Faith and Fear
Two Quick & Simple Spiritual Exercises.
Let’s define faith as “perceived freedom from fear.” (It’s not an exact or nuanced definition, but it’s a pretty good working definition.)
According to this definition, faith doesn’t mean that we believe in anything, only that we believe that we aren’t in harm’s way.
It’s important to note the importance of perception: it isn’t necessarily true that we are out of harm’s way, just that we feel that way.
Having a healthy respect for the things in life that could harm you – like an alligator, or hot lava, or something falling from the sky – is one thing. Never leaving the house because you’re afraid of those same things is another.
Most people try to manage their fear by:
- Ignoring it.
- Being overly cautious.
- Trying to control everything.
While religious folks usually advocate managing fear with faith, I’m not going to do that.
Instead, I’m going to suggest that you delve into, and try to get to know what both fear and faith feel like.
(It’s wild, but most people don’t know really what either one feels like – they know what they think it should feel like, but they haven’t really experienced either.)
So, let’s do just that for the next minute – take some time to understand your baseline levels of both fear and faith. Get to know what they feel like.
Take twenty seconds to dive into and feel the fear at your core. Close your eyes and just be still in your fright, terror, panic and general alarm. Notice your breathing, swallowing, etc. See where your brain goes . . . notice what happens. Not what you think will happen, but based on what actually happens.
After you’ve done that, shake it off and take a deep cleansing breath.
Now, experiment with faith . . .
For the next twenty seconds, live in your feelings of faith. Imagine and try to believe that you are out of harm’s way. Relax. Allow your chair to support you. Find your sense of safety and dive in. Again, close your eyes and notice your breathing, etc.
Again, I am not advocating that when we experience the “bad” feeling of fear that we shift gears towards trying to feel faith. Instead, I am advocating that we learn what these emotions feel like and that we stop trying to manage them.
It’s only when we embrace our feelings as they happen that we will be capable of living real and authentic lives.
Some Historical and Religious notes on Faith and Fear.
I want to point out two historical, religious connections. First, the word safe – a synonym for faith – is related to the word save – from the Latin salvus meaning “uninjured or healthy” – which is related to the religious word salvation. Second, the phrase “fear of the heavens” in Biblical times meant “to have faith in God.”
At some point we have to make a choice to feel safe or, dare I say, saved. To put it in Biblical language: accept that the sun isn’t going to strike us in the daytime, nor will the moon hurt us in the night.
I promise it won’t happen.
The world isn’t against you.
Calamity, 99.999% of the time, isn’t going to strike you.
Let me give you the reassurance of Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno who, before he was burned alive as a heretic, said: “Out of this universe you cannot fall.”
More recently, popular self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote simply: “You belong.”
And, if you care to, click here to see comments on the streetprophets site where this article went up last week.