During his first inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." The country, in the throes of the Great Depression, feared for its future.
The sanskrit word abhaya means: freedom from fear. With his infamous words, FDR sought abhaya for the nation.
According to B.K.S Iyengar in his book Light on Yoga, "Freedom from fear comes only to those that lead a pure life. The yogi fears none and none need fear him because he is purified by the study of the Self. Fear grips a man and paralyzes him. He is afraid of the future, the unknown and the unseen. He is afraid that he may lose his means of livelihood, wealth or reputation. But the greatest fear is that of death. The yogi knows that he is
different from his body, which is a temporary house for his spirit....Though the body is subject to sickness, age, decay and death, the spirit remains unaffected. To the yogi, death is the sauce that adds zest to life. He has dedicated his mind, his reason, and his whole life to the Lord. When he has linked his entire being to the Lord, what shall he then fear?
|Franklin Delano Roosevelt|
FDR would have made a great yogi.
Yep. Yep. And Yep. And you could even add, cannot watch a TV show featuring snakes to the the list.
When we moved to North Carolina in the summer of 2012, it never occurred to me that we'd be moving to the heartland of Copperhead Nation. Oh yes, it's true! North Carolina has the dubious distinction of having the most venomous snake bites of any state in the U.S. When looking for a new home, you research the school district, crime rate, cultural events, but snake bites per capita? In the two years since moving here, I have witnessed more snakes, both squished road side and sunning themselves in the grass, than in the previous four decades of my life.
So...I remain ever vigilant, keeping my eyes wide for anything that resembles a snake, scanning the road ahead and the brush beside as I walk the dog. You'd be amazed at the harmless objects that look like snakes from afar: twigs and twine, broken shoelaces and bungee cords, rubber bands, wrappers, menacing worms and even the occasional used condom. I still sometimes jump at the sight of a big, ominous stick ready to strike from the side of the road, but since giving birth to two kids, I'm not as afraid of used condoms as I once was.
ONE STEP FORWARD:
Last fall, I made a break-through. A snake crossed my path while mowing the lawn. I could have easily chopped it to bits and asked for forgiveness after the murder. But, I didn't. I actually felt sorry for it...and then I felt annoyed. It was slithering at a snail's pace! I had to stop mowing and wait for it to get out of my way. Once safely under the canopy of the tall, ornamental grasses, I continued mowing. I didn't hyperventilate. I didn't run and hide. I.continued.mowing. Victory!
TWO STEPS BACK:
Yesterday, I left the house around 7 a.m. with the dog in tow. With the freshly risen sun, the air felt warm and my heart light as I walked at an energetic pace. Along the way, we spied the usual suspects: birds and squirrels and deer all out in full force...and then I saw it. Three-quarters of the way through our 4 mile walk, lay a snake in the road...varying shades of brown on it's back. I didn't step another inch, but quickly turned around and headed back the way I'd come. Four miles turned into five miles. "It's okay," I told myself, "I needed the exercise anyway." Defeat? Not entirely. I used my yogi breath to keep my body from succumbing to anxiety and only looked back twice to make sure it wasn't chasing me!
I AM NOT ALONE:
Today I awoke to the following news story: A recent high school graduate drowned at a local lake. He let go of the log he was hanging on to when he spotted a snake. He went under the water and never re-emerged. His body was found two hours later. While the official cause of death may be accidental drowning, it was fear that took his life.
HE IS NOT ALONE:
I have often thought: If a car was traveling toward me and I had to get off the side of the road in order for it to pass safely, but there was a snake in the grass, I would rather jump into the path of the oncoming car than share space with the slithering serpent.
"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ~Marie Curie
I understand that my fear of snakes is not rational. I understand that if a snake were to chomp me, my chances of survival are far greater than my chances of death. And, yes, I understand that the snake is more afraid of me than I am of it. I also know that through regular pranyama practice (controlling energy through the breath), I am better able to control my stress response. I regularly use Sama Vritti (same length inhale and exhale) or Langhana (longer exhale than inhale) three-part breath (using the complete diaphragm) throughout the day to keep my mind and body calm, which is just one more way I benefit from yoga.
“He who has overcome his fears will truly be free." ~Aristotle
Once again, Aristotle speaks of the notion of abhaya: freedom from fear. FDR was right when he said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Not only did he lead the nation out of the Great Depression, he went on to be elected for three additional terms, serving an unparalleled thirteen years as POTUS.
If I am able to obtain abhaya over my Ophidiophobia, I still will not qualify for pure yogi status. Did I mention my fear of death by plane crash? Or by house fire? Yep. I'm a work in progress...but aren't we all?