The City of My Fear


Written By Nils Derboule

Nils Derboule is a global engineer and project manager who has been studying and practicing Dzogchen since several years while being active with his job.

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In this article “The city of my fear”, Nils tells us how we can tame the fear and use it to reveal what we truly are.

The City of My Fear

When I was a kid, I was afraid of monsters under the bed. If the tip of a foot or the end of a hand stuck out, it was too appetizing for the creatures lurking under the box spring: I was going to be caught and dragged off into the darkness… and certainly eaten alive. So I asked my mother to leave the door ajar and the corridor light on. It didn’t change the presence of the monsters, but at least it reassured me: if I was vigilant enough to stick strictly to the rectangle of my mattress, I might have a chance to escape at night.

The bed was my fortress, and I reigned over my fear. A somewhat naive young squire, after all.

For the cellar was as frightening as the underside of my bed. Going in alone was a brave thing to do. Getting in was difficult enough, but acceptable. Getting out, on the other hand, meant turning off the light and turning your back on the darkness that had suddenly returned. And with the darkness… I might as well tell you that I promptly closed the door behind me and walked back up the stairs four at a time! As I got older, sometimes the courage came, and I forced myself to climb the stairs with measured steps, listening to my heart pounding and the feeling in my stomach.


“We are the city of our own fear, and we don’t realize (yet) that this fear is itself the radiance that illuminates the space of the mind.” 

Ten, twenty, thirty years later, and here I am: to claim that fear is no more would be a misplaced pride. Because all it takes is that moment between dog and wolf, when the storm rumbles and the forest stirs with shadows and frills, when we wonder if we’ve taken the right path home… for us to once again feel that familiar sensation in our guts, the one that came and went, came and went, came and went… Fear!

Fear is nothing to do with anyone but ourselves. It inhabits us, makes us act and react – maybe even saves our lives. That’s the physiological principle, isn’t it? Observing this fear allows us to accept it for what it is: a power beyond our control. And yet we are the source of it! For the tradition of the Great Perfection, fear is first and foremost the extension of ignorance. In the light of my own experience, I can only agree! For with the light of knowledge, it disappears from under the bed, from the cellar, from the forest, from my own mind.

We are the city of our own fear, and we don’t realize (yet) that this fear itself is the radiance that illuminates the space of the mind. Because there’s no need to fight it or run away from it: fear, the Dzgochen tells us (and shows us!), is actually the natural dynamic of the mind. And not even the greatest of all fears, the one that dominates all others and is always with us all the time, the aptly named “fear of disappearance”, escapes this.

dzogchentoday-The city of my fear.

One of the greatest Dzogchen masters of the 20th century, Jamyang Khyèntsé Chökyi Lodrö, was a bit of a coward. At the very least, we have a few testimonies to this effect: on dark nights, he preferred to be accompanied to the small corner some distance from his retreat hut. And, it is said, he was afraid of mice. While he was giving a teaching, in the pure traditional style as was customary for a lama of his rank, with many ritual objects, assistants, liturgies and symbolic gestures, he suddenly found himself standing on his throne and shouting “A mouse! A mouse!” while pointing to a gray motion in a corner of the room. And my master, who was telling this story, added: “An introduction to the nature of mind through fear, isn’t that great?”

We feel it a thousand times a day for a thousand different reasons, though if most of the time it’s so fleeting that we barely notice it. It intimately and subtly colors our perception of the world. It is the persistent mist that envelops the citadel of our mind. And it’s just as much the secret to our heart, the one we’re so reluctant to reveal.

Fear is not to be fought, shunned or magnified. It’s neither our friend nor our enemy. Taming it and getting to know it gives us the power to see its true nature, and to use it to bring us back to who we are. Mice and other phobias take on a whole new dimension for us.

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