TOLSTOY - ABOUT FEAR
by Roza Riaikkenen
Fear is one of the most destructive feelings in human life. Everyone knows it to some extent and has to deal with it. Battling fear sometimes takes all the people’s attention and power away, negatively affecting their ability to achieve what they would like to achieve in their life. Who can be secured from fear? Perhaps, only an individual who realised what is fear in common, and understood its illusory nature. Leo Tolstoy was a man who did this.
Tolstoy stated that the cause of fear is people’s perception of human life as of the existence of their physical bodies. What do people fear? Usually, they think that they fear suffering and death.
The most frightful fear – the fear of death – is, according to Tolstoy, fear of a ghost. Nobody knows it, but everyone fears. The fear of losing “the self”. What is then human “self” and how can we lose our “self”?
If my “self” is my physical body, then its cells become periodically replaced: some of them die, and other cells replace them. So, my physical “self” is at any moment of my life already different from the “self” of the past moment. In fact, my initial physical “self” ceased to exist long ago, and I don’t fear the constant disappearance of the cells of my body. Despite all of our changes, our consciousness tells us that we are one entity.
If my fear relates rather to the possibility of the disappearance of my consciousness, then a question arises: do I know when it appeared and when it will disappear?
“We fear to lose with the death of our flesh our special “self”, which unites our body and a number of states of our consciousness manifested in time into the one; whereas my special “self” appeared not with my birth, and therefore the discontinuance of the temporary consciousness which I know in myself cannot annihilate that which unites all the temporary states of consciousness into the one.” (L.Tolstoy, About Life)
Our temporary consciousness every day ceases for the time of sleep, and we don’t fear this. If we went to sleep for a season, like bears, or for a century, like in a fairy tale, we also wouldn’t fear this. “For the understanding of not temporary, but true life, a million years or eight hours of life’s cessation makes no difference because true life doesn’t have any time.”
“When the body is destroyed, then the consciousness of today becomes destroyed also.” But, maybe, it has to go to let people to develop their new consciousness, which is dawning in the depths of the old one and has to break through it, like a seedling is breaking through the envelope of the seed and developing into a new plant. This is difficult, this is painful, but life is impossible without this. Without this process, it would be a real death.
Tolstoy tells us that in reality people don’t fear death – they fear life because they feel that they don’t understand something important about their life and they live their destined time not as they should live – but how they should live they don’t know. “The best proof of the fact that the fear of death is in reality not the fear of death, but the fear of false, erroneous life is that people often kill themselves because of their fear of death.”
Because of their fear of life, people fear to lose all these things, without which, as they think, they couldn’t live or would suffer: wealth, respect and health. “It seems to them that humans can be more or less lucky with their life. To be a poor worker or a sick person, as they say, is a bad luck; and to be a wealthy and healthy person is a good luck. They stretch all their powers of mind to avoid bad, unlucky, poor and unhealthy life and organize for themselves a good, healthy and lucky life.”
Exerting every effort for this purpose, people fear to lose the results of their effort. Do they feel themselves happy; do they feel the good, which Tolstoy understood as the goal of anyone’s life? There are plenty of examples, which show us that people can find their good in different life situations: being healthy or ill, wealthy or poor, surrounded by other people or in solitude. If we look around us, we can notice many different and sometimes difficult situations, in which people find their good. For example, the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, whose physical body is severely disabled, is living in his mind in the world of stars, and he is making tremendous discoveries in this world!
Sometimes, when people start feeling that their rotation in the small circle of life aimed to their personal consumption cannot in reality be called life, they become frightened. Perhaps, they start feeling the difference between their illusory personal good and the real good, which becomes expressed through love. You cannot preserve your personal good, but you have the opportunity of finding fearlessness and immortality in love.
While exploring the way to fearlessness, Tolstoy came to understand the meaning of suffering, which people also fear. According to Tolstoy, people change under the influence of suffering. It transfers their attention from the pleasures of their mundane personalities to their consciousness, which starts asking questions. Usually people don’t ask them when they enjoy their personal life; they think that they have no questions: they are so smart and lucky that they have nothing to think or doubt about – they can teach others what they have to do to live well.
This is their illusion, and they pay for it with constant fear of losing it. At a certain time their pleasures inevitably change to suffering. Suffering forces a person to ask: “why?” And in this way, from one question to another, consciousness is developing; its seedling is sprouting and growing on. The individual is awakening from the illusion of animal life to the real life of a conscious human being, from striving to personal good to the deeds of active love.
As Tolstoy puts it, love is that which a person cannot lose. Love leaves everywhere its blessed imprints, which continue to act, i.e. to live, in eternity. And fear retreats - there is no place for it in the world of immortal love.