Several years ago while horseback riding, I gained a profound insight about fear. Occasionally during the ride, the horse would open into an unprovoked gallop and then run. There were parts of the trail that were icy and that required us to negotiate steep ledges. On that day, I was feeling particularly relaxed, and I noticed that in my generally calm state, the fear would arise and depart in a moment. On previous rides when I had felt more uptight, I would have the moment of fear, followed by many moments of worry: “What if this happens again? What if….?”
I realized that the feeling most people call “fear”, is really worry. Buddhism teaches us that when we obsess about something bad that may happen, the thing we fear is always in the future, and it is generated by something in the past. Examined closely, fear has nothing to do with the now. On my horseback ride, I could see that even my moment of “fear” was actually just a call to be mindful and pay close attention to each moment. Thus, I realized that fear is not real; it is but a trick of the mind.
Cats are masterful teachers of ease. Most people have probably observed a cat sleeping underneath a parked car when the driver starts the car. In an instant, the cat springs out from under the car and moves a few feet way. Within seconds, the cat is stretched out and relaxed again, not missing a step in the dance.
Each of us sees the world not as it is, but as we are. The world we experience is a direct result of the vision we are using. If we see a cruel and threatening world, we are filtering it through cruel and threatening thoughts entrenched in fear. If we look upon a world of beauty and delight, we must hold those thoughts to create that perception through mindful action and in the moment action.
When confronted with fear, ask yourself this question: Am I all right at this moment? If you are honest, you will see that you are almost always all right in the moment. If not, ask yourself what you need to do in the moment to get all right. By peeling away the onion skins of fear in this way, you will find that when you arrive at the center, there is nothing to fear.
Buddha taught us that most emotional states in life are a choice. In the face of fear, Buddha said, “I could see peace instead of this.”
At any moment, we can choose which vision we will employ and which world we will live in. Even if we have chosen dark or painful thoughts, we can shift our vision and immediately transform our experience. The world we see reflects the thoughts with which we build it. Stay in the present moment, and the doors to peace will open.