Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence


Fear

Fear! The very word frightens us. We all have memories of great or even abject fear. Yet more than we may realize, less intense, less immediate fears and anxieties run our day-to-day lives, both individually and collectively. Low grade, unrecognized post-traumatic stress deriving from horrific events in our personal or national life can affect us for many years or even generations. A mild form of this also can result from witnessing violent pseudo events like movies. Our news media specialize in tragic stories because they connect powerfully with our inherent fears and capture our attention. Perversely, such images and stories also feed our existing fears and create new fears. So… we lock our doors, avoid strangers, limit our travels, curtail civil liberties, withhold our generosity, see other people as objects, buy guns and sometimes even use them. Collectively, we formulate policies of lifetime incarceration and preemptive strikes. The more money and attention we spend on security, the less secure we feel.

In point of painful fact, there is no security, there can be no security. The world, from its most basic level of quantum mechanics up to and beyond our human scale, will always be inherently, irretrievably subject to decay and uncertainty. This truth was taught by the Buddha and rediscovered by the great physicist Werner Heisenberg. Nevertheless, while physical death is inevitable, fear need not be. Indeed, through the spiritual path we move toward the deathless, beyond time and dissolution.

More subtle fears, though, commonly lurk behind our habitual patterns of interacting with the world. Fear of rejection leads us to build emotional walls to block potentially close relationships. Fear of failure leads to passivity. Timidity, shyness, subservience, not voicing our opinions, not responding appropriately when we have been wronged, hiding our unattractive parts, phobias of all kinds, fear of fear - all these and more variations of fear in action cumulatively limit our possibilities, handcuffing us into worrying about and protecting our illusory self.

We can work to free ourselves inwardly. First, we look to understand how fear and its sibling, anxiety, affect us. This requires seeing fear in action in ourselves. But we avoid recognizing fear. When we are afraid, the fear consumes us and we have little energy for self-awareness. Furthermore, we fear that seeing our own fear and anxiety will make them even more painful by showing us that the world and our own emotions are out of control and by clashing with our false self image of fearlessness. We begin climbing out of this morass of fear by practicing fearlessness in regard to our own inner condition, by being willing to see what occurs in our mind and heart, come what may.

Gradually, this self-knowledge leads to confidence, to knowing the best and worst about ourselves and feeling free in front of all that. This works against our egoism, with its inflated self image. As our ego loses its hard edge of defensiveness, we experience less fear about attacks on our image, we have less to defend. Our growing inner freedom enables us to live beyond many of our former fears. When we act despite our fear, it transforms into courage.

While our fear of the death of our ego diminishes, fear of the death of our body is another matter entirely. Fear of death, if not obsessive, spurs us to accomplish more, to live more. Of course, this kind of fear remains necessary: our primal survival instinct of fight or flight protects us and keeps us out of harm’s way. Our spiritual work does not and should not counteract that instinct: without a body we should find it difficult or impossible to pursue our inner work.

Fear of God’s justice leads us to do the right thing. Knowing the infallibility and inevitability of higher justice makes us fear doing harm. The more sublime fear of God’s majesty transforms into awe, reverence, and devotion.

As our practice deepens we begin to touch the timeless peace beyond all fear.


     

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