Living Beyond Fear
by BK Denise, international speaker, broadcaster and meditator for more than 40 years in the public program following the visit to Tacloban and the retreat for supertyphoon Yolanda first responders
“The subject that we looking at this evening is ‘Living Beyond Fear’. And I would like to just analyze it a little bit step by step so that we can see where we may get trapped in matters of fear during times of anxiety. I think most people in this world live in a state of low-grade anxiety. Do you think that's right? I think this is why people smoke, drink gamble, shop, all of the things that we do that actually go against our personal progress are in a way reactions to and coping mechanisms for managing this anxiety that everybody lives in.
It's really rare for a person to feel deeply relaxed, peaceful, comfortable inside one’s skin. Is that right? I was so used to being under tension, so used to being affected by noise, worries. The feeling of tension that comes when we become aware of another person experiencing any kind of suffering is so pervasive that we have somehow, observed it into ourselves and it is actually doing its negative work rather surreptitiously because we are unaware of it.
There are three areas that fear comes in. One of them is wealth, the second is wealth, and the third our relationships.
First is wealth. We are afraid that we might not have enough money or we might not have enough to handle our unexpected expenses. We might not have enough to be able to handle what we feel we should be able to handle. We don't think it's right for us to lower our economic standards because somehow that goes against our sense of self, our sense of dignity. But we do have material wealth fears and concerns.
The second area where there is fear is really to do with our physical health because this body it's not immortal. We would like it to be but it isn't. Anytime anything can happen and so we become afraid of illness within our own selves, with in any member of our family because we are deeply resistant or resisting this idea of physical pain and physical deterioration of the body and our capacity to operate at our fullest level. So we have fear in regard to health, and healthcare is expensive. To get good health care is becoming more and more difficult.
Retreat for some of the first responders in supertyphoon Yolanda seen here processing their experiences and feelings through informal dialogues and enriching workshops.
The third area where we have fear is in terms of our relationships. We are afraid someone might leave us. We are afraid we might lose someone. Many people find themselves in abusive relationships and then what to do? How to deal with that? Should I stay? Should I go? What about the children? Should I endure? How to handle this?
These three areas where fear is very rife in our lives also happens to be the three areas of happiness. Because a person who is said to be happy has health, wealth, and good relationships. We have all these three, then we are okay. We're happy.
Happiness is the purpose of human life. That's why we exist – it is to experience happiness, to share happiness, to live full lives where everything is okay, where everything is normal. Normal means, the normal that we like. It means my body is okay, the health of my relatives is ok, all other people that I see, my colleagues, my community, they are healthy, that we have enough, we are wealthy and that our relationships are harmonious.
In a way, we could say that this is a basic fundamental human right - the right to be happy, to have good health and enough wealth and good relationships - relationships of harmony. But this is becoming more and more rare to have all of these three and the publicity, the messages that we receive from the various different areas of communication – whether we receive messages from - from our families, from our educational institutions, from the government, from the society, from the media - messages tell us that we will be secure if we are successful in our material aims. If you have a good education then you can get money through a good job, and then you can have a nice house where you feel secure, where you can raise your family and then you will be happy if you have these material elements.
And so because of all these messages, probably since the last 100 years, we have gone more and more into materialism as a reality. And slowly it has actually, eroded some of the more intangible forms of resilience that are part of the human treasure. Treasure of human life which is the spiritual aspect and this is really the part that I want to talk about, so that we can take a look at how we have consolidated the different parts of our spiritual Treasury to enable us to manage the increasing challenges that are coming our way, so that we can have that happiness - adequate health, good relationships even if conditions are difficult, and that we can have sufficient material resources to care for ourselves, our family and our community.
A group of us had been to visit the devastation in Tacloban and all of you have seen it on television. Many of you may have connections who are there, or you might even have also been there in the last 5 to 6 months. While we were there, we experienced a very important feeling and that is powerlessness. We talked to many of the people who had been the First Responders, different people who are significant in the community and even the Bishop of Tacloban had confided to us that it was so big “I really couldn't do anything”. And this feeling of powerlessness, even I also felt, you know, we went to 10 cities, we met students, we met heads of Institutions and people who are looked upon as Leaders who felt of course “I must put on a very strong face because the people who see me must see me to be strong”.
But behind the facade of strength it was definitely this sense that you know, in the face of something so big as this natural calamity, we can do nothing. And why is it a good feeling, it doesn't seem like it should be a good feeling. But in retrospect you realize that it is a good feeling because it completely takes away any trace of arrogance, “that I can take care of whatever my duty tells me I have the position to take care of you know. Hospitals couldn't operate, the police couldn't operate, nothing could operate and the pastoral leader also couldn't do anything. And I was also thinking for myself, you know, okay I feel: OK God wants me to be here and we think that if we're doing spiritual service, then it means that somehow we are on some level trying to be an instrument for God’s work. So then God wants me to be here but why? What can I do? You can do nothing. You can really do nothing but being there with the people who had survived and who had lost many many relatives. Many have lost ten, eleven, twelve member of their families.
It was very powerful to see that they were coping and in a way passing through some of the frustrations, there would definitely be frustrations that you know, the agencies are not giving us what we need, the government is not there to provide us what we expected them to provide. But the good thing was that people were saying okay well we will plant food. We will eat salty rice. We will put ourselves together and we will make little schools for our children and like this. The beautiful sight of seeing people not relying on outside agencies but gathering together their own heart and goodwill, and saying: no matter what, we will do. And then, what I felt for myself, and on the first day, for some reason, I didn't have a voice because I got some infection, I can still hear a little bit in my voice but I had absolutely no voice whatsoever which I thought was quite significant, because really what can you say. You can’t say anything so I couldn't say anything but I did say a few thing.
I found also, we did a small Retreat for First Responders and subsequently at our Retreat place in Tagaytay, and in that Retreat place, we had half of the group were people who had been First Responders after 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 days. They had come to see what they could do and of course they couldn't do much - catch the babies that were getting born, because the mothers under so much stress were prematurely giving birth and they couldn't really move around too much because every road was blocked with debris and they didn't have food and they were in the same situation really as the survivors who were trying to survive for the first few weeks. But then there was other half of the group who were not there but who had imagined what it would be like and who had maybe been in Bohol and who had been in other disasters because there are many other disasters that visit the Philippines and so of course Filipinos are very experienced in disaster. And what this does is very important because you know what to do. People who are inexperienced get very confused. Experienced people - they know, and also strong. So, in a way, part of what I was saying to people is, you know, why did this happen? Not to give you a hard time. This happened to make you strong, to make you experienced. Because climate change is a fact. Who is responsible for climate change? Well, there is these different fingers pointing in different directions but, whether or not someone is human-induced, it's a combination of human inducement and just a phenomenon of present time but normal life, what we think of as normal life is kind of gone, and so that also increases the sense of fear.
So the second group of people who have not been there actually, we're in a sense, more impacted than the people who have been there. So I feel there's a lesson to be learned in this because many people they experience something via the media or via stories and the imagination works and maybe we start pointing the finger here and there - that should have happened, this should have happened, what's going on, things like this but the people who were actually there, they actually had a hands-on experience were in a way, stilled by the experience and everyone did what they did, did what they could and also rose to their greatness. And so, my feeling was, those who haven't been there, you better go there, to get real about it.
I'm also involved in media and so we had a little team of brothers who were video taping our little journey around in Tacloban, and we did some interviews and we took some footage and this and that. One of the reasons is because my feeling is that, the news media is not really representing situations in such a way that you can empathize with what's happening.
So I wanted to make a little documentary where you can really feel what has happened there, what is happening to the people. One subject that came up very much was the subject of looting. You see, because the media said “oh look, they are looting” and the people who were there was saying “excuse me, that's not what was going on. What was happening is all the goods had been contaminated by 21 feet of water, drowning everything. And so the owners of the warehouses opened it up and said: take it because we can’t use it. And the people who were going and taking stuff, they were not taking it for themselves, they were sharing it to other people and that was portrayed as a “look, these people are looting”. It was mis-representation, you see, because here was a city who understood that no help is going to come; therefore we have to help ourselves to survive. Many people did not survive but we have to survive. So I think that you know, in the face of the experience over very fearsome disaster, people had to cope, people had to do what you have to do but the media represented it on the basis of preconceptions which was a misrepresentation so then the people of Tacloban have to go through that, as well.
So one of the things that people do become afraid of, is their reputation. It's quite a lot of work to make sure that everybody thinks well of you. Is that right? You make a tiny little mistake and someone will magnify it and then for months and months, that becomes your identity, which is not really based on truth.
So why is it that people criticize each other and how do we also deal with the fear of being criticized? Because what that also created in many people throughout the world, I'm not just talking about Philippines, - it is a human situation and that is, the need to look good. We have to look good at any cost. And so, a lot of our time and energy and attention goes in making ourselves look good so people will think well of us. This is also I think, another part of the facade of materialism that we have been slowly pulled into and which has eroded our Truth or our realness as human beings. And so this is one of the reasons why I find spirituality is extremely empowering for all of us.
So I want to talk a little bit about what spirituality is and how it enables us to live on a different level even in the face of the same fears as everyone else has.
Some people think that fear is a vice. But I don't. I think that fear is a given. There are many things which make us afraid, but, in the face of fear, there are really two responses that we can come up with. And one of them is cowardice, which really is a vice. Fear is not a vice, but cowardice is. Cowardice is being unable, unwilling to face the fear. Cowardice is running away, avoiding, blaming someone else - these kinds of things. This is what happens, in the face of fear. And one of the things we heard about when we were talking to people in Tacloban is it, since the super typhoon Yolanda and the storm surge, it was a vast increase in alcohol consumption, a vast increase in sexual aggression and gambling. So these are indicators, reactions to stress, reactions to fear, which are of a negative type because it's not a solution. It doesn't enable you to deal with the fear. So I put it into the category of cowardice or is it a factor of the fact that we human beings are not that strong, especially when we go that route.
But the other response to fear is courage. And we saw many many examples of courage. One woman sharing who was looking after so many women who had no place to live but nothing to eat, and she said: well, I lost my husband in the typhoon, I lost my child, grandchild and so I am able to do this, I'm free to do this. This is an example of courage. Courage in the face of fear brings a person to his greatness and so, fear is there. Every one of us has to deal with it but I think we need to look at - to what extent I might be afflicted by cowardice, to what extent am I able to rise to that response of courage, which is really the thing that restores a person to their dignity, to their self-respect, and which gives them an added power to do the right thing.
There is even a saying that we listen to, quite often in the teachings of the Brahma Kumaris: that when you take just one step of courage, then God comes and gives you a thousand steps of help - this reality. But not everybody knows this. So we need to know this. I would like to talk a bit about spiritual credit. Because in the face of the different challenges that we have, we need to have a sense of our existing spiritual bank balance. And I like to Illustrate it perhaps with a story that happened to me many years ago. I was actually with a small group of Filipinos in the Los Angeles on the beach and there was a storm and there was a storm surge but it wasn't very big one. It was about 8 to 10 feet. I was also with some Australian swimmers. You know Australian swimmers, good strong ones and they said that we would really like to go in but we're a bit afraid because it was high waves. And I said: don't worry, you come with me. I know this beach. We will go in so we went in and we were immediately swept out to sea and so we waved a little bit to our friends who were sitting, having picnic on the beach and they waved back, they had no idea that we were in trouble. And so I realize: okay God, it's just you and me because they don't know what's going on here and I thought “you know, I could actually die right now”. I could drown, I couldn't touch the ground. It was very strong riptide, strong current so I said, “well yeah, I could die”, then I felt it's not time because when you have to die, there is a time. You know “this is my time or this is not my time”. So I felt it was not my time so okay - am I afraid of death or not because here I am, in front of it. I look deep inside of myself and I said “you know, Self, you're not afraid. That's good. Good to know because you never know until you are right in front of it, whether you are afraid of death or not afraid of death.
But I'm very aware that I am a spirit, I'm a soul. A Soul is Immortal and death is something that you do as an act and when the time comes then you have to do it. You have to go to God. This is how you do it but I said it wasn't time. So I said: okay God, we have to come to shore. and so I thought the only way is by body surfing. No other way. So I said: okay You give me a wave. I got a huge wave, go, go towards the shore and then the tide pulls back. It took me about 20 minutes to get there and I would say to God: now, You give me another one. eventually and the Australians, I wasn't really thinking about them. These were powerful swimmers, I'm an ordinary basic human slight swimmer and what they had done is: well, if Denise can do it, then, we can do it. So I was busy trying to get myself to shore and I got to shore, they got to shore. Everything was fine and our picnickers said: did you have a nice swim? Actually, we were in some trouble there but I became very aware that I had used some credit, that I had credit in my relationship with God and that I had used some credit and then I became very aware that Oh! this is very interesting - this question of credit. Because throughout our lives - what we do in our lives - we grow up from children, we go to school, we have our relationships, we make our life but each and every one of our days is filled with challenges and choices, moral choices and everyday, we can do a good action or we could do a mistake, we could do good action, we could do bad action also. So continuously we are in a sense getting graded on what actions we do at any given moment.
And so I became very aware of this and in our spiritual studies that we do in Brahma Kumaris, we learn about the idea of Karma. And Karma, you may be familiar with this word, but what does it really mean? Karma is action. And so we could do an act of mind, a thought, so karma at the level of the mind. Words, whether they're spoken or written, this is verbal karma, and deeds, our interaction with others. So in a way, throughout our lives, all of us are students in the University of life and we also think of God as our Teacher, our Assessor and so, God is assessing – okay, plus point, 0 Point - like this throughout life, and in this way, we actually accumulate credit by doing different kinds of charity, different kinds of good actions, good deeds, acts of love, acts of compassion - all of these things, they accumulate in our credit.
What this does for us is, it comes to bear on a situation when we are under severe challenge. And every one of us gets sick sometimes, right? and when you get sick, then there's pain. So pain is also a great teacher. Most people don't really like it and our allopathic system of medicine has got every imaginable painkiller and unimaginable pain killers too. Because we want to handle physical pain, emotional pain, psychological pain, social pain, financial pain… We have lots of ways of killing the pain. When I went through a period of long-term very intense pain where you go through all the drugs and this and that, and you finally realize that okay, either I will become a drug addict or I have to deal with this in another way. So I thought: well, I don't want to be a drug addict. That's not practical. So we have to say no to all the drugs and said: okay bye bye drugs. Morphine, what not, and so forth, you know the stuff. So okay, let me receive pain. Let me give myself to it. And that was a very interesting experience because then I could hear its message. Because as I said before, I discovered that pain is a great teacher and everytime I would let this, sort of tsunami of pain comes through and take you beyond your limits but then you just have to surrender to it and then it will go away. It will recede and it will leave you some very deep insight, some kind of wisdom and it was really very subtle, and all about, how to be a better, stronger and person of greater integrity. This is really the lesson of pain.
I had been in the Robben Island prison in South Africa where Nelson Mandela had stayed for 27 years and then after he came out, he became the President and Robben Island became a tourist place. And the tour guides were the previous prisoners so because they know how to give the details. So I went there and I said to them: I cannot see any instruments of torture here. What's the problem? Because normally you have instruments of torture, you know, things to electrocute you and cut you in little pieces and pull out your fingernails and stuff like that. And they didn't have any of that. So I said: What happen that there's no instruments of torture? And they said: Oh! This prison is only for prisoners who are immune to torture. I said: I didn't know there was anything like that. So you were one of those who became immune to torture, so tell me because I'm very very concerned about torture because there's a great deal of torture that goes on in this world. I think at any given second, it must be about two or three million people undergoing torture so, that to me is a matter of great concern. So if you can be immune to torture that’s big.
So I ask: how do you become immune to torture? Because it’s severe pain, because you can control people by pain. And so they said: yes, you can orient your mind in such a way that you become independent of your body, independent of pain and in that way torture doesn't work anymore.
And this is something new. So I said: well, in that case, me who had many many years of pain, chronic pain, I said: this is useful for me also and then that also help me to create this way of relating to pain. You see, one of the biggest fears that people have, is fear of pain. And the threat of pain, you can control people by threatening them with pain. You can either attract them or tempt them with some bribe or you can threaten them with unbearable pain and then that way they will do what you want. And this is how people behave with each other in certain situations and we become very under the influence of pain or, someone will say: okay, I will hurt your wife or your child or someone who is important to you and that is even more painful than doing something to you. And so humanity in many people in this world, for their beliefs, for their religion, for whatever they have to face a lot of these things and they face it with tremendous courage and they get beyond it. Every time we do something great, every time we transcend our limitations, everytime we get beyond our normal regular human weaknesses, we get credit.
I was recently in Sarajevo where they have been sieged for years and the people there had been bombarded for 4 years and one of the men there, I interviewed him and he had stayed on the front line for 4 years without ever picking up a weapon and living with the awareness “that each and every day I might die”. 4 years. And he said that the thing which was most important to him was, he did not want to kill anybody. He wasn't so much worried about being killed, he was very worried about killing anyone. So he didn't take up any weapon and he didn't get killed or injured but the stress to the heart and the mind of seeing so many people dying, so much bombardment - and this was Civil War. People, neighbors, at each other for a long long time but what he also said is that this firm insistence that “I refuse under any circumstances to kill anybody” actually gave him an enormous amount of strength. “I will not do this”. And I think that what this presentation is really about is, to encourage you to look at your life, and to look at your strength, your levels of courage, the principles by which you operate your life and the faith or fidelity that you hold to your principles of life and that this is the thing that enables you to live beyond fear.
Fear is there, but beyond fear means that you are able to handle it, you are able to deal with it, you're able to cope with it, you have an accumulation of inner strength. And in my spiritual practice, it involves meditation which is basically a communing with God on a daily basis. That is meditation just I, the soul communing with God, the Supreme Being and drawing light, drawing strength into the self and also trying to be a conduit, so that, that energy, that light, that strength also goes out into the atmosphere. Because when anybody is in an atmosphere of peace and light and spiritual love, that atmosphere is conducive to the person doing a great act as opposed to a cowardly act. And so creating atmosphere is for us, an important thing. And so this also this practice of resourcing the self on a daily basis actually helps an enormous amount because I think one of the things that a person is motivated by, is love.
And love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. Love is extending yourself for the benefit of another human being. That is love. But you cannot love, if you do not have within yourself that energy. And very often, people who are in the helping professions, or people who are First Responders, they become burnt out because they are using their own energy to benefit other people and very quickly that will get depleted and so we have learned that if we wish, to love to the extent that we would like to love, then we have to become conduit, because we do not have quite enough for what is needed. But when you continuously resource yourself, then you're able to let that pass through and it can actually continue to flow pretty much endlessly.
Because of so much materialism in our culture, in our world, in our education and so on, many of us have lost the subtlety of being able to perceive spiritual energies or to perceive or give weight to spiritual component of human life. And I think that at the present time with the new normal, is forcing us to say: okay now we have to move into the spiritual component and amplify that and really give it the place that it should have in our lives because without that, we are not going to be able to manage the new normal because the new normal is no particularly normal. The new normal is uncertainty. The new normal is more intense, extreme weather events. The new normal is 30% of the world's harvest is now lost this year but we don't have 30% less people to feed. We have a few more. And so there will be food issues. So many things that we think are stable are unstable. The world monetary system is very unstable and that affects us individually and collectively. The political process have also become unstable and that affects all of us. We cannot sit on any fence, there is no fence but we cannot run away there's nowhere to run. We need to have that resilience and try to accumulate that credit, karma credit of just constantly doing the right thing, following your conscience and constantly resourcing the self so that whatever comes along, I can I find the strength within to receive it, to embrace it, to participate, to do my part and then we move forward. And another thing that I would like to say is that though we are passing through an intensification of challenges, I also see it as a “hump”. You know, like you get humps in the road, bumps. And so it's a bump which… what do bumps do? They tell is slow down and pay attention. So it's asking us to slow down and pay attention but also I feel that all of these things that are going on refer to the fact that we are going through a very massive change.
Change in human nature, change in the nature of the world, change in the nature of reality. And that we are moving towards a time where the civilization is really based on the spiritual ideals and principles where the natural world wants now to get past this extremism into a state of natural harmony where nature is really looking after humanity which is what it is destined to do. And where humanity is living in health and wealth, in harmony because of bringing in these much more subtle but I called spiritual components to our lives so I would like to end there and thank you very much for your kind