When I was in my late teens I made an unpleasant discovery: I had a fear of banks.
In itself this needn’t have been a problem. But my friends and I were travelling in foreign countries, and the special checks that I was carrying needed my signature within a bank in order to be cashed. Those blurred lines that my shaking hands produced, could hardly be identified as human handwriting, let alone be proof of my identity!
I somehow managed to get to the end of those adventurous journeys, but try as I might, I could not, for the life of me, understand where that misery-producing fear had come from.
Well, if fear were a rational thing, one could reason one’s way out of it, right?
The thing is: such fear is as intensely paralyzing as it is completely irrational, and even if we do find reasonable explanations for its existence, that doesn’t mean we have overcome it.
As a young violinist I faced similar challenges: serene experiences of musical expression could all of a sudden be threatened by a thunderstorm of stage fright that seriously paralyzed the natural movements of my arms and hands.
How was I ever going to enjoy something like a musical career with such a treacherous and undesirable companion at my side?
When I was twenty-four I got a chance to speak about my problem with Swami Kriyananda. His response could hardly be called advice. Rather it was a simple, calm consideration.
He said two things:
– I think you will overcome stage fright in time, if you continue to play.
– Practice pranayama.
“Pranayama,” not long thereafter became Kriya Yoga in which Swami initiated me.
Throughout the years, as my inner life began to develop, I became less career oriented. Music simply became a form of sadhana, an artistic opportunity to experience subtle aspects of the cosmic sound of Aum. Communicating such a musical flow with others became a purely joyful experience.
Over the years I have come to consider all fears as forms of stage fright: God is the playwright, the director is the Guru and we, in turn, are either good or bad actors.
Good actors are able to surrender themselves completely to the flow of consciousness of their characters.
But such absorption cannot not happen, if they themselves get lost in the emotional states they enact, such as depression, elation, fear and indifference.
A space of inner freedom is needed in order to act well. If the actors were to become too identified with their characters’ emotions, their free expression would be hampered and they would risk a decline into bad acting.
A good actor is always happily aware of being part of a creative process: he accepts and experiments with the Guru’s directions and feels the loving, trusting eyes of the Playwright watching him.
So fear, indeed, turns us into bad actors.
The good news is that it can be overcome in time, as Swami says, if we but continue trying and if we practice pranayama.
Sri Yukteswar’s teaching style has often been likened, by Ananda’s best Vedic astrologers, to the planet Saturn: slow, unemotional, self-contained, yet extremely efficient in making completely sure that we learn all the karmic lessons that our past foolishness has imposed upon us. Thus the maturity that Saturn brings is irreversible and becomes a steady base for even the highest states of cosmic consciousness.
Sri Yukteswar’s precepts are, in truth, only two:
– Learn to behave! … that is: be a good actor, attune yourself to the Divine Playwright and the role He has created for you …
… and …
– Let pranayama be your religion!
Kriya Yoga, the highest pranayama, will help you create and safeguard the state of inner freedom you need in order to play your part in the world well. Life then becomes an exploration of God’s infinite creativity and death a welcome break between your performances.
The Gyanavatar’s final reassurance, if we follow his precepts, isn’t even spoken. As we struggle our way through our performances, memorizing our parts through the practice of Kriya Yoga, he keeps singing softly into our right ear:
You won’t have to fear anything, anymore!