If the ego had an engine, its fuel would be fear. Trepidation isn’t all bad, but it certainly has its time and place. Fear can render us quivering and useless, or motivate us toward change. In the study of Zen, we learn how to not only overcome our fears, but to become fearless. This is called the Lion’s Roar of Zazen.

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.

~ Buddha

The lion is the living embodiment of self-possessed power. This animal has dominion over all he sees as well as the courage, speed, and might to attain all he desires. His deportment is regal and calm, though, never bullying and neither shrinking. The metaphor of the lion is used to describe how one overcomes fear in the Majjhima Nikaya, a Collection of Middle Length Discourses on Buddha’s teachings, and they are immaculate at describing the fears most of us face. Many Zen teachers describe how to become regal and fearless in their discourses as well.

Fear of the Loss of Life

Zen master, D.T. Suzuki says that fear of the loss of body is usually what we must overcome first. Following this, an internal consciousness becomes aware that we are threatening the slated, well-accepted notion of being merely corporeal, and we ‘think’ we are frightened. Suzuki says we needn’t look any further than the bodily sensations that arise when we simply ponder fearfulness. An empty feeling in the lower abdomen ensues, there is an immobility at the base of the tongue, and our breathing becomes restricted. If we were to remove these sensations, though, fear becomes a meaningless thing.

Suzuki attests that according to Zazen, we aim to keep a lower abdomen full of power, the breathing always uniform, the heart beat tranquil, and the muscles of the whole body resilient so that if emotions like fear arise, they can easily be encountered and dismissed.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasures you seek.

~ Joseph Campbell

Fear of the Loss of ‘Self’

Some fear is understandable, even – such as when we realize we must face a spiritual death in order to progress on our path. Although we may long to richer higher levels of consciousness, we aren’t always so keen to let go of the habits and crutches that have propped up our current level of awareness. As the Sufi poet Rumi once said, “No one will find his way to the Court of Magnificence until he is annihilated.”

Other types of fear make us meek and fallible. Our consciousness easily wavers, and we cannot attain Mu, or a state of Zen, let alone get on with our daily activities.  It is only by cultivating the 4 Zen States of Mind that we can ‘fill our abdomens’ with power and roar like a lion with fearlessness.

4 Zen States of Mind

  1. Shoshin or “Beginner’s Mind” (初心) is the first stage in cultivating fearlessness. Think of a time when you were excited and eager to start a new endeavor. There might have been unknowns, but you were brimming with glee over trying something new. This is the type of mind we want to cultivate with all aspects of life. Instead of begin nervous or fearful, we can aim to be eager and open, accepting all that comes our way. In order to approach life from the beginner’s mind we need to let of preconceived notions, and be optimistic. If you’ve been able to have this feeling with one thing you’ve done in life, you can translate that feeling to other areas also.
  2. Fudoushin (不動心) means you have an “Immovable Mind.” It doesn’t mean you are stubborn, but fudoushin does translate to being determined in the face of obstacles. Does a lion run away from present danger? Hardly. The animal doesn’t get angry or judgmental about obstacles either. He is peaceful like the eye of the storm until he is upon his prey. If you can develop fudoushin when you are under stress, you will be unstoppable in life.
  3. Mushin (無心) or “Without Mind.” This is a similar philosophy to the Chinese Taoist idea of wei wuwei. When we are ‘in the zone’ working on a great masterpiece or doing something we love, we’ve likely already experienced the state of mushin. When we are empty of thoughts, yet moving and acting purely in the present moment, without fear, anger, ego, or other emotion, we are a force to be reckoned with. By developing equanimity and learning how to focus to the point of no-thought, we can cultivate mushin.
  4. The last of the four states of Zen Mind is called Zanshin (残心) which literally translates to “Remaining Mind.” This state of mind contains two precise elements. It means you are both relaxed and keenly aware of your surroundings. This is the state that martial artists aim to be in so that they can react at any moment to anything that comes their way. By maintaining relaxed alertness fear cannot sway you, even in the face of a frightening opponent.

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.

~ Salvador Dali

Fear of Suffering

The Buddha taught that self-grasping and ignorance are the root of all remaining fears. Healthy fears aside, our tendency to try to avoid suffering – the fear of failure, heartbreak, being trapped, being lost, etc. are all caused by a single root – and arise from the mind. In Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, it is said that the Buddha articulated, “The source of all our fear comes from our own uncontrolled minds or “delusions.””

In order to overcome this root cause of fear, the Buddha, and Zen masters alike, teach to strive for no-self or emptiness. This doesn’t mean a nihilistic view of life is adopted. Friedrich Nietzsche accused Buddhism of being existentialist, but the Buddha taught us to seek the Middle Way between the mundane and the spiritual, seeing objects as real but dependently originated, not-self and unsatisfactory. Instead of seeing all things as pointless and empty, we see mundane life as meaningless but recognize spiritual goals as meaningful.

As the Zen master, Sojo has said, “Heaven and earth and I are of the same root, the ten-thousand things and I are of one substance.”

After all, even once the Buddha gave up all his worldly possessions he realized he was no closer to achieving Nirvana. He discovered that exaggerated asceticism was not required to attain enlightenment.

By learning how to work through these fears, we can achieve the ‘lion’s roar’ of full realization.

This article was originally posted on The Mind Unleashed.

Photo credits: Conscious Reminder

Through self-knowledge, you recognize your divine nature and the deeper purpose to life.

You create a larger context in which to view your existence. You learn how to interpret and organize your experiences. You develop an inner connection with all creation. Self-knowledge helps you blend world and spirit.

Along the way you face the demon of attachments. Some attachments are healthy, such as those to family and friends. But you must release your need to control other people and events. You must deal with challenging situations or choose to let them go. Self-knowledge strengthens your ability to grow and expand your sense of self.

1. Develop the Capacity for Concentration and Stillness with Meditation

Quiet times alone help you awaken to the truth of your divine nature. For a short while you step away from the constant demands of the outside world. You let go of false beliefs and illusions. You let go of feelings of separation. During times of stillness you free yourself from habitual patterns that limit your spiritual growth.

Meditation relaxes the body, calms the mind and renews the spirit. You access a deeper state of awareness. You increase your creativity. You are better able to concentrate. Meditative techniques vary. You may focus on your breath. You may repeat a mantra or affirmation. You may walk quietly and mindfully. Meditation may be the most powerful tool for developing a clear, focused mind.

2. Cultivate Mindfulness as Essential for a Conscious Life

By paying attention to each present moment, you appreciate the fullness of being alive. Habitual ways of thinking and acting disconnect you from the now. Fear distracts you. Impatience robs you of life’s joy. Many of your bumps and bruises occur because of a lack of mindfulness.

Mindfulness simply means paying attention. You give your entire awareness to the present moment. You use past experience to enhance the meaning of the present. You let go of your need to rush into the future. Being mindful helps you focus on what matters the most to you.

3. Acquire Knowledge of the World Around you and Within you

To gain self-knowledge you must let go of limiting beliefs that inhibit your learning and growth. Examples of these beliefs abound. “I can’t do it. I don’t deserve it. It will never happen.” Examine these beliefs and especially your interpretation of them. Talk to friends who encourage you, not those who increase your doubts.

If you feel confused and overwhelmed, you can seek more information. Consider taking a course of study. Read new books on specific subjects. Most important, remain open-minded and able to ask questions. Awareness of both inner and outer worlds increases your self-knowledge and sense of wholeness.

As you recognize your divine nature, you grasp the deeper purpose of life that underlies all existence. You let go of unhealthy attachments that do not serve this purpose. In your life journey, you encounter obstacles and difficulties that obscure the truth of your divine nature. But just as the tiny acorn contains what is necessary for the mighty oak tree. You have all you need within to accomplish your purpose for living. You are guided by a Higher Power and inner wisdom. As you blend world and spirit, you increase your self-knowledge and expand your sense of self.

Originally appeared at Ezine Articles.

About the author:

Dr. Mary Beth Ford is the author of Wisdom from the Gardens—Life Lessons and creator of the CD Garden Wisdom—5 Ways to Grow in Life Balance and Joy. She specializes in the area of life balance, which she describes as balance between outer world and inner Self. In her work, Mary Beth shares five powerful garden lessons for living with balance and joy. She helps busy people live with Spirit in the world. Using nature images she offers us a new way of seeing ourselves and our world.

As we progress through the process of ascension, several stages occur. Among them is a shake-up which inspires an initial awakening, then the full realization of truth, followed by the development of discernment to ascertain a correct course of action. We wouldn’t try to ride a bicycle before building one, nor would we attempt to sail an ocean without a boat. When things get challenging in life, we can check to see if we are practicing Wu Wei in order to refine our actions. This is the art of effortless action as described in Taoist teachings.

1. No Action Doesn’t Mean ‘Nothing’ Happens

The Tao does nothing and yet nothing is left undone.” – Lao Tzu

Wu Wei or 無為, translates from Chinese pinyin to mean “no-action” or “actionless action.” This is considered the ‘natural’ way to do things, as opposed to striving, opposing, and forcing, as well as lollygagging, or succumbing to complete inertia. When we are in alignment with the Source, or as Taoists call it, simply, the Tao, then we don’t have to ‘work’ at anything. This is not to be confused with doing nothing. The state of Wu Wei doesn’t give us an excuse to sit on the sidelines, observing life and critiquing others’ actions. Instead, it describes the inspired action of a person who is brimming with life energy, and that has dedicated their actions to a purpose which supports Oneness. This person does not waste energy, though, and moves only when the time is right, and then, with magnificent acumen, and seemingly magical support behind them.

The ancient ideograms and symbols used in the Chinese language and culture offer the most simplistic way to describe Wu Wei. We can observe this is the simple Yin Yang symbol. One side is active, or masculine, representing the energy of extending oneself into the world, and the other side of the symbol is passive, or more accurately, receiving, or feminine energy that causes an inward journey.

All Chinese medicine, martial, and internal arts from Tai Chi to acupuncture to meditation aim to help balance the masculine and feminine energies, the doing and ‘not-doing’ you might say, as a way to achieve Wu Wei.

2. The Cosmos is Not Working Against You

We aren’t sandwiched between heaven and earth, we ARE heaven and earth. To practice Wu Wei, we must first realize that we are connected to the Oneness of all things. Though we should have clear boundaries, like children given free rein to run and play within the confines of a beautiful park, we also should remain open to vulnerability and the lessons this may teach. Once we are open and protected we can begin to observe nature and embrace universal energy as it ebbs and flows. From there, we learn when to move with that energy – ebbing and flowing with our own actions in accordance with the Oneness of all things. An immense sense of freedom comes from knowing we don’t have to fight against the Cosmos, and understanding that it is never working against us – only we can choose to work against it’s flow.

3. Physical Action Isn’t the Only Action

Another principle of Wu Wei involves quieting the ever-busy mind. Even if we aren’t ‘doing’ anything physically, often our minds are busier than ever. Wu wei means that we not only quiet the body and its actions, but that we aim to quiet the mind. Otherwise, we will have no idea if we are in Universal flow, or simply acting ‘busy’ out of the needs of the ‘ego,’ we so obsessively align ourselves with.

Even with our meditation practice, we are encouraged not to ‘try too hard.’ Perhaps you’ve seen a mind game that has been installed at several museums around the U.S.. Two people sit across from one another, and attach headbands equipped with electrodes to themselves. Between the players are a group of balls that can only be moved with the brain’s waves, measured as electromagnetic currents through the headband. If a player maintains a state of relaxed calm, essentially a combination of alpha and theta waves produced by the brain when it’s relaxed, then a ball moves up a tube and is placed in a bin. The player with the most ‘balls,’ wins after a certain period of time commences. Those who try too hard, fail, as do those who don’t try hard enough. The combination of alpha and theta waves created by a Wu wei mind is what wins the game every time.

Lao Tzu advises that we must be quiet and watchful, learning to listen to both our own inner voices and to the voices of our environment in a non-interfering, receptive manner. This requires a calm, but astute mind.

4. Being at One with the Tao Means Accepting Change

A key principal in Taoism, and the practice of Wu Wei involves the realization that there is an unceasing flow of change in nature. This change is governed by laws which are unalterable, and rarely perceived except by the most consciously evolved individuals. Fighting these laws of change would be a sisyphean task. Would you try to to stop the changing of the season or the rise and fall of the sun to the horizon? Once you observe this flow of change in nature, you can apply principles of Wu wei to your own transformation. Since you are a part and parcel of nature, you will change accordingly. Why not move with that change instead of fight against it – perhaps you can even welcome change the next time it arrives at your doorstep.

5. True Wu Wei Involves Purposeless Wandering

Zhuangzi refers to a type of being in the world that many of us have never considered. He calls it flowing, or more poetically “purposeless wandering.” Most of our cultural values frown upon this type of being. If we have ‘no purpose’ we are often deemed pathological in the context of modern day living. Yet, it would be difficult to maintain that our current values have promoted harmony and balance, either environmentally or for each individual.

In Zhuangzi’s Basic Writings, he states, “ you can use the analogy of an artist or craftsman. The skilled woodcarver, the skilled swimmer… does not ponder or ratiocinate on the course of action he should take; his skill has become so much a part of him that he merely acts instinctively and spontaneously, without knowing why, and achieves success.” He further describes an enlightened person as being one who wanders through creation enjoying its delights without ever becoming attached to any one part of it.

This article was originally appeared at The Mind Unleashed.

About the author

Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and *See the Big Picture*. Her blog is Yoga for the New World . Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing The Body And Mind Through The Art Of Yoga.

In this modern society, we are all programmed with fixed mental patterns, from birth onwards.

Your nationality, your race, your religion, your environment, your expectations, your family’s economic status. All of these of things are mental patterns, programmed (recorded) into your subconscious mind as you are growing up.

Now these things are here for a reason. Back in the cave man days, these subconscious programs were relied upon to keep you alive. To allow you to gain an unshakeable understanding of, not only the environment you were living in but also the societal structure and any social norms which you had to adhere to, lest you be cast out from the social group!

They may have served a purpose back then but these days they are simply keeping you trapped in the same circumstances while the world moves forward without you!

Analyze how your mind works

Everyone’s mental patterns will, of course, be unique to them as an individual. Therefore, if you ever hope to break free and start creating the life you’ve always wanted, you MUST analyze your own mind and take stock of who you THINK you are versus who you REALLY are and who you WANT to become. Once you’ve done this, you can begin using the reality of these subconscious programs to your benefit.

Begin by looking at the following areas of your life and ask yourself “Is this what I want or Is this what my SUBCONSCIOUS wants?”:

  • Your Relationship(s)
  • Your Friends
  • Your Job/Career
  • Your Mental State
  • Your Feeling Of Deservingness
  • Your Idea Of Whether You Can Succeed In Life

Take a good, hard look at yourself and meditate on the above points, trying to find the root of where they came from and how they got there. Obviously, this will take some time and a lot of self-introspection, which can be uncomfortable for some people. Sometimes facing yourself is the most terrifying thing you can do, because once you know these mental patterns can be changed, you will be forced to take full responsibility for your life’s circumstances. The good and the bad. Everything is the way it is, because of you and what you have manifested or not manifested into your life.

So, take stock of yourself and your thoughts one by one. Begin to build a conscious idea of who your subconscious mind believes you are. Make a list if it helps. It is often quite startling at how different the subconscious mind’s idea of its self-image really is. You may be capable of having a good job, yet it believes you are poor so it manifests either no job, a bad interview or gets you fired soon after you have found one.

The good news is that once you have begun to notice these little mental patterns (programs) and how and why they are created, you will notice (and overcome) more and more of them every day. You have trained your mind to see the lies within it and you will have given your mind the tools to change it.

So don’t be a victim to your thoughts. Don’t be a victim of circumstances. Don’t be a victim of the beliefs of other people! Change your life today!

Are you on the right path? Are you walking the path that is going to lead you to realizing your highest purpose?

There are a few things to understand about the journey of life before you can answer this question.

Firstly, there is no such thing as the wrong path. All roads are ultimately going to lead you to where you need to be, but like all great navigators will tell you, there are easier roads than others.

Some roads are smoother, some roads are bumpy, some roads are well lit and others are dark. Whatever road you ultimately end up choosing is the best road for you and for where you are at your current level of consciousness.

So ultimately in a bigger picture sense, you are always on the right path. But if you are curious if you are walking your highest path, that is the path that is going to help you reach the fullest expression of your being, here is how to tell:

1. You Just Know

If you are questioning if you are walking your highest path or not, you are probably not quite there just yet.

When you walk the right path you can feel it. There is a certain feeling that comes when you start walking this path that allows you to feel purposeful and fulfilled.

A lot of people think that their highest path is going to be some big grand pathway, but it can be subtle and gentle as well.

Walking your highest path is an unmistakable feeling, so get out of your head and into your heart and listen for the answer.

2. You Are Not Compromising Yourself

When you are walking your highest path you give up doing things to please others and instead start doing things that feel good to you. This doesn’t mean that you don’t compromise to get along with others, but these compromises come from a more conscious place and are met with equal respect.

When you walk your highest path you are completely aligned with your soul and what your soul has come here to achieve and so there is no way you can compromise this and still be on your highest path.

3. You are Equipped to Handle Life’s Curveballs

Just because you are on your highest path doesn’t mean you are not immune from challenges and hurdles.

When you are on your highest path however, there is an underlying feeling of understanding and acceptance. Even if things are difficult, when you are on your highest path it allows you the awareness to see the bigger picture and to view things from a more purposeful place.

When challenges do come, there is also an underlying faith that everything is working out perfectly.

4. You Are Not Afraid to Be You

When you are on your highest path there is a general feeling of confidence and acceptance of who you are and the gifts that you need to bring into the world.

You may also feel passionate about what it is that you are doing and fulfilled by the decisions you are making in your life.

When you can fully appreciate and acknowledge yourself, it allows you to make decisions from a higher level of consciousness which then allows you to walk the path of your highest self.

5. You Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

Those walking their highest path often feel a connection to something bigger than just themselves.

When you walk your highest path you are in sync with your soul and the vibrations of the Universe. This also allows you to access other Divine realms and be in constant contact with your intuition.

When you believe in something bigger than yourself it also allows you to feel supported on your journey and that your journey has a bigger vision than you can fathom for yourself.

6. You are Always Learning

When you are on your highest path there is a curiosity for life and to continually learn, grow and expand. Often those who are on their highest path are always learning and desire to develop new skills.

When you are on your highest path, you may also feel the desire to travel, volunteer or dedicate your time to learning about other people or cultures.

7. You Feel Grateful and Connected

When you are on your highest path, there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the experiences and people that cross your path.

When you are on your highest path you are also able to see that we are all connected and that your energy is part of a bigger tapestry that all living creatures are working on over several lifetimes and incarnations.

8. You are a Witness to Miracles

When you start walking your highest path, miracles start unfolding around you. Your intentions and thoughts manifest very quickly and your life may be full of synchronicities or “coincidences” that are just too mysterious to fathom.

Your intuitive senses may also be very strong and your body may be able to heal a lot faster than normal.

When you are on your highest path you are also more aware of miracles occurring in everyday life, from the simple blossoming of a flower to seeing your wildest dreams manifesting before you.

9. You Meet Soulmates and Twin Flames

When you are walking your highest path, you are more likely to meet soulmates and twin flames that are there to support you on your journey.

These special souls may come in the way of teachers, lovers or even friends. No matter how they manifest in your life, when you are walking your highest path the people around you start to also reflect that.

Old friends may shift away and new people may come into your life that are more aligned with where you are at vibrationally.

10. You Keep Growing in Consciousness

Just like you are changing, so too is your highest path. If you don’t keep up with the changes of your highest path, it can knock you off course. This is why some people may feel that they used to be on their highest path but got lost somewhere along the way.

This is very normal, and it will take time and a new level of consciousness and growth to find your highest path again.

Your highest path is a feeling and not so much an external destination. No matter what is happening in your life on an external level, walking your highest path is a feeling that we can all achieve when we start to realize our own potential.

This post was originally published at Forever Conscious and used here with permission.