Where your fear is, there is your task.– C.G. Jung
Painting from Jung’s Red Book.
Fueling stressful stories is a form of avoidance.
Often, we think of avoidance as distraction, compulsion, overthinking, blame, guilt, going into ideologies, and so on.
And yet, avoidance can also be fueling scary and stressful stories. We make them more catastrophic and make them seem more real to ourselves. And that helps us avoid actually looking at it.
It helps us avoid looking closely at the scary stories and find what’s more true for us. (Which is usually more peaceful, at the very least because it’s more aligned with reality and we know it.) And it helps us avoid feeling the sensations of the fear in the body, rest with them, and allow them as they are.
Examining the stories and resting with the sensations is how these stressful stories can resolve. By avoiding them through fueling them, they tend to stay and perhaps be reinforced. And by meeting them and examining them, they can relax and our relationship with them can relax.
There are two ways to feed our fears. One makes it stronger and makes us more identified with it. The other helps it calm down and we can relate to it more consciously as a part of us (and not all of who or what we are).
In the first case, we feed the fear in the sense of fueling the fearful stories and our reactivity to it. We indulge in the scary stories. Make them more catastrophic. Make them seem more real. Avoid seriously questioning them. Indulge in our reactivity to them and whatever avoidance strategy we use.
In the second case, we feed the fear in the sense of nurturing it so it can relax. We meet it. Listen to what it has to say. Investigate the scary stories and find what’s more true for us. Notice the physical sensations in the body we call fear. Befriend it. See it comes from love and a wish to protect us. Even find love for it and for its innocence.
In watching a short BBC story about North Korea (Surprising images from inside North Korea), I was reminded of the need for control – and how it looks very similar in North Korea (and similar places) and in ourselves and our own lives.
North Korea is a country run by fear and they feel a need to control their citizens and anyone visiting. As the photographer in the video says, he could only visit approved locations, he had to stay in special hotels for foreigners (sometimes as the only guest), his “guides” were in the rooms next to his and emerged as soon as he opened his door, and so on.
In other words, North Korea is behaving as a terrified person. Everything needs to be controlled, often harshly. And if it’s not, there is the fear (I assume) that everything will fall apart. (That may be true. The totalitarian regime may well fall apart giving space for something else to emerge – perhaps a South Korean style modern democracy.)
Most of us have probably met people who seem a bit like this. Who tightly try to control a situation. Who seems terrified of things going “out of control” in themselves or their life.
And, if we are honest, we can probably find it in ourselves.
When am I acting like North Korea? Can I find examples of…. A time when I felt I needed to control a situation? When I desperately wanted to present a certain image of myself while keeping less savory parts hidden? When I felt a strong need to maintain a certain image? Or to maintain things the way they are? Or to avoid certain experiences I was terrified by?
In a sense, that’s the gift of North Korea. It shows us how a tightly controlled country – run by fear and through fear – looks. And, if we allow, North Korea can be a mirror for ourselves. When am I like North Korea?
What do I fear would happen if I am not like that? If I am more authentic and real and allow others to see me as I am (in all the humanness)? If I allow situations to unfold as they do with less of an attempt at tight control? How would it be to try it?
Some additional thoughts:
Why is North Korea the way it is? Of course, there are clear historical reasons (the war and connections with China etc.). Mainly, the leaders are terrified of giving the people are more free rein because it would – almost certainly – be the end of the current regime. There is a lack of trust that it would be OK or perhaps better than it is currently. Again, that fear may be justified since the few who benefit from the current regime most likely would benefit far less from a more liberal society and a democracy.
Again, that’s similar to us. We may fear that without a tight control – or attempt at control – in some situations and with some parts of ourselves, things would go haywire. We may fear to lose respect or admiration, or the image of being a certain type of person, or some perceived advantage, or perceived control over someone else or a situation.
So in exploring this, we need to address the fear, and we need to gradually find trust in ourselves – what’s in us, and in life in general. Mainly, we need to learn to trust that we are OK as we are – warts and all.
Confronting fear is the destiny of the Jedi– Luke Skywalked in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
It’s also the destiny of anyone on an awakening path. And it’s the destiny of anyone on a path of emotional healing, finding wholeness as a human being, and anyone on a path of love, authenticity, and sincerity.
The awakening process itself can be scary and requires us to meet our fear, examine it, befriend and find love for it, and eventually recognize it as consciousness or the divine itself. The awakening process also involves deep healing of our human self – so the awakening can be lived more clearly through more and more situations in daily life – and that too requires us to meet, examine, and befriend the fear that’s the gatekeeper of all emotional issues, and meet it with kindness, see it is innocent comes from a desire to protect this human self, and recognize it in immediacy as the divine.
It’s the same if we wish to find wholeness or live more from love, sincerity, or authenticity. And it’s the same if we wish to pursue our dreams or our calling. The gatekeeper is fear.
There is nothing wrong with fear. It’s not our enemy. It’s here to protect us. And through befriending and getting to know it, and seeing that it’s already who and what we are, we can relate to it more intentionally, listen to it, silently thank it for its desire to protect us and for its wisdom, and decide how to act independently of it.
We are more free to take in what it has to say and especially the grains of wisdom that may be there, while following our own best judgment based on whatever experience, wisdom, kindness, and inner knowing is here.
When we work on deep-seated issues, there is often a fear of not only entering it but also of healing from it. This fear is a guardian of the treasure that’s there when we enter it, get to know it, and find healing for it. It’s a big part of what holds it in place.
The fear is also innocent, natural, and very understandable. It’s there to protect us. The protection is partly wise and partly a bit misguided. It’s wise since entering the issue without proper guidance can further traumatize us and make it worse. And can be a bit misguided since entering it with some guidance is what allows it to heal.
So when I work on deep-seated issues in myself or others, I often address this fear as well. If it’s strong, I may treat it as its own issue.
In a sense, this is a detour and slows down the process. In another sense, it’s what allows for a more real and deep healing of the issue. Slow is sometimes faster. What’s slow in the short run can be faster in the long run.
I often address this fear when I work with inquiry, Vortex Healing, and parts work (Big Mind process etc.).
I am scared.
What picture do you get when you hear that sentence?
I see a child.
And that says a lot. It says that in our culture, it’s OK to say I am scared when you are a child, but you are not really supposed to say it as an adult. As an adult, you are supposed to be angry, or sad, or grieve, or be frustrated, or happy, or ecstatic. And sometimes afraid, but that’s definitely more taboo.
Why is fear more taboo? Why does it feel more vulnerable to say I am scared? I am afraid?
My guess is because it’s more real. It’s more true. It’s more authentic.
When I explore anger, grief, sadness, and frustration in myself, I often find fear behind it. These are often reactions to fear.
My mind feels fear. It reacts to it. And that reaction can take the form of anger, frustration, sadness, or even grief.
I lose something or someone important to me. It brings up fear of being alone, of missing out. And my reaction to that fear takes the form of sorrow.
I don’t get what I want because of someone else’s actions, and I see it as unfair. I am scared because I don’t get it, and I feel out of control. And I react to that fear by going into anger.
When I explore emotional issues for myself, mostly through inquiry, fear is often at the bottom of it. (Along with my mind believing scary stories.) And the rest – anger, frustration, sadness, grief, even elation, happiness and ecstacy – come as reactions to the fear.
I can’t say it’s always this way, or always this way for everyone. But this is what I find. When I get close enough, I often arrive at fear. And that tends to dissolve the surface emotions and reactions.
My suspicion is that’s why fear is more taboo. It’s more taboo for adults to admit fear. It’s too intimate. Too authentic. It doesn’t allow for our usual ways of coping with fear through anger and sadness or various compulsions. Admitting to the fear and getting close to it allows the house of cards to fall. What’s left is just nakedness.
When I get close to fear, what then? It’s just like a scared child or animal. What it wants is to be noticed, allowed, respected, met with kindness and patience. Listened to. Often, that’s all that’s needed. (At least, at first.)
A snowboarder, Ester Ledecka, won gold in women’s Super G in the winter Olympics earlier today. As I watched her run, my mind thought fearless – that’s why she won. (In addition to technical skills and lots of practice, of course.)
What does fearless mean?
Does it mean without fear? Not really. We can act fearlessly even if there is fear. As some say, courage is to do something in spite of fear.
Does it mean not being stopped by fear? Yes, certainly. That’s a pretty good definition.
And how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we don’t stop ourselves when we experience fear? Here are some ways:
Inquire into the beliefs around fear. What are my stressful beliefs about fear, or situations triggering fear? What do I find when I investigate these beliefs? (The Work.)
Inquire into how the mind creates its experience of the fear, and the threat within the fear. Allow the bond between the sensations and thoughts (images, words) making up these charged experiences to soften and fall away. (Living Inquiries.)
Change my relationship to the fear. Dialogue with the fear. Explore how it’s here to protect me, and how it has a function and comes from care and love. (Voice Dialogue, Big Mind Process.) Use heart centered practices to befriend fear and what the fear trigger in me. (Ho’oponopono, tonglen.)
Rest with the fear. Notice and allow the sensations. Notice and allow the images and words. Rest with noticing it all. Allow it as is. Allow it as it’s changing. Notice the space it’s all happening within and as.
Act in spite of the fear. When we keep acting on something in spite of fear, and perhaps build up from action we have a small amount of fear about to those we experience more fear around, we learn that it’s OK to act in spite of fear. We shift out of the pattern of letting the fear control of. We live it. This is an essential component.
Use therapeutic trembling (TRE) to release tension and trauma related to fear and the fear-triggering situations.
If we have access to effective energy healing, like Vortex Healing, we can use that as well. We can invite emotional issues around fear, and reactivity to it, to clear.
And, of course, it helps to feel we don’t have too much to live up to and not very strong expectations of ourself. In other words, it helps to have investigated beliefs and identifications around that too, release the charges, hold it more lightly, and invite our relationship to it to change.
Fear has a function. It’s put into us through evolution to make us appropriately cautious. And when emotional issues and reactivity to it is released, that’s when we can relate to it with more clarity. That’s when it won’t hinder us inappropriately yet still serves the function of making us take appropriate action. It helps us not take too much of a risk. In the case of Super G, it may motivate us to develop the skills needed, and make sure we have the right equipment, to give it all on the way down.
For many of us engaged in spiritual practices, or any form of healing work, there is an element of fear in our motivation. That’s usually not the whole story, and sometimes not a very large part of the story, but there may still be an element of fear there.
As usual, it’s normal, very understandable, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. The downside is that it can be stressful, and it can
It’s good to notice and be honest about any fears so we can relate to them more intentionally.
One way to explore the fear is to ask ourselves: What do I fear if I don’t do these spiritual practices? If I don’t heal? If I don’t awaken? What’s the worst that can happen?
Meet the fear with some kindness and love. With gentle curiosity. And inquire into those fears and whatever identities are threatened. How does the mind creates its own experience of the fears? What’s associated with them? How does the mind relate to it? (Living Inquiries.) What are the beliefs? And what do I find when I examine them? (The Work.)
Unless we are mainly driven by fear, this type of examination won’t remove our motivation for engaging in these practices or healing work. We’ll still do it. We’ll just experience a bit more ease in how we relate to it.
Equally important, we may be more aware of the deeper, kinder, and more genuine motivations behind it.
Fear is often the gatekeeper to what needs to be healed or awakened.
It’s there for a reason. If we enter these areas of ourselves with insufficient skill, we risk retraumatizing and stir up things without much effective healing.
So if we trust we have sufficient skills, or work with someone who has, or we use an approach that’s less likely to retraumatize, then it’s good to address the gatekeeper along with what it protects.
If the fear is strong, we may start with the fear. We can meet it with kindness, respect, and patience. Allow it to be there. See that it does have an important function. We can explore how it shows up in the different sense fields and see what’s associated with it (Living Inquiries). We may find a belief or identity behind it, and inquire into it (The Work). We may dialogue with it (Big Mind process).
And then we can explore what it protects, if that feels right.
This is a much gentler approach than diving right into the trauma or the emotional issue. If done well, it will feel – and be – much safer. We ease into it. We address the – genuine, understandable – fears first.
And we can do this no matter what approach we use. For me, it’s typically inquiry, subpersonality work, or energy work such as Vortex Healing. For someone else, it will probably be something else.
The more experience, skill, and understanding we have, the easier it is to approach the fear with respect, kindness, patience – and presence. It comes naturally the more we have done our own work, and the more insights we have into the dynamics. We see that the fear has a genuine and important function. We know it from ourselves. We know it comes from kindness, care for the self, and love. And that brings up a natural patience, respect, and kindness. It also tends to bring up a natural curiosity and wish to listen to it.
Note: When I write “what needs to be healed or awakened” I am aware it’s not very accurate. Another phrasing is probably better, such as “what we wish to invite in healing and awakening for”. Nothing “needs” to be healed or awakened. And we cannot “will” anything to heal or awaken. We can just invite it. We can create a situation where it’s easier for a part of us to heal and awaken. Also, when I say “healed or awakened” it’s because healing or awakening for any part of us means that it aligns more with reality. When it aligns more with reality, it tends to heal and – to the extent it aligns – awaken.
I have mentioned this as an aside in other posts.
Fear can take the form of anger.
Or, rather, one response to fear is anger. And for some, anger can be a habitual response to fear.
Conversely, we can say that behind anger, is – most likely – fear.
It’s good to keep this in mind when we do any kind of exploration of anger or fear. If there is anger, is there fear behind or within it? If there is fear, does it sometimes take the form of anger?
Also, anger can take different forms besides what we, in our society, usually think of as anger. It can take the form of frustration. Blame. Harsh judgments (of self and others). Reactivity. Defense. And much more. And all of it may trace back to fear.
And fear can take a great number of forms besides anger and obvious fear. To me, it seems that a reaction to fear is behind most stressful experiences and dynamics, including going into beliefs and identifications. Our reaction to fear tends to create a wide range of different stressful experiences.
As always, these are questions. Starting points for exploration. Whatever we find is what we find, whether it fits our expectations or what’s suggested in pointers or not.
Note: I should mention that when we find the fear behind anger, identifications, etc. it often feels quite vulnerable, and as a confession. A hidden secret that we finally admit to. The anger, identifications, or whatever it may be often serve as a protection against facing this fear. So it can be helpful to explore and befriend the fear of meeting the fear.
Some will tell you that fear is the opposite of love. And in this teaching the war begins. But love has no opposite, for it is whole and without division. Love is the field in which all form comes and goes, including the temporary, wavelike appearance of fear. It is the vast, tender space in which all emotions, feelings, and physical sensations arise, play for a short while, and then dissolve. Just like passing clouds could never taint the purity of the sky, the temporary dance of fear could never stain the majesty of what you are.
What’s the relationship between love and fear?
I agree that fear is the opposite of love, when we buy into that fear. When we are caught up in fear, it tends to mask love from us. And we may very well act in ways that seem anything but loving.
I also agree that love encompasses fear. The love we are already allows and even is fear, as it allows and is any experience.
And I even agree that the fear vs love idea is the beginning of war, when it’s misunderstood. If we see fear as wrong or bad or something to avoid or eliminate, that’s a war we start with reality. And that’s painful, futile, and somewhat misguided.
This is something that becomes clearer over time, especially through exploring specific issues through inquiry.
Behind anger, sadness, and compulsions is fear. Behind fear is caring. And behind that caring is love.
Said more succinctly:
Behind identifications (beliefs, velcro) is fear, and behind that fear is caring and love.
The pitfall in saying to so simply and succinctly is that the mind thinks it gets it and that such a superficial and intellectual understanding is sufficient. The benefit is that it can serve as a question to explore, and a guide when we work on ourselves and clients.
A few more details:
Identifications (holding a thought as true) is what creates stressful experiences such as struggle with anger, sadness, and compulsions. (Anger, sadness etc. can also just be here without any struggle.)
Fear is what holds identifications in place. It may be what created the identification in the first place, and it’s often what comes up when the mind considers not having that identification.
Behind fear is a deep caring. A caring for oneself and others. And caring is just another word for love.
When we see the behind all this is love, there is less of a struggle with it. And less struggle means a bit more space around it, which helps soften and release the identifications in and relating to it.
Anyone who is angry is fearful.
– Byron Katie
That’s my experience as well. Behind anger is fear. Fearful stories create anger, fear, compulsions, and much more.
Stressful stories that we hold as true lead to fear – which can take the form of anger, sadness, or compulsions. The answer is to question these stories and hold all of it in kindness and presence.
It’s common to fear resolution, even of what we deeply wish would resolve. It could be a long-standing illness, emotional issue, painful identities or beliefs, or being unenlightened.
So it’s good to look at that fear. Notice it. Allow it. Befriend it. Look at how the mind creates its experience – using sensations and imaginations – of the fear, what it fears, and the one threatened.
What do I fear would happen if this resolves? What’s the worst that can happen? Is there something desirable I won’t have anymore?
Do I experience a threat or a problem with it resolving?
If I could push a button and have it resolve completely and immediately, what would stop me from pushing it? What would make me hesitate?
And to make sure we look at both sides:
Is there a problem if it stays? What’s the worst that can happen if it stays?
Imagine you know it will stay forever. What emotions, feelings, and thoughts come up?
And then explore the components of this sense of threat and anything related to it. The sensations, mental images, and words making it up.
When I got the strong chronic fatigue a few years ago, I had a fear of never being able to work again. I saw myself alone, homeless, shunned, pitiful, suffering.
For a long time, I pushed away those images, thoughts, and feelings. I was aware of them but didn’t want to see them or go into them. That’s normal and understandable. And if it means avoiding conscious obsessing, it’s even healthy.
At some point, I realized I had to face these scary thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t avoid them anymore. So I played out the scenario. I saw myself in that situation, played it out to what I feared the most, and was present with the images and feelings. And it didn’t seem so scary anymore. I had already lived it in my imagination. It became more familiar and known. I didn’t need to spend so much energy resisting it since I had already met it and played it out.
Most of us have fear about meeting in ourselves something that seems scary.
It’s worth exploring both the physical sensations making up this fear, and also the story component.
Some stories I have found for myself:
I’ll see it’s true. I’ll see that the scary story – about myself, life – is true.
It will be overwhelming. Too much. I won’t be able to handle it.
It won’t work.
I won’t do it right. I don’t have what it takes to do it right. (The skills, experience, capacity etc.)
The facilitator won’t do it right. He/she don’t have what it takes to do it right.
It won’t go away even if it’s done right.
It’s not the right time. I am not in the right space.
It will get worse. Facing it will make it worse.
I’ll be judged…. by myself and/or the facilitator. It will trigger guilt and shame. I won’t be able to deal with this guilt and shame.
It’s often helpful to identify and explore these scary stories at some point, typically before entering what we have the scary story about.
The symptoms of this fear can come in the form of avoidance, resistance, restlessness, distraction, frustration, anger and more. And when we look a little closer, there may be a very understandable fear there that can be met and explored.
There is often some resistance to our experience, some fear, some wish for it to be different.
There is unmet, unloved, and unquestioned fear about some part of our experience, and that takes the form of resistance and wanting it to be different. It’s completely innocent, understandable, and nearly universal. It may happen for most of us most of the time, even if it’s subtle.
If the resistance is not noticed or explored, then there is often unconscious identification with it. We take on the perspective of that resistance and the fear behind it, and we may not even notice it’s happening.
The remedy is to notice and have some gentle curiosity about it.
Is there any restlessness, any wish to be somewhere else or do something else, any compulsion to think or do something else? Is there any wish for parts of my experience to be different?
Where in my body do I feel it? Rest with those sensations. Notice the space it’s happening within, and that’s also within the sensations. Notice any images or words connected with the sensations, rest with these too, and return to the sensations.
Rest with it in kindness.
You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me.
I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. (Ho’o.)
We can also do some gentle mining.
If the sensation could speak, what would it say?
What do the sensations mean?
What’s my earliest memory of feeling that way?
Often, I will just rest with the sensations and whatever images and words come up. If it seems helpful, I may ask a few simple inquiry questions just to clarify what’s here. For instance, an image may come up, I sense it feels like a problem or a threat, so I can ask if it is.
When the fear underlying the resistance is unmet, unloved, and unquestioned, there is that unconscious identification with it and its scary story about my experience, myself, and the world. As soon as the resistance or fear is noticed, there is some distance to it and some disidentification. There is room to relate to it more intentionally and with kindness and curiosity. There is room to give it what it wants, which is often to be met with kindness, allowed as it is, held in presence, understood, treated with respect.
Note: I realize I took the reasons for exploring this as a given, and only addressed it indirectly above. I see two reasons. One is that being unconsciously identified with scary stories means I perceive through this filter and live as if these scary stories are true, or at least somewhat true. That can create some problems in my life. I may live and act in ways I wouldn’t if there was more clarity around the fear. Also, being identified with scary stories is in itself uncomfortable. Resting with what’s there, and see more clearly the components making it up, allows it to soften and relax.
I have experienced the primal fear again off and on for the last several weeks. The sensations themselves are fine, it’s the stories associated with them that make it seem uncomfortable and sometimes overwhelming. And since it sometimes feels overwhelming, there is also a want here for it to change and for the discomfort – and the primal fear – to go away.
Here are the notes from a brief inquiry on this want for it to be different, or go away.
Where do you feel the primal fear? In the face, chest, and some in throat and belly.
Feel those sensations. Rest with them. Are any images or words coming up? Yes, an image of me with something dark in me (the dread and fear), and next to it me clear (lighter, without that experience).
Look at that image. Rest with it. Notice the space around it, and between the image and you. Is that image a want or command for it to be different? (Q1) Yes, I feel it in my face, throat, and chest.
Feel those sensations. Rest with the physical sensations. (I did some amplify/release here too.) The words “I want it to be different” come up.
Look at those words. Q1? Yes, belly, face, forehead, throat.
Rest with those sensations. (I am saying these words a few times to the sensations until I feel it: You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me.) (I am then resting with the sensations for quite a while.)
Are those sensations a want or command for it (the fear) to be different? No. They are here but I experience them quite differently, and as physical sensations.
The want for the fear to go away is a big part of the discomfort and suffering around this. That’s why it can be very helpful to explore it in inquiry, to befriend it, to see how the mind creates its experience of this want through sensations, mental images, and words, and to rest with the sensations for quite a while after most or all of the images and words have been sifted through.
Note: With a client, I would typically start with an image or words, perhaps the words they used such as I want this fear to go away, I want my experience to be different. When I ask the inquiry question about images or words, the client will see if there are any bodily reactions to the questions. When the client then rests with sensations, just wait and see if images or words surface on their own and then look at them. Asking the inquiry question about a sensation is sometimes too direct, and it can be difficult for the client to find what gave them a “yes”, so it’s often gentler and easier to just rest with the sensations, see if any images or words surface on their own, and then look at them.
There is a quite common pattern of (a) an opening or awakening, and (b) a deep primal fear happening in connection with each other. Some experience the deep, primal and visceral fear first, and others the opening or awakening first.
For me, there was an initial awakening without the fear, then a second one followed by that primal fear that was more a dread and terror. It was very strong for about nine months and has surfaced now and then – or stayed relatively stable at a lower level – for some years after.
I see it as related to trauma, and a very primal survival fear, and the two go hand in hand and are really the same. Some say it comes up since the imagined self fears for its life. It goes when there is a more clear awakening so it naturally fears for its life. (There isn’t any “it” there to fear for its life, but the mind makes it seem and feel that way through velcro and beliefs.) That may be true enough. The other reason, which makes as much or more sense to me, is that for the human self to deeply heal, that deep primal survival trauma needs to surface and find healing. This allows that part of the human self to realign more consciously with reality, with this new context of all as presence, love, Spirit, or the Divine.
Having this primal fear surfacing has been among the most challenging experiences of my life. It feels like every fiber in me resists it, and yet I know that what’s called for is meeting it in presence, feeling the sensations, and look at the imaginations connected with it. It’s been a long and difficult process for me.
It does feel like something just needs to run its course. Even as I also work with what comes up in a more intentional way.
This primal fear calls for a few different things, and what it is may be different for each of us and at different times in our process. For instance, it may be meeting it with presence, kindness, and patience. Exploring the associated mental images and words. (As mentioned above.) Recognizing it as coming up to protect the imagined self and coming from love. And the presence and love recognizing itself as this fear and trauma, surfacing in that form right now.
A few days ago, I had a sense of dread and fear in my belly.
I recognized that feeling from going to elementary school. I sometimes had it walking to school in the mornings.
Back then, I didn’t know what to do about it. Nobody had shown me.
And now, somebody has shown me and I can relate to it more intentionally. I can meet with presence, kindness, allowing, patience. I can give it what it really needs and wants. I can meet it as it wishes to be met. And that makes all the difference.
It’s such a simple shift, and it changes the situation from feeling victimized by that dread to befriending it.
It’s very common to beat around the bush in inquiry and most other forms of healing work.
We work on the more peripheral or immediate issues, and hold off working on the deep, scary, and more core issues.
There are good and sane reasons for this. We want to feel that we can trust the process and the person guiding it – whether it’s ourselves or a facilitator – before we get into the deep stuff. If we dive into it too soon, without proper guidance or understanding of how to work with it, we can easily retraumatize.
There may also be fear preventing us from going into the deeper issues, fear that’s unmet, unquestioned, and unloved. And it can be very helpful to look at this fear. What do I find when I explore the elements making up this fear? What shoulds do I have about not meeting these deeper issues, or about meeting them? What deficient selves do I find, either when I consider facing the deeper issues, when I find myself scared of doing so, or if I look at the deeper issues themselves? Looking at these deficient selves is often easier than diving right into the traumatic memories.
Looking at these things helps bring us to a place where we more sanely can evaluate whether we want to dive in deeper or not, and whether we trust the process and the guidance enough to do so.
Today, the primal survival fear is alive in me again. It’s quite familiar now, as it’s been visiting off and on since the darkest phase of the dark night of the soul set in. (I am calling it “the dark night of the soul” just as a shorthand, knowing that it’s a label with a lot of assumptions that have some but limited validity.)
It feels primal and ancient. Some of it may be passed on through family dynamics. Some from epigenetics. Some perhaps from past lives. Who knows. What I know is that it seems primal, ancient, and universal – something that’s a shared experience for perhaps all mammals and even other groups of animals.
I also see how it does what triggered traumas often do. It colors my experience of my current situation. It makes certain things seem really scary, while the reality is that they don’t quite warrant that level of fear. The more I can notice what’s happening, rest with the physical sensations of the primal fear, and notice the associated images and words, the more I am able to notice that coloring, and the more I notice the scary stories my mind creates based on the coloring. It helps me differentiate and relate to it all – the primal fear, the coloring, my current life situation – more consciously.
I enjoy exploring the amplify / release technique.
Notice a body contraction, or an uncomfortable experience of any type. (Discomfort, restlessness, cravings, fear, anger, sadness, physical or emotional pain, a body contraction.)
Amplify it. Make it stronger. Do this for about 10 seconds. (Intend to make it stronger, whether you are able to actually make it stronger or not.)
Release. Relax. Take a full breath. Maybe hum a tune. Do this for 10 seconds.
Repeat a few times. Notice what, if anything, happens.
Several things happen here.
We bring attention to the discomfort. This brings it out of the habitual (and often stressful) thoughts reacting to or fueling it.
We get to notice how we intentionally make it stronger. We may bring up or strengthen certain images or words, we may contract the muscles in the area of the sensations or body contraction.
We get to see the imaginations and sensations making up the discomfort is perhaps not as scary as it initially seemed. As long as we avoid it, we reinforce the idea that it’s scary, and the experience of it as scary. When we meet it, we get to see more closely what’s really there (imaginations and sensations), and that it’s not as scary as it initially seemed.
Each of these helps us shift our relationship to it and befriend it more genuinely. It may also help the charged combination of imaginations and sensations soften its charge.
This, in turn, makes it easier to continue to rest with it and explore the different elements making it up.
When we are on a healing or awakening path we can find ourselves on a “pink cloud” for a while.
It’s understandable since many of us – at least partly – are on this path to escape suffering.
What are some of the ways we can create a pink cloud for ourselves?
Assuming or thinking there is very little or nothing left for us to work on. Either in terms of healing, maturing, or awakening, or in terms of how we live this.
What we fear: To encounter more pain. To have to continue to work on it.
Thinking that we are in a (desired) state that will last or only get better.
What we fear: To encounter pain again. To be out of control in terms of our life and experience.
Thinking that we “get it” while others don’t.
What we fear: To be ordinary. Just like anyone else. To not be special, unique.
I am sure there are many more varieties.
What’s the remedy?
To notice and face our fear. To feel it and inquire into the stories we use to create the fear for ourselves.
To recognize that by trying to avoid our fear we only create more suffering for ourselves.
What is fearless? What does it mean to be fearless?
Does it mean to be without fear? Clearly not, since fear – and emotions in general – is not something we can chose to experience or not. They live their own life. They are guests, coming and going.
I may see it as pushing the fear away, setting it aside, or distract from or ignore it. That works to some extent, but it’s still there and not really examined or addressed.
I can also acknowledge the fear, allow it, feel it, and do something anyway. I can learn to act in spite of fear. (Mountaineers and others often talk about it, and use their activities as a way to explore and practice this.)
I can dialog with fear. Get to know it. Listen to it. Hear what it has to say. Explore how we relate to it. Learn to acknowledge and listen to it and treat it with respect instead of ignoring or mistreating it. We can listen to its wisdom, take it into account, and act from being informed by the wisdom of the fear. In one case, fear may say, “don’t ski down that hill so fast”, I listen and slow down. In another case, fear may say “don’t speak up, you’ll make a fool of yourself and they won’t like you”, and I still chose to speak.
I can examine the fearful thoughts. What are they? What are the underlying assumptions? Is it true? Can I know for sure it’s true? What happens when I believe it? Who would I be without it? What’s the validity in each of the turnarounds? (The Work.)
I can notice and allow the fear. I can notice the sensations and associated images and words. I can feel the sensations. I can notice the space around and inside of my body, and around and inside of the sensations of fear. I can notice any resistance to the fear, and feel those sensations too. (Natural Rest.) This in itself can be helpful, and also sets the context for further inquiry.
I can examine how my mind creates its experience of fear. What sensations are there? What imaginations (images, words) are associated with these sensations? How does my mind create its experience of the fear its? Of the threat? Of the command to be afraid or not be afraid? Of the command to not do something because of the fear, or so something because of the fear? Of the command to do something in spite of the fear, or the command to not do something in spite of the fear? (Living Inquiries.)
Through the four or five last ones, my relationship with fear changes. From seeing it as an enemy and a problem, I may come to see it as a friend. I may befriend it. It’s not a problem anymore, and not something that needs to go away. My struggle with it is reduced or ceases, and that makes a big difference. My struggle with it is what creates stress and discomfort. It’s what may make me act on it automatically, or feel paralyzed by it. When I explore it, I can relate to it in a more intentional way.
Often, there is a mix of many of these. Sometimes I do one, other time something else. And over time, I may shift into doing the four or five last ones more habitually. The more I do it, the easier and more natural it becomes.
Personally, I shift between all of these. Sometimes, I act on or feel paralyzed by fear. Sometimes, I try to ignore it or distract myself from it. Sometimes, I act in spite of it. Sometimes, I examine my fear-inducing thoughts. Sometimes, I rest with the fear while noticing what’s there. Sometimes, I examine how my mind creates its experience of the fear.
I see clearly how I perceive everything as a threat, sank into it, and my relationship to it changed completely. I befriended it, and it became sweet and blissful.
For the last several days, I have been more acutely aware of how I perceive everything as a threat (at a certain level). I have explored the sensation part of it, as well as looked at some related images (dark overlay over everything) and words (“dread”). In the dream, I could see this more clearly, something gave in me so it was completely allowed and I sank into it, and something shifted. The dream gave me (another) taste of how it can be, and it’s as always an ongoing exploration.
What are my fears of allowing these fears? What’s the worst that can happen? And the worst that can happen if that happens?
How would it be to allow it as it is? How would it be to sink into it?
How does my mind create the sense of threat? What sensations, images, and words make it up?
How does my mind create a sense of someone threatened? What are the sensations, images, and words making it up?
How is to isolate out the sensations and feel these as sensations? Resting with it? Staying with it? Noticing associated images and words, but not paying them too much attention until later?
How is to feel the sensations of the fear of the fear? The resistance to feeling and allowing the fear more fully?
This may seem like denial, but the reality is that most of us are very safe from terrorism. It’s a negligible threat compared with unhealthy habits, car use, international regulations that favor corporations over people and nature etc. It’s focused on by the media because fear sells, and it’s more easily graspable than many of the other threats that are more significant but also more hidden because they happen somewhere else, are slow acting, or we are used to them. And some politicians use terrorism and fear to push through policies they have long wanted to push through for other reasons. (As we saw very clearly in the US after 911.)
When I was in training to become a Living Inquiry facilitator, I would ask the is a threat question whenever I sensed there could be a threat or fear connected to a particular image, word or sensation. Whenever I checked in with myself, I could usually find a threat or fear connected to any velcro (any belief, identification). I learned to dial this back a bit since I seemed to perceive threats where others didn’t. That may partly be because of my PTSD which tends to bring the whole system on high alert so threats are perceived just about anywhere.
And yet, I still wonder if fear is not behind or connected with just about any velcro, belief or identification. Why would the glue be there if not for fear? At the very least, there is fear about how it is to live without any particular velcro or identification.
It also seems that the velcro is often initially created through fear, and then recreated through fear in the moment. It may not be obvious, but when I look I find it for myself.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
Yes, that’s my experience.
What frightens me is already what I am. It’s part of me. It happens within and as me.
And what that part of me wishes for is being respected, loved, listened to, intentionally allowed. It’s very much like a frightened animal.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t act when life and the situation calls for it. I’ll still act in an as kind and wise way as I am able to. For instance, I’ll still support putting some people in prison, although treating them with respect, as fellow human beings, and – if necessary or possible – supporting their transition into more helpful members of society. It’s not about being naive or passive in how we relate to our life and the world. It’s about finding kindness towards the parts of ourselves that are unloved, and also that in the world which is unloved. And the two are really the same.
Why is there often ambivalence in how we relate to our identifications?
Identification here means identification with a story. The story is held as real and true. And we identify with its view on ourselves and the world. When it’s activated, we take it as who and what we are.
From my own experience, it seems that identifications are held in place in two ways. There is a perceived threat (a) in not holding onto it, and (b) in holding onto it. We fear what may happen if it’s not there, and are also uncomfortable with what happens when it’s there.
There is a perceived benefit in having it, and also a threat in not having it. And when the identification is here, it’s often apparently enjoyable since it fulfills those needs. And it’s also uncomfortable, since identifications are inherently stressful and at odds with reality.
That ambivalence is partly what distracts us so we don’t see what’s really going on.
That’s why it’s good to look at both sides to how we relate to our identifications. To slow it down, and look more systematically at first one side, then the other.
As mentioned in a previous post, I (may) feel compelled to eat sugar, and also feel ashamed about it. I feel I am unlovable, and experience a threat in not having that identity while it’s also painful when it’s here. I want recognition and approval by many, while also experiencing it as a threat. I identify with a story of the world as a threat, and it’s also threatening to imagine that belief not being here.
It can be helpful to look at both sides of whatever has a charge for us.
I may fear not having what I want, and also fear having it.
I may hold onto a deficiency story, and also want it to go away.
I may be compelled to do something, and also feel ashamed about it.
I may experience a threat, and also being someone who is threatened.
Whenever there is an identification, there seems to be an ambivalence about it. I want to hold onto it, and also have it go away. I fear what may happen if it’s not there, and I am uncomfortable with what happens when it’s there.
So why not look at both sides?
I saw an interview with George Takei and Stuart Milk, the head of the Milk Foundation, about the new Indiana anti-gay “religious freedom” law. Stuart Milk said, quite accurately, that this is hatred packaged as religious freedom.
I would say that behind hatred is fear. What we call hatred is how we sometimes relate to and express fear, when that fear is not rested with. When it’s not noticed and allowed in loving presence. When the stories creating it are unquestioned. It’s a way to try to protect the me.
These days, and for as long as we know, this has been packaged in many different ways. As religion. As politics. Even, especially cleverly, as reasonable and fair questions.
Today, in the west, Muslims are often seen as a fair target for this packaging. And in the US, other targets are sometimes gay people, and non-Christians.
How do I do the same? I do it whenever I go into beliefs. Whenever I try to defend a point of view. That doesn’t mean I should try to avoid any opinions. Opinions and views are part of being human. They are part of being an engaged citizen. And at the same time, whenever I notice a charge here, and going into an us vs them way of thinking, I can take a closer look at what’s going on.
Am I packaging unloved fear, and unquestioned fearful stories, as (a little too forceful) opinions?
In working with my own healing, and also with clients, I see a common pattern.
Some things seem too scary to want to work on.
So it’s tempting to choose something that’s less scary and yet seems helpful.
Why does it seem so scary?
It’s partly out of wise caution. I know that going into traumas may retraumatize me if it’s not done skillfully, in the right setting, and perhaps with the right person. It may retrigger the trauma without much or any healing.
It’s partly because when I first experienced the situation and created beliefs about it, it was traumatizing. So I expect, or am afraid, that will happen again.
What I can do is look at these fears and then evaluate if I have found the right tools and support for me to enter these traumas with the intention of finding healing. Using the living inquiries, we often initially approach strong traumas indirectly. We look at the fears in facing them. The deficient selves that come up when we consider facing the traumas, and perhaps when we consider the initially traumatizing situations themselves. We can also look at commands to either face the traumas, or avoid the traumas (both are often there).
There is a good book called Be Real, Not Nice, and it’s a topic that’s especially important for us who score high on the agreeableness scale (on the Big Five personality traits).
I am still “nice” more than I like, in the sense of sometimes being overly polite, self-effacing, not speaking up, avoiding rocking the boat, follow other people’s advice even when it goes against my own best judgment.
This means I sometimes don’t get what I want. (Even if I could have, if I had been more clear and spoken up.) And it also means that I sometimes go into resentment.
It’s as if the energy that should have gone into being clear and speaking up is unused in that situation, and then later goes into forms of anger or irritation directed towards myself and/or others.
The intention behind all this is partly to be kind, polite, and well-liked, and also to avoid confrontation and unpleasant interactions. And the reality is that the opposite often happens: I – and sometimes others – don’t get what we want, and are unhappy about the situation. It’s really anything but kind.
And it all comes from unquestioned assumptions, and probably unloved parts of myself. For instance unloved and unquestioned fear about what it means to speak up, negotiate, and risk not being liked. (Of course, people who are clear and speak up, and are willing to negotiate about strategies so everyone can have their needs met, are often well liked.)
Ironically, what I seek to avoid by not being clear and real with myself and others is exactly what I get. That’s how it often is. It’s how life shows me what I am doing, and invites me to meet my fears and be clear and real with myself and others.
It’s how life invites me to be more transparent. To speak up about what’s already here. To go for what I want, through finding strategies that meets my own needs and – ideally – those of others.
Seeing this in a general way is a start. But what really helps is to really look at a specific situation in my life where I “left myself” and felt resentful afterwards. Why did I do it? What did I fear would happen if I spoke up and was transparent? What were the consequences? What would have been the likely consequences of speaking up?
This seems to be one of my core fears…. The fear of what will happen if I allow what’s here.
It doesn’t quite make sense, since what’s here is already allowed, and any mental gymnastics cannot change it.
And yet, the fear is here. It’s real, as long as it’s taken as real. It’s real to me.
One way to explore this is to try it out. What happens if I recognize that what’s here, this experience as it is, is already allowed? What happens if I sink into this experience, allow it as it is – with discomfort, apparent resistance, and everything else? Does something terrible happen?
Another is to look at my beliefs about it. Something terrible will happen. I won’t function. I’ll be overwhelmed. I’ll be out of control. I won’t know how to function. Life will be out of control. Life needs to be controlled. I can’t trust life. I can’t trust what’s here.
And yet another is to explore what a thought would call resistance, or fear, or escape, or avoidance. How is each of these created in my own mind? What do I find when I look at the images, words and sensations making these up? Are they as real and solid as they appear? Can the image making up resistance resist? Is the word “fear” afraid? Can the sensations of avoidance avoid anything? Is the image of an I a real I?
Surrender can be a surrender to love, to Spirit, to soul, to what’s here.
And it can also be a surrender to guidance. A surrender to the still quiet voice. A surrender to the heart.
It’s a surrendering of what thought thinks it wants and needs, to instead following the inner guidance. It’s a shifting of allegiance.
And embedded in this is an invitation to notice and inquire into any fears and shoulds stopping me from doing this.
When do I choose my conscious wishes, fears and sholds over the still quiet voice? What are these wishes, fears and shoulds? What do I find when I inquire into them?
Is it really worth choosing fear over love and guidance? What happens when I choose fear? What happens when I chose love and guidance?
For about ten years, from late teens to late twenties, I meditated and prayed daily, often more than once and for an hour or longer each time. I did it because I loved the connection with soul and Spirit so much.
Then, as I left myself and my guidance, this changed. (I moved geographically because of a relationship, which felt deeply wrong.) I wasn’t able to meditate or pray anymore. It was too painful. It brought me face to face with the pain of leaving myself and my guidance, and the shoulds and fears that made me leave myself. This was the beginning of a dark night of the soul for me, and the ability to meditate and pray were among the many casualties of me leaving myself.
This inability to meditate and pray lasted for a few years. I then got back into meditation again, which led to a nondual/selfless state for a few months followed by a very intense dark night.
And during this phase of the dark night, it was again very difficult for me to meditate or pray, at least in the more formal way I was used to previously. It was as if I lost the capacity to engage in these practices. I was able to – at least at times – breathe and feel the feelings, be with what’s here, pray for guidance and assistance, and some other variations of what may be called meditation or prayer. But the ability to do more formal sitting practice, and more formal prayer sessions, went out the window.
There is still an inability to do much sitting practice, and I see that one reason may be fear. There is still a fear of facing the pain and discomfort of leaving myself, a fear of meeting the shoulds and fears that led to me leaving myself, and a fear of facing the pain of the consequences (all the losses) of me leaving myself. (Even though I have now left the situation created by me leaving myself.)
One thing that came out of this is a deepened humility. There is a deeper empathy and understanding of others who experience a fear of meditation. For me, meditation and prayer was so deeply satisfying and nurturing that I didn’t “get” this fear earlier. Now I do. There is also a deeper understanding of the possible consequences of leaving myself, both “inner” (pain, distress) and “outer” (loss of much of what was most important to me). Read More
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