Updated: Mar 26, 2020
In this post I would like to talk about fear and its relationship with awakening. I would like to give credit to Peter Ralston for giving me the possibility to get important insights on the mature of fear and for offering me the chance to change my relationship with fear and emotions in general.
"We cannot decide where we come from,
but we can decide where to go"
- From the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower -
Consciousness work does not only concern becoming directly conscious about who we ultimately are, but it also gives us the possibility to realize how we work as humans. Due both to the frenetic life in which we live and to our inability to simply stop for a second asking our self what the hell we are doing, we tend to miss profound realizations that would be enormously beneficial for our life if realized. We are missing the juice of life in its positive and negative aspects.
It is pretty amazing how all of us, as humans, tend to blindly believe to what we have been told to and to realize how difficult is to break these cognitive chains. Little by little we have constructed our reality by holding as true assumptions and beliefs that are currently having a huge impact in our life. These assumptions are so rooted in our culture and way of being that are almost impossible to be seen. We, as a culture and as individuals, have created and accepted as absolute true certain distinctions rather than others and we have learnt to follow them without never questioning them. By doing so, we have created the illusion to know when in fact we are profoundly ignorant.
Our attitude in never questioning the obvious, our arrogance in pretending to already know everything, our naivety in giving away our own authority to others is what sets us slave of powerful forces of which we had better to master as soon as possible if we want to be functional human beings able to create the life we are meant to live.
Emotions have a huge role in our mundane life and they have the power to make us taking decisions that can condition our human life. But have you ever stopped contemplating what an emotion is? What is it its role and function? How do they rule your life? Being a person with a strong scientific background, I have always superficially tended to boil down emotions to neuronal signals moving across my nervous system. That is how I have been indoctrinated for years and not having spent much time in thinking for myself, I never stopped for a moment checking if there was something deeper that I was missing. I can now say with certainty that for around 29 years my life was ruled by emotions and only thanks to consciousness work I could slowly get a deeper understanding of how emotions and mind work. And thanks to this work, my life has taken a completely different path.
As Peter Ralston wisely says in one of his book, it is not easy to realize what an emotion truly is and most of the time we simply experience the end product of a more sophisticated process made out of perceptions, assumptions, beliefs, values, concepts and memories that in a blink of an eye fuse and cooperate together to make us reacting in a certain way. What is normally described as a complex firing of neurons, it is in reality something more profound, strictly connected with the survival of what we have been identified with during our life.
Humans have the ability to experience a broad spectrum of emotions but I decided to focus on fear for its prevalent role in our life. As said, most of us are used to experience fear only in its final phase and by doing so we are bound to react always in the same way and to remain trapped by this powerful force. We generally miss many other components that constitute fear and by becoming aware of them we can slowly learn how to respond to fear rather than mechanically reacting to it. We can observe all these several components come into play and stop behaving as puppets by having the same reactions over and over. As I said in my post "Self-Observation - Part 1", being able to observe our self, makes our habits weaker and by predicting what comes after we can break the circle. Believing or not fear is not exempt from it.
The term fear includes many different other experiences such as feeling worried, anxious, insecure, shy, jealous, scared, frightened. All of them are the result of holding some sort of fear in us: I feel jealous because I am afraid to lose the person I love, I feel shy because I am afraid of being exposed, I feel insecure because I am afraid not to succeed and so on.
The first important point to realize about fear is that it is a relative emotion, that is, it is contingent to what we think we are. Fear, in other words, is not out there, it is not objectively present in the external world or in a specific circumstance but it is subjective. It is the result of something we have created over time and that now is ruling our behavior. Some people are afraid of water, others of height, spiders, dogs, being trapped in small places, public talking and so on. Only superficially it seems that circumstances create fear. In reality fear is a conceptual force, it is something we create as mind from the inside and we have simply learnt to blame others or external objects to avoid any self-reflection process.
Fear can be broken down to two main conceptual components.
1) Unwillingness to have a particular experience. We can learn to realize that fear is due to the unwillingness of putting our self in a certain situation because we imagine possible consequences and scenarios arising as a result. Try to be in a position or place that you consider safe and then imagine to be in a situation that you do not like such as being in a jungle full of snakes or being at work with the boss that scares you. This conceptual activity is the fear, it represents the trigger for what we then recognize as the bodily emotion running in our body that makes us freezing.
We need to realize that this bodily sensation is only the end product of a conceptual activity that we have created generating fear. The solution is to be completely willing to experience what we resist. Surrender to the experience that usually triggers you and no fear will arise within you. Importantly, this attitude does not say anything about safety. As an extreme example, if you are afraid of heights and you nevertheless decide to go on the top of a mountain, you might fall and die. But you will do it without fear. Once again, fear is something we created conceptually, it is not out there waiting for us.
2) The possibility of a future. Fear is the result of our projection in the future, we imagine our self in the present experiencing something that has not happened yet. Shivers and discomfort can only arise by imagining something that might happen but that it has not happened yet. As far as I know, humans are the only beings able to foresee something not occurred yet and this misused ability is what most of the times creates fear within us. Let's imagine you are afraid of dogs and that one is approaching you in this precise moment. Fear arises not because there is a dog but because you are imagining something happening in the future. If the owner had a dog leash your fears would probably be less palpable.
From this understanding the old wise advice to live in the present comes handy. Stay focus where you are now and if you want to use your imagination (powerful tool) do it to create something useful, something functional for your goal without creating your own limits and boundaries. As soon as you catch yourself imagining something in the future that is limiting your potential, stop it. Now you are aware how the feeling of fear is generated and you have the ability to switch it off.
These two conceptual activities are what create another important component of fear that is the feeling of fear, the bodily sensation. This last component is what we are usually able to recognize and it is what blocks us in taking action in life. It is a powerful force that serves for our physical and conceptual survival. By being able to observe the first two conceptual forces in action, something that we do, the last component will gradually disappear and we will be able to get rid of irrational fears and express our self at our full potential.
To summarize, the feeling of fear is only the end result of one or the combination of two conceptual activities that we our self create as minds. By stopping doing so, fear will disappear. So powerful.
Regardless your motivation in becoming directly conscious of who you are, training you as a human being in seeing that fear is something you create can change your life in better. It finally gives you back the power to be in control. It gives you the awareness that you were the one limiting yourself and therefore you are the only one that can go back on track. The realization that there is nothing out there that can threaten you unless you think so, it is priceless. Learning to observe yourself in creating your own fears is the best exercise you can practice.
Since I am deeply fascinated about the metaphysical aspect of life, I would like now to frame fear in the context of awakening. Once again, I invite you to not dismiss what follows as philosophy. Physical and metaphysical are only labels, distinctions that we have created to make sense of reality. At this point of my life, I consider the label "physical" non sense and I would put everything under the category of metaphysical but that is another story.
As I have tried to convey in previous posts ("Look Within You", "No-Self: The First Step Towards You", "Neti-Neti: Who Am I?","Who Is Behind The Scene?"), what we truly are is Consciousness, an "entity" with no objective attributes whatsoever that felt into the illusion of believing to be someone specific, what we call human being. This process of identification has created several boundaries from our original nature and by falling asleep we had forgotten who we are. As a result of this separation, fear has raised. By identifying our self with a body and a mind, by believing to be something that is mortal and impermanent we have automatically invited fear in our life.
During the process of awakening you will be able to break this illusion down piece after piece and you will realize how fear is strictly connected to what we think we are and to the need of making those identities survive. Fear applies both to the mental and physical process of identification.
The former arises when we, as humans, think to be someone: an artist, a professor, a masseur, a scientist, a spiritual person, a dancer, a sportive. All these identities carry boundaries, limitations and ideologies. When these boundaries, limitations and ideologies are threatened by others or by life we experience fear. The conceptual frame in which we have decided to live our life becomes our objective life and therefore we will likely spend our life trying to defend our world to be as it is. A battle we cannot win. Our fears will be relative to the identity we gave to our self: a sportive will fear not being able to move, a scientist will fear God, a punk will fear order, a left winger will fear a right winger, a bodybuilder will fear losing weight, a rich person will fear poverty and so on. Signs of fear are: naming, blaming and judging others, being violent, finding justifications and excuses, being denial, not taking responsibility, mocking.
The way you react or respond to life's events will reveal at which stage of awareness you find yourself. Being aware that all identities and therefore all ideologies and boundaries linked to that identity are relative and self-created will spare you a lot of suffering and fear. Awakening teaches you that you are none of those identities. You are the one that allows them to be. With this realization, by sitting on the right side, you will be able to create whatever relative identity you want with more joy, less resistance and less fear.
Maybe the most radical realization is to realize that our ultimate nature will not die. Physical death represents for most of us the number one fear. It would be already a big step forward to realize that the fear of death is conceptual. As said before, it is our unwillingness to die and our projection into what death might be that make us fearful of it. We never fear death itself but the concept of death. In addition to this insight, awakening offers us the realization that our physical identification with a body, our belief to ultimately be a human being is illusory. Throughout the help of deep contemplation and other techniques, all sort of identifications will break down and literally nothing will be left.
We will realize that our mind has created the illusion of being a specific self, the belief to be a separate entity. We will realize that we, Consciousnesses, have tricked our self in order to experience life. The price for participating is identifying our self as an individual and it is this very act of separation that generates fear: we look for security, we look for certitudes, we look for control, we look for unity. However, we can awake. We have the unique opportunity to both participate and experience life and realize to be creating this illusion and all our fears.
It is mind that generates fear and you are beyond it. If you keep to unconsciously identifying yourself with mind, you are sitting on a crazy horse, you are bound to suffer. Mind, composed by conceptual activities and feelings, is fear itself and your attachment to mind will make impossible to understand and overcome fear. You become fear itself. You need to realize that you are That which is aware of fear, That that can observe fear with no attachment. You are the one that has the power to create anything in life, fear included.
As humans we need to be strong enough in accepting we will die, but at the same time we have the opportunity to grasp our true immortal nature, the magic of life. Digging deeper, you will make the most unexpected discovery that what allows fear to arise (as anything else in life) is acceptance and love ("Acceptance vs. Resistance"). You are the "entity" that allows anything to arise with no judgement and total acceptance. This freedom comes with a price for us as humans if we do not learn how to use this incredible creative power.
Thanks for reading.