(Photo above by Karolina Grabowska / Pexels)
It’s fright season, a beloved time for many. We pay good money to go into a haunted maze and have strangers scare us with fake chainsaws. Or we binge on scary movies, regardless of how many times the main character tries to escape the deranged killer by running up the stairs instead of out of the house!
Why do we like to be scared this time of year? According to Raymonda Matheka, Psy.D., fear invokes a physical response in us, it gives us a rush of energy to fight or run away from the thing that could potentially harm us. Chemicals are released in our brain and, once we realize we are actually safe, these chemicals cause a euphoric feeling or special “rush.”
Why does fear evoke such a physical response in us? Fear has been an essential component of our survival as human beings for millennia. Psychologist Noam Shpancer describes fear as this: “First, fear is a feature of your hardware, not a bug in your software. The fear system is like the pain system… it often turns our attention to important issues. There are times when acting from fear is justified and useful. If you stand in the way of an oncoming train, the alarm bells of fear will compel you to move off the railway—and everybody wins.”
Even though fear in the short term works to keep us safe, deep-seated fears we cling to over longer periods of time can hold us back. One way we cope with fear is avoidance. We avoid those things we are scared to face, like student loan bills or having necessary but difficult conversations with close friends and family.
As we know, avoiding the things we are fearful of doesn’t solve any problems but instead makes them worse. “You may think avoidance and safety behaviors are healthy coping strategies because they do reduce your anxiety in the moment,” writes Bridget Flynn Walker, Ph.D. “But the opposite is true: Relying on these behaviors actually feeds and maintains your anxiety in these situations over the long run.”
This is why facing our fears with courage and hope is everything. In fact, Buddhism views courage as an essential component of happiness. Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:
But no matter how wonderful our dreams, how noble our ideals or how high our hopes, ultimately, we need courage to make them a reality. We can come up with the greatest ideas or plans in the world or be filled with boundless compassion for others, but it will all come to nothing unless we have the courage to put those intentions into action.
Discussions on Youth, p. 344
Summoning the courage to face our fears sounds simple but often is extremely difficult to do. We fear how people will respond to our feedback. Will our friends be disappointed in us when we tell the truth or an audience laugh at us when we perform? Interestingly, studies have shown that 91% percent of our fears an irrational, so we have little to be afraid of. Still, how can we summon courage?
One of the characteristics of a Buddha is courage.
One of the characteristics of a Buddha is courage. Daisaku Ikeda writes:
No matter what anyone may say, you should always do what is right. If you have the courage to do that, it’s like having a magical weapon of unlimited power. In Buddhism, we call such person a bodhisattva or a Buddha.
Discussions on Youth, p. 350
This is why when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we are essentially calling forth the courage that is deep within our hearts. To chant is to become aware that we have the courage and wisdom to take on anything.
Though facing our fears may temporarily cause us pain or discomfort, the benefits and pride we feel last a lifetime. Ikeda explains:
If you summon your courage to challenge something, you’ll never be left with regret. How sad it is to spend your life wishing, “If only I’d had a little more courage.” Whatever the outcome may be, it is important to take a step forward on the path that you believe is right. There’s no need to worry about what others may think. Be true to yourself. It’s your life, after all.
Discussions on Youth, p. 345
Living true to ourselves is hard but if we chant, then take a deep breath and meet our fears with courage and resolve, our lives will become frightfully victorious.