Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
I just want to say, before I say anything else, that the first draft of this was written as a text message to someone. If my writing seems even stranger than usual, you should blame her. I know I do. I’m sort of grateful for that.
Anyway. The title for this blog comes from a quote from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
כל העולם כלו גשר צר מאד והעקר לא לפחד כלל
The entire world is a very narrow bridge and the essential thing is not to be afraid at all.
Except for when we should. Because sometimes fear is the right thing to feel.
Rebbe Nachman actually knew this.
I mean, he wasn’t lying when he said we shouldn’t be afraid. It’s just that he was talking about something else altogether.
He taught that there were two kinds of fear. One of them is pachad, and one of them is yir’ah.
Pachad is the one we don’t need.
It’s illusory fear. Fear of of the world created by our mental constructs—from our misconception of separateness. If we believe we are separate, we believe we can lose or win, or that we can have our heart broken, or suffer humiliation, or generally end up in a really shitty place.
And, usually, that’s what happens when we cling to this kind of fearful view of the world.
Rabbi Alan Lew, teaching in Rebbe Nachman’s name, calls it “… the fear of the phantom, the fear whose object is imagined.”
It’s this sort of fear of illusion that leads us to a sense that we are right and they are wrong. The sort of worldview that makes us believe that some lives are worth more than other lives. That sort of thing.
Frankly, it makes the world a shittier place because it’s very difficult to find compassion when we get so wrapped up in fear. Nachman, like so many other spiritual teachers, didn’t want that for us.
Then there’s the other kind of fear, yir’ah: That’s just love.
It’s the fear that’s associated with connection. The overwhelming feeling that comes with access to the incredibly powerful Love that is the basis of…well… everything.
Here’s what Rabbi Lew said about it:
“It is the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting.”
That’s Love, right?
But it’s still scary as hell because it involves having to shed a sense of who we think we are and what we think we deserve. Yir’ah wants to open us up to the truth about Love. It’s everywhere. All the time. It’s overwhelming and huge and really hard to appreciate and understand.
But it’s also very present between us and the people we love. When we see (or feel the presence of ) a person, or a dog—or whatever we love, we realize that the love we are feeling is coming from them as much as it’s coming from us.
We are reflecting back the love in them, and they are reflecting back the love in us. And it’s actually that huge, overwhelming, inconceivable Love. In that moment, that look, that feeling, we are just focusing that Love and bouncing it back and forth to each other.
That’s what happens when an interaction with someone becomes the whole of the Universe for a moment. We allow ourself to open up to that Love. Love, the Universe, God—you can call it what you want. Whatever we call it, we are completely open to it for that moment.
And that’s really terrifying.
And it’s supposed to be.