Q: If fear is really the one great obstacle against rising to the spiritual challenge of our time, can you say a few words as to how we could meet those fears? Overcome them? Deal with them? — A.S., Colorado

A: +Just as our courage is of one piece, so our fear is of one piece. All those different fears that we could name are of one piece. So if we tackle the weakest one, the one with which we can just barely deal, we have tackled the whole bunch of them. (We’re speaking here only of unreasonable fears. There are many reasonable fears in our life.)

First of all, you have to find your unreasonable fears. Make a little list, at least in your mind. If you’re in doubt, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and say it’s a reasonable fear. There will be plenty of unreasonable ones left. Then, among those unreasonable ones, pick the one that you think you can deal with, very much like when you were a child. Maybe when it was already dark, your father sent you out to the garden to pick up something that you forgot out there. You rushed out, and you were whistling to yourself and encouraging yourself as best you could. Then you came back and saw that nothing had happened. That made you stronger and helped you overcome the fear. By overcoming one particular fear, you became more courageous altogether. We can do that, too. I will not promise you, though, that nothing happens to you when you do what you fear. No! Sometimes what happens to us is much worse than we could possibly have anticipated. But in the end we discover that we come out more alive than before, if we brave it. If we don’t brave it, we run around with that fear. And that diminishes our life.

Death doesn’t diminish our life. Fear diminishes our life. Those who are really alive know that they have died many times in order to become so alive. And even those of us who are not quite as alive as we could be, know that dying was always the price for our aliveness. Whenever we die courageously, give ourselves to dying, we come out on the other side more alive.

Gratefulness is a way of dealing with your fear. Whenever you get a package and you say, “Thank you,” you have expressed your trust in the giver, not your appreciation of the gift. You haven’t even looked yet at what’s inside. If you wait to look first what’s inside, and then you decide whether or not to say, “Thank you,” you will not be considered a particularly grateful person.

When you’ve gotten a certain kind of package before, and you can guess what’s in it, opening it doesn’t take an enormous amount of courage. But life itself take a lot of courage, because life hands you those packages, and you know them already. And the last time, this one blew you to smithereens! If you receive it this time, and you say, “Thank you,” i’d suspect something. But you can trust it will be just exactly what you need. It will make you more alive.

So that would be my very homespun recipe. Find an unreasonable fear that you can just barely handle. In that little area, do what you’re most afraid of, and see what happens. See if you come out more alive on the other side.

— Your Brother David

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.