Fear. But, don’t indulge it.


I had wanted today’s article to align with the celebration in the U.S. of Martin Luther King, Jr.
However, my plans did not work out.
While I love Dr. King and his inspirational messages about love and peace, today’s message is about FEAR.
(I was on my way to Trader Joe’s on Friday afternoon when I felt compelled to write, yet again, about fear; fear is in the air.)


I’ve written a lot about fear, including three articles last year (It’s ok to fearFinding Joy in Fear, Praying about Fear), about fear being a natural emotion, and, more.  


Religion’s job is to address how to live in a world that includes fear.

Fear is natural.

Fear is our internal guidance system bringing us out of harm’s way.
All sentient creatures have fear. Fear keeps us safe.
But there is fear, and then there is FEAR.
There is a Chinese aphorism that says: 
That the birds of worry and anxiety fly above your head, this you cannot change.  But that they build their nests in your hair, this you can prevent.
Life can be scary.
Life can be very scary.
Life can be ridiculously scary.
Especially these days.
No question.
But, we aren’t helpless in the face of fear.
All sentient beings live with fear.
Only the delusional would tell you they have no fear.
Humans beings are born with innate fear of two things:
  1. Fear of falling
  2. Fear of loud noises
Nonetheless, people seek these sensations by visiting theme parks and New York City. (Why do people ignore their innate GPS? Perhaps they are thinking, “If I bring these fear upon myself, I will be stronger and somehow this makes me more powerful than these fears.”)
I have some simple questions:
Do you stoke the flames of fear in yourself?
Do you cause extra worry?
Do you allow the birds of anxiety to nest in your hair?
We live in a scary time. It feels ever more like the arc is bending and something is going to break and irreparable damage will be done.
We feel fear. It is in the air.

Fear is a natural reaction.
But, let’s not overreact.

I am going to ask us to make some peace with our fear. Instead of our stoking the flames, we can better work at accepting our fears and loving (of which acceptance is a part) our fears.
Most of the time when I find myself at the start of fear and anxiety, I seek its cause. (And, this mental rolodexing of all possible causes of worry only exasperates the problem.)
Guess what I find when
I punch into the
proverbial search box,
“What am I scared of?”
<I find lots of reasons>
Upon noticing the initial moments of worry and fear, I am trying – and I’ve been successful at it twice – to say, “Oh, there is that anxiety again.” 
This sure worked out better than to seek out its sources.


I will end with a quote by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. (I used to sing it to my children as a lullaby, and, some nights, I still do.) It has to do with not giving the birds a place in our hair for nesting – not indulging fear.


This past Friday, my colleague Rabbi Rachel Joseph, explained to me that the words, the way I have known the quote, were not accurately the words that the great rabbi said. The original phrase had the verb “to be afraid” in a reflexive conjugation; meaning, “to cause ourselves to be afraid.” The way most people know the phrase changes the verb from hitpael making it easier to sing, but misses the key to staying unafraid – not stoking the flames.

Here is the quote as the Breslover rebbe meant it – and it is what I wish you for in this week:


A person wanting to cross the narrow, narrow bridge
must remember not to cause themselves extra fear.

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