Fear: Fearful to Fearless
The Quest for Purpose Continues
If you were to ask 100 people, “What is the dominant emotion in the world today?” a large majority would answer “Fear”. The source of people’s fear might be quite varied, but that is a second-order derivative. What matters the most is our individual and collective reaction to wide-spread fear. Fear is a powerful emotion and one of the prime motivators of human behavior, so it makes good sense to take a closer look at it.
When man lived in the jungle, fear served an essential, life-saving purpose. The cerebral cortex’s response to “fear” neurons firing is to alert the adrenal gland to pump more adrenalin into the bloodstream. The increase of adrenalin heightened the heart rate, sharpened the senses, shortened reaction time and increased physical strength and endurance. The reaction to perceived threats is characterized as the “fight or flee response”.
A vast majority of humans are now urbanized and no longer live in a jungle. It is a very rare occurrence when a life-threatening situation is encountered. So then, what is the purpose or role of fear in modern society? Why is it the dominant emotion on the planet? Does fear serve our highest good? Does it have any useful function at all?
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, (“DSM-IV”) identifies three different categories of phobias: Agoraphobias, Social Phobias, and Specific Phobias which are further sub-classified into five subtypes: animal, environmental, medical, situational and other. An excellent compendium of specific phobias, the Phobia List, lists 536 different named phobias (based on the triggers which evoke them). Five hundred and thirty six specific experiences that can trigger pathological fears!
Interestingly, the DSM-IV characterizes all these phobias as irrational. In fact, all fear is irrational. There really is nothing to fear. The adage “FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real” is quite apt. Of course, this does not mean that we should act carelessly. On the contrary, we should take great care to act with due caution and with full consideration of others. Traffic on a busy street need not be feared but we must be cautious when crossing.
All fear comes from the ego-mind, which imagines all kinds of threats that might dent our self-image. Fear is not a force in and of itself any more than darkness is a force. The energy is light (photons) and darkness is the absence of light energy. To make a room darker, one does not attempt to add “darkness” but remove light. “ A Course in Miracles ” says that
Fear is the absence of love; where love is, fear cannot be.
Thus, the force, or energy is love and fear is the absence of the love energy.
Worry is fear about the future, some imaginary outcome. Guilt is fear of consequences of past deeds or events. Fear focuses the mind on what we do not want, but the act of focusing the mind helps manifest such outcome. This is the premise of the power of positive thinking, of affirmations. This is why the only worthwhile prayer is that of gratitude, never a request which would only affirm the lack, the need.
From Fearful to Fear Less to Fearless
How do we get rid of fear, then? Clearly, not by trying to get rid of it because that would focus our mind on what we do not want. Loving everything and everyone unconditionally is a noble long-term goal but not easily attained when dealing with fears. The first step is to observe our mind creating fearful thoughts and choosing not to react to them. Become willing to take a close look at what is triggering the fearful thoughts and make an effort to see the irrationality. Accept, in heart and mind that you are safe and the fear is merely a trick of your ego-mind. Thank your ego-mind for the gentle reminder that there is something you might want to look at within yourself. Appreciate the signpost; we all need guidance from time to time.
Let’s say that in spite of taking well-considered precautions, you worry about (fear) being cheated, taken advantage of. You thank your ego-mind for the gentle reminder that you might want to look at if you have ever considered cheating someone or taking advantage of someone in some way. The ego-mind constructs these reminders because of a gap between what we want to world to think of us (honest) and how we really see ourselves (not always completely honest).
A fearful person creates a fearful world; a loving person creates a loving world.