When you pick up Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, ‘Fear’, you immediately get the sense that the words come from a person who is very gentle and whose aim it is to help people overcome the energy draining force known as Fear. Many people spend a great deal of life’s precious resources dwelling on the past or fretting about the future - often which never materializes - instead of living in the present moment, where our true power lies.
Indeed, staying grounded in the moment is the starting point to overcoming the debilitating effects of fear. When we are mindful of the present moment we can deal with “what is” and not get caught up on the roller coaster of negativity that leaves us powerless. From this place of mindfulness we can observe the fear, embrace it, and then allow it to dissolve. This is a process of “working with” rather than “fighting against.” This is a process of acceptance and then embracing our fear rather than trying to bury it or bully it into submission, “Invite your fear into consciousness, and smile through it; every time you smile through your fear, it will lose some of its strength. If you try to run away from your pain, there is no way out. Only by looking deeply into the nature of your fear can you find the way out.”
Perhaps this sounds a lot easier to do then it truly is in real life, and while this might indeed the case, Thich Nhat Hanh provides many lessons on mindfulness and numerous exercises, especially involving breathing, to help us along the way. As the author states, “When we practice walking meditation, when we breathe mindfully, we generate a powerful energy of mindfulness, which can recognize and embrace our suffering and fear. After doing that for a time, you will see that the fear goes back down to its former place as a seed, and to understand that the next time that it manifests, you’ll be able to do exactly the same thing. Your chronic fear and anxiety will be genuinely reduced.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter what we are fearful of, or how the fear came to exist in the first place, the root of all fear exists in the mind and is reinforced by our beliefs that some external influence is more powerful than our own divine nature. While some degree of fear might be necessary for the survival of our physical being, on a deeper, spiritual level, when we come to realize that true nature extends beyond the mere physical world we see that many, or perhaps all, of our fears are unfounded, “Birth and death, coming and going, are just concepts. When we are in touch with our no-birth, no-death nature, we have no fear.”
By giving us the benefit of his compassionate wisdom, Thich Nhat Hanh is empowering people to overcome the limitations that their fears have imposed upon them. In essence, Thich Nhat Hanh is not giving us keys to our prison cell, he is showing us that the door was never locked to begin with.