According to this legend, after you die, you’ll wake up in a dark place. Out of the darkness, a terrifying monster will suddenly appear. The monster will represent all the worst fears you’ve ever had. For each person, the monster will be different, since we all have different fears and vulnerabilities.
When the monster appears, you’ll have two choices: You can try to get away, or you can surrender. If you try to get away, you will escape – but just barely – and soon you’ll be lost in the dark again.
Out of the darkness, a second monster will emerge. This one will be almost as terrifying as the first, but not quite, and you’ll be faced with the same choice: surrender or flee. If you try to escape, you’ll succeed, but you’ll soon find yourself in the dark again. Every time you escape, another terrifying monster will appear. Each monster will be slightly less terrifying than the one before, and if you run, you’ll always just barely manage to get away.
According to the legend, the number of monsters you’ll have to confront depends on the number of days in the month when you die. If you die in January, there will be a total of thirty-one monsters, because there are thirty-one days in January. If you run away from all the monsters, you’ll be reincarnated as something very lowly, like a worm. If you surrender to one of the monsters, you’ll be reincarnated at a higher level. The scarier the monster you surrender to, the greater your status in your next life will be.
In the even that you surrendered to the first and most terrifying monster, two things would happen. First, you’d discover that the monster was not real. You’d realize that it was just an illusion and that you never had anything to fear in the first place. You’d see that the monster had no teeth. This would be an incredible triumph. The discovery might also seem incredibly funny, and you’d probably start laughing because you’d realize that your fears had been the result of a gigantic cosmic joke that had persisted throughout all of your previous reincarnations.
Second, you wouldn’t have to go through the life-death cycle anymore. Instead of being reincarnated, you’d be transported to a higher plane of existence, such as Nirvana. Although this is just a legend, it contains a great deal of truth. If you want to gain complete liberation from your fears, you’ll have to confront the monster you fear the most. This is the essence of Exposure Therapy: Avoidance keeps your anxiety alive, and exposure will lead to the cure.”