“Fear and hope are like two wings of a bird. When they are balanced, the bird’s flight is straight and balanced, whereas if one of them is deficient, the flight becomes deficient, too.” – Abu ‘Ali al-Rudhbari
Fear (khawf) and Hope (raja’), for many Sufis, are a package deal. Fear without hope leads to depression and desolation, hope without fear leads to nothing but idling away one’s time and resources. When in balance, fear invites us to act, while hope keeps us from giving up once we have begun. When out of balance, fear stops us from acting, or stops us from acting mindfully, and excessive hope without a will to act can cause lethargy, waiting for someone or something else to deliver to us what we want.
I personally have struggled a lot with the place of fear in religion and spirituality. Fear can often be wielded as an instrument of oppression over people, demanding of them to fall in line and obey commands and preying on their often fragile sense of security by threatening them with punishment. While some Sufis argue that fear of God is a prerequisite to piety, I find no place for fear without an equal and opposite balancing force in my life.
For me, the real benefit of fear is in studying it to understand what beliefs underlie my behaviour, and where my mental and physical habits stem from. In other words, I’ve decided for myself that fear can be a meaningful tool for self-study, but it should not guide or dictate my actions or behaviour in any way.
Balancing fear and hope eventually leads us to transcending fear and hope altogether and residing in a state of peaceful surrender (the sixth stage of the Sufi path).
Exploring Fear and Hope
Pick a yoga pose that scares you. Perhaps you’ve tried it a few times, but just haven’t been able to hold it because you don’t feel you can yet.
Write the name of the pose down and place it in front of you. Take a deep breath and let your exhale come out of your mouth as your gaze rests gently on the word before you.
Now begin considering the anatomy of the pose, think about what parts of your body need to be opened up, strengthened or loosened before attempting the pose today. Pick five or six poses you can do to achieve this strength/flexibility (If you need help, google: yoga poses to strengthen/stretch insert body part here).
After warming up with these poses, reread the quote at the start of this post, and imagine your heart is that bird with a wing that represents fear and one that represents hope. Observe which wing feels heavier, and use your breath as a guide to balance the wings in your mind’s eye.
Now move into your pose, and see if you can maintain the balance of the bird’s wings in your mind’s eye as you soar through the skies of your inner self.
Practice this visualization a few times, and see if it makes a difference to the sensations you experience in your pose.
May you be filled with peace,
Next time, we explore the fifth station, Patience (sabr), the gateway to spiritual visionary experiences 🙂