The Practice of Fearlessness is the first of four practices in The Way of the Luminous Warrior.
To live fearlessly is to actively practice peace and non-violence, even when it seems like we’re being threatened. This doesn’t mean that we don’t protect ourselves and our loved ones―it means that we don’t respond from a place of anger or violence. Our propensity toward violent solutions is rooted in our brains. The region where our sensations of pleasure are experienced is very close to the center where we experience violence, so when we stimulate one of these areas in the brain, we often end up stimulating the other.
We seem to be the only mammal whose brain is set up this way. This is why we (men in particular) so often associate violence with pleasure. We love a good action movie, especially the thrill of watching the good guy pump bullets into the bad guy. Most kids’ computer games are all about blowing the enemy’s brains out, and so-called erotic movies consist of acts of aggression committed against women every few minutes. And the sadomasochism we read about that is so common in wartime happens when these brain centers are overstimulated and develop four-lane highways between them. No wonder that, when faced with something that appears to be a problem, we enthusiastically don armor, unsheathe our sword, and declare war.
However, we do have other choices. The practices within each insight stimulate the brain centers associated with pleasure and bliss, thus deactivating the centers responsible for aggression. When we practice fearlessness, we can live in peace and practice nonviolence. When we embody peace, others in our presence feel a sense of calm and serenity. Even in times of war, we can live in an oasis of serenity.
The reason that fearlessness allows us to step beyond violence is because violence is rooted in fear—of being rejected, taken advantage of, ridiculed, hurt, and so on. Practicing fearlessness requires us to approach people and situations with love so that others can also let go of their apprehension and propensity toward violence.
In a world filled with rape, murder, and assault, this may seem like a timid response. When we wield a sword, we feel a sense of control and power. We revel in it, thriving on the aggressive, active role we’re taking in changing the world, but we ignore the fact that violence only begets more violence. We think of war as a solution, but the violence we inflict on others makes them even more hostile. True, we may subdue them, but if we don’t help them relinquish their anger or fear, all we’ve done is plant the seeds for the next skirmish.
We talk about a war on terror, a war on drugs, and a war on disease―it can be difficult to imagine how we might solve problems without declaring war on them, but we have to admit that these crusades only beget more terror, more drug use, and more disease. So how do we address these very real problems without resorting to a warlike response?
Fearlessness, Not War
Practicing fearlessness means that we first eliminate the poverty, terrorism, and war that rages inside of us. We eliminate our addiction to being right and fix our perception of every problem within us before we actually attempt the problem itself.
Many years ago, in their struggle to overcome their perceived scarcity, England and France attacked each other again and again. They cut down so many of their trees to build warships in order to battle each other for power and riches that, as a result, they deforested their countries, actually ending up with fewer resources for everyone. Had they recognized that they were the ones creating their feeling of scarcity, they could have found a more productive way to make sure that they had what they truly needed.
We, too, tend to overlook the price of waging a battle and instead focus on how we can get a bigger chunk of the pie. We don’t like to think of ourselves as greedy―we’re just cautious, building up a nest egg so that we will never feel insecure again. Of course, we never reach this point because looking for security in marriage, the stock market, the workplace, real estate, or anything else material never quite manages to make us feel safe.
Luminous warriors build collaborative relationships with others instead of trying to conquer them; consequently, we get much closer to finding common ground and solutions to our mutual problems. Instead of clinging to our belief that we won’t have enough or that we’ll be taken advantage of, we bravely extend trust and find win-win solutions. This seems naive, of course, and part of us says that real life doesn’t work this way. But the most successful organisms in nature are the result of collaborations. Even the human body is the product of a dozen organs and many different kinds of tissues working together.
We no longer have to buy into the false evidence that we have enemies we must continually battle and subdue. It’s this mentality that leads us to get into shouting matches with the driver who takes “our” parking space, or to insist that our partner deliberately didn’t unload the dishwasher in order to drive us crazy. Now we don’t have to extend total trust to every person we come across or deny the danger of letting criminals run loose in the world-but we also don’t have to walk through life with a sword drawn, ready to vanquish the accidentally inconsiderate.
As luminous warriors, we open our eyes so that we can see in others the capacity for peace, even if they aren’t expressing it. Some psychologists would say that we project our dark side (our shadows) onto others, creating adversaries in order to avoid looking into our own unhealed selves. Yet making others wrong distracts us from the power we have to eliminate our own potential for being bullies and prevents us from accessing our creative, healing energy/which we can use to dream a better world.
When we practice fearlessness, we don’t have to create enemies or obsess about “bad guys” in order to feel reassured that we’re always righteous victims. It may seem strange that we would talk ourselves into feeling weak, but this works very well for us psychologically. If we see ourselves as victims, we excuse ourselves from any further sacrifices.
When we perceive at the level of serpent or jaguar instead of hummingbird, we focus on our adversaries and all their crimes against us, thus forgetting to ask the powerful question, What’s the opportunity for creating abundance and healing here? At hummingbird, we try to find creative ways to negotiate with the people we disagree with, and we don’t ignore our common ground because we become stuck in the belief that we’re the good guys.