One of the more common mudras in the yoga tradition is the Abhaya mudra. Bhaya is often translated as fear, and a- is the negative modifier, so the abhaya means literally “No Fear.” The gesture means “be not afraid,” or “have no fear.” It’s a welcoming, inviting mudra, and we often see the murtis (statues of hindu gods) with one of their hands in this position.
One of my teachers, Douglas Brooks, has a fascinating translation that may appear counterintuitive for this word – but I truly love it.
“While the raised open palm may appear to us a signal of caution or even warning, it is also an invitation and an opportunity to approach, then come closer, open the heart, and accept the journey of self-inquiry. Fearlessness is the beginning of all such journeys, not just the end. Fearlessness is never without fear but rather that way in which we step into our courage and bring the heart, mind, and body into a deeper appreciation of each and every situation.”
Douglas also suggests that a hero does the thing we are afraid to do, so that we don’t have to watch him do it. In the oldest sense of this, we don’t want to watch the warrior defeat the enemy — we know without thinking that witnessing slaughter of another human would be traumatic — but we understand this is a “necessary evil,” and we’ll even throw him a parade when he returns. Once we have matured past a certain age, we know that heroes are human, and if fact we want human heroes, since those who find joy in the slaughter are monsters, not heroes.
So is it possible that what makes a hero is her fear? One who knows the power of her action, who steps strongly the direction of the task at hand although they may be terrified of each step. The hero must understand the gravity of her action, and be aware of the inherent conflict of taking such a step. The true hero is never without fear.
So for us, today — who hopefully have no experience of armed combat — what are our fears? And how can we walk both fearlessly and never without fear into the things that frighten us the most?
What’s it like to walk into a room of people you haven’t seen in over ten years? Or to start a new job or business? How does it feel to walk into a first date with someone you don’t know well? Or to ask someone on that first date? How does it feel to ask for a raise? To stand up to your parents (or your partner, or your best friend, or your children) when you make a decision that they don’t like? To tell your partner you’ve been fired? To end a relationship when you know it will devastate the other?
Instead of repressing that feeling, that anxiety, that fear, can you lean into it? Can you be never without fear, instead using your fear as a guidepost, accepting it for what it is, and allowing it to inform your actions without ruling you? Fear can only paralyze us if we resist it. Next time, can you instead raise your hand, abhaya — fearless and never without fear, breathe, and take steady steps forward into and through it?
This playlist invokes Kali – that fierce quality in all of us that defends the ones we love – and Nataraja, the dancing face of Shiva who’s abhaya mudra invites into the dance of life, both through and despite our fears.