“Stay just the way you are,” pleaded a friend. Another graduating pal scribbled in my 1964 year book, “Stay as sweet as you are.” A third warned, “Don’t ever change!”
Looking back, the strange and impossible expectation that we live the rest of our lives frozen in time, forever unchanged, was at best, unrealistic.
What lurked beneath the surface was fear of the open-jawed monster – the Unknown – looming ahead, threatening to swallow up this class of bright-eyed but poorly prepared graduates, changing each of us forever in unforeseen ways.
Back then, we were as cocky-confident as the youthful Luke Skywalker who boasted, “I’m not afraid.”
Little did we suspect then, as savvy Yoda warned, “You will be.”
Had we been cavemen, our dreads would have been limited to the instinctual fear of loud noises or falling off sharp cliffs.
But we were born in the year nuclear bombs ended WW II with horrifying finality. The list of fears we grew up was quite different from those of our earliest ancestors.
Even so, following the example of our elders, most of us have continued to engage in daily tasks, hiding behind a hedge of busy-work to fend off the unacknowledged terrors that lurk on the furthermost edges of awareness.
Today, international leaders and the rogue terrorists of shadow governments continue to flirt with Einstein’s dreaded nuclear destruction. Horrific headlines have become so familiar that we’ve become numb to bad news. Likely outcomes of nuclear war are so horrific that the mind refuses to wrap itself around the possibility of a world suddenly changed forever.
We say to ourselves, “If we deny the possibility, refuse to even think about it, it can’t happen.”
But according to Plato, we’ve got it backwards. “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” For, seeking light on all levels – literal facts, metaphysical truth and inner illumination – leads us to recognize what inevitably changes as well as what does not. It secures triumph over petty fears and victory over illusory death.
Yet, rather than acknowledge danger and take decisive action to avert it, we continue to fend off awareness of the monster of all fears – total annihilation. Instead, we fritter away precious time and energy sweating over inconsequential “small stuff.” We allow ourselves to be seduced by the trivial and irrelevant . . . until, finally, inevitably, calamity strikes and finds us unprepared.
What is the greatest fear you allow yourself to be aware of?
Do you categorically dread any change to your comfortable (or at least familiar) status quo?
The list of specific possibilities is virtually endless. Fear of abandonment, of failure, of success, of poverty, of rejection, of ridicule. There’s the death of loved ones and finally one’s own decline and departure from the physical.
Importantly, are you aware of what you DO about your fears? For, in fact, you do have a wide range of options to choose from.
You can unconsciously project them onto others and make them happen. Or take responsibility to face and overcome them.
You can deny them, bury your head in the sand and hide. Or go to the opposite extreme and overcompensate: adopt a fatalistic hedonist “Eat drink and be merry” attitude. Or choose one of gratitude, focusing on and appreciating the good things of life now, while they last.
As ever, there are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, fear attracts danger. Dwelling on fears can make them come true. But, on the other hand, denying the existence of one’s fears invites danger as well.
Timing is also a important. Now versus later also factors into end results.
Where’s your balance point? It’s a puzzlement.
From Conscience, here are a few thoughts to help sort it out.
Essay 34. FEAR
“Tao does not seem to be something we need to acquire. We are already a part of it. We can, however, do a great job of blocking its manifestation within us. We primarily block the Tao through fear and tension. . . Fear is the source of blockage; it underlies our painful, negative emotions, even though its presence is usually hidden.” — Wolfe Lowenthal, There Are No Secrets
“Ninety-five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all these lies. In the dream of the planet, it is normal for humans to suffer, to live in fear, and to create emotional dramas . . . If we look at human society we see a place so difficult to live in because it is ruled by fear.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
“Fear is an essential part of our nature, installed in our DNA, no doubt for very good reason. Fear is an alarm system. It is there to push us in one direction or another, out of harm’s way. . . it is part of our intelligence, part of an ingenious guidance system to help ensure our survival — as individuals, as communities, and as a species.” — Thom Rutledge, Embracing Fear and Finding the Courage to Life Your Life
An Old English root means sudden attack, ambush or snare. Webster’s first definition is a feeling of anxiety and agitation caused by the presence or nearness of danger, evil, or pain. It suggests doubt, timidity, dread, terror, fright or apprehension.
Alternatively, fear is defined as a respectful dread, awe, or reverence. Fear of God is often a combination of both types, including both awe for the majesty of God’s creation and guilty anticipation of punishment for wrong-doings.
Fears are part natural, part the result of cultural conditioning. Those which are unreal are best dispelled by analysis and understanding. Those which are justified are best faced by correcting and atoning for one’s own mistakes as well as preparing to meet and overcome external dangers.
Working with the I Ching helps us discriminate between appropriate fears which require positive action and illusory fears to release and forget. It is an invaluable aid in the process of cultivating self-honesty for the purpose of self-correction. It is equally useful in the process of articulating immanent dangers and deciding on the best strategies for effective response.
Primal fears are associated with correlative chakras. At the first chakra level, the fear is of physical death. At the second, loss of sexual prowess or family support. At the third, the fear is of losing of material and financial accumulations, along with social connections and influence. At the fourth, failure in love relationships. At the fifth, fears turn to losing face or being judged wrong or inadequate in intellectual matters. At the sixth, one fears loss of connection with the creative source.
As one ascends the evolutionary ladder, emotion-based fears lessen, seen in larger perspective. Integrating and balancing the levels reduces the influence fear has on decision-making.
Some fears have physical causes. For example, habitual muscle tension packs lactic acid into the fascia, producing chemically-induced anxiety. Relaxation and stretching exercises which release tension and reduce acid levels relieve tension anxieties.
Fear is also stimulated by abusing internal organs. Excessive sugar and/or alcohol intake causes metabolic imbalances. The kidneys and liver are stressed by the burden of excess toxins and fluids. The nervousness, anger and fear associated with imbalance in these organs is corrected by improving lifestyle choices.
Cultural conditioning causes still other kinds of fear. Authorities who use terror as a means of control instill a sense of inadequacy and helplessness. Hitler, for example, was the product of an authoritarian, fear-based culture as well as the embodiment of its shadow opposite, destructive megalomania.
Fears denied or unresolved undermine self-confidence, sabotage love relationships, and turn life against itself. They manifest in the physical body as heart disease and cancers.
Fear of God, meaning awe, on the other hand, is life-protective. Direct experience of divine connection (the timeless heritage which everyone everywhere shares in common) overcomes ephemeral fears with the larger light of wisdom and higher love.
Awareness of unseen benevolent powers standing by us on all sides though danger and distress restores strength and courage. It is also the ultimate deterrent to wrong-doing.
Ignorance is the root of fear-caused suffering. Its antidote is confidence gained through inner knowledge and direct experience. Trust that deep within, we each hold the answers to every question and solutions to every problem is the beginning of wisdom.
Terror is a perversion of natural fear. Terrorists may believe playing on fear is the best way to control subordinates or get the attention of unjust leaders. However, unlike math, where two negatives make a positive, two wrongs don’t make a right.