t really, of course – they had just been buried deep in my subconscious for years, subtly affecting my outward behavior. But without TV to distract me from my inmost thoughts, one day all those repressed feelings hit me like a truck; I felt like I was right back in high school getting the news about my dad, and I could feel the fear I felt then – it was enormous and overwhelming. “This is what I asked for??!?” I thought. But I made the decision right then and there that I would rather work through and resolve all of it than ever have it surface again. I also reached out to my teacher and asked him for some guidance. Here is what he said:
“The truth of who you are is pure awareness. You were never born and you will never die…this body, this form will dissolve…intimacy with this knowing is freedom. Only the one who dies truly lives.” – Anand Mehrotra
It was pretty profound, pretty deep stuff. My mind couldn’t totally wrap itself around the full meaning at the time, but when the soul hears the truth, it responds. And suddenly, as if by command, with those words there was acceptance, release, and surrender. If you read my last post on acceptance, then you know that there is a great power in letting go, a joy that reverberates throughout every aspect of your existence.
And that is exactly what happened. When I let go of my fear of dying, my soul soared in the freedom of it! And souls are fearless creatures – so each time a new fear would arise, I found more and more strength to face and accept it, and each time I did I could feel that freedom expand to greater and greater heights.
When I set my intention around the fire pit so many months ago, I thought that when the red thread fell off my wrist (which it did after about nine months) I would come to the end of my fears – and I was actually afraid of conquering them all! Because without fear to hold me back, what would keep me from living the life I had always dreamed? What excuse would I use for not doing the things I had always wanted? I would have no excuses, nothing to blame or hide behind – and I didn’t. No longer afraid of being fearless, I was a blank page waiting to be filled.
The end of fear is not an end, but a beginning – of dreams, of excitement, of possibilities. New fears may arise; just as the nature of the universe is infinite, so is the nature of fear. But when we have the courage to face it, as strange as it may seem, fear becomes the catalyst for something amazing and beautiful – the unbounded bliss that lies inside each and every one of us.