How to Overcome Fear

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"How to Overcome Fear"
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Killing Fear Before it Kills You (from Drinking From the Darkness: Living Completely in a Time of Estrangement)

Fear kills. There is no sugar-coating to be applied to this reality: fear kills. In Chapter 2, we saw how the fear that fuels the Cult of Hard Work invades bodily cells and gives rise to a vast spectrum of cardiovascular diseasescongestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and stroke among them. But even before it reaches that stage, fear is the fundamental emotional component of depressive and anxiety disorders: chronic worry is merely Fear as a lifestyle. Overall, a seemingly infinite array of personal tragedies and diseases can be traced to the presence of Fear: alcoholism and other substance dependence, domestic violence, suicide, hate crimes, immunological disorders, certain neurological conditions or symptoms, compulsive behaviors, phobic and panic disorders, and more that are probably related to fear but lack conclusive scientific evidence.

Fear is also, like competition, a prominent, if more insidious, prop to our cultureespecially since September 11, 2001. This is the moment at which the irrevocable pain and danger of life is presumed to have been forced into the life of every individual within our citizenrythe point where we became the grim victims of a hostile Naturehuman nature. There is, we are told, no turning back from this state of affairsyou now live in a world where you can be a commuter on his way to work one moment; a puddle of smoking goo the next.

Fear is trumpeted in our mass media with a pathological hysteria: just turn on the Fox News Channel and listen to the shrill voices of the talking heads, screaming out their Medusa hatred, and you will also feel the dark breath and the raging pulse of Fearyou are meant to feel it; that is their purpose. We are now living under an administration in Washington whose first principle of government is Fear: its every crime against humanitywhether it is the bombing of innocents or the torture of prisonersis moved by a societal Fear that takes the form of a mass psychosis. Fear drives us to slave away at jobs which we despise; fear pushes us into shopping malls to accumulate possessions that will be next year's or next week's garbage; fear prods us to stab our neighbors or our co-workers in the back; fear forces us into the realms of opposition and competition in every arena of our lives, in every relationship and every encounter. Fear consumes us, and thus we consumecompulsively, desperately, insanely. Fear's essential power is to isolate each of us; to imprison us in an enclosure of loneliness and desolation. Thus, we fight it through acts of power, claims of possession, strategies of escape, and cries of hatred.

But these are all acts of denial, of inner repression: they deal with Fear the way a lawn mower handles a weed, by cutting off its visible appearance while leaving the roots intact. Therefore, Fear returns, more powerful and more consuming than ever. To get at the root of Fear requires patience, perseverance, and above all, Creativity. What follows are merely suggestions to inspire your own creative energies in the work of killing Fear.

In working with your own fears, perhaps an apt place to start from would be the phenomenon of cosmic racism, which we discussed earlier in this chapter. Let's review the phrases that had come to me in that meditation:7

The Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.

Be fruitful and multiply.

Obviously, these phrases represented for me the detritus of a Judeo-Christian belief system that no longer (if it ever did) suits the time and the world that we live in. But of far more importance are the personal feelings that these phrases aroused in methe global sense of horror at the depths to which humankind's untrammeled insanity and arrogance has taken us and our planet; and the realization that these were formative beliefs of my life since childhood. They also pointed me to the fundamental curse that humanity has placed upon itself in its belief systemsthe idea that we are the rulers of the Earth, appointed by Heaven. This delusion has formed within cultures all around the worldEast and Westand brought waves of destruction and violence in its wake wherever it became monumentalized as fixed Truth. Just think of the arrogance that fuels and perpetuates this maniacal belief! Think of the fear and confusion it breeds when placed beside the Premise of Lack from the competition syllogism! In this context, it might even be said that God set the table, as it were, for the Fall of Adam and Eve, by first declaring, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over all the earth." When you've been placed on such a lofty, narrow pedestal, there is no movement possible except over the precipice. This is that isolation, the essential loneliness of Fear, compressed into a single image, a single phrase. Thus, it is no wonder that we are riddled with fear from the cradle to the grave, generation upon generationit is built into the beliefs with which most of us have been nurtured. Perhaps many, if not all, of our fears can be traced to a deep sense of horror at this cosmic racismthe inbred belief that our species bears the glory and the accompanying burden of Mastery over this planet and all its life-forms (and, by extension, over the entire universe).

But again, we have to remember this: all of this, as painful as it sometimes feels, is just ideologya bunch of ideas, learned beliefs that have no more objective reality than the cabbage-patch theory of procreation. The main point of this discussion, therefore, is to provide an initial momentum to your own inward-turning, the discovery of the beliefs and aberrant ideas that have infected your consciousness and obstructed your forward movement in Life.

So let this general perspective on cosmic racism be a starting point for your inner explorationyou may soon find that you have other issues blocking your growth, which may be related to the societal conditioning of your personal background. But no matter what culture you were raised within, and what particular systems of belief you may have been exposed to, the approach is essentially the same: bore into the foundation, get at the roots of your fears, and continue with a modest but persevering effort until you feel that you have penetrated the darkness. There is no other enduring solution that I know of.

It may also be necessary for you to "shake the plant" from the top, as it were, before you find yourself ready to expose the roots. Fortunately, when we invite the quantum energies of our Life's Source into our quest, the proper pace and balance to our inner work come naturally. This is one reason why it's so important to ask for help at the beginning of every meditation: the help comes not merely in the insight provided, but in the measure and volume in which it arrives. It may seem perfectly safe to explore the territory of received belief such as that represented in the teachings of institutional religion. But when we are taking this to a deeply personal level, it's suddenly not a dry, intellectual process of analysis and criticism. Remember that many of these beliefs have been programmed into us from childhood, and that they are entwined with experiences and repressed memories that may be fraught with emotional force. Our willingness to work through such experiences and the forces that may have subconsciously driven the people and events in our personal drama is a sign to the psyche that we are ready to walk through the darkest corners of life and memory. When this willingness is truly present, the guiding Presence that Lao Tzu called "The Sage" will lead us safely through whatever pain and inner torment we must face; and it will lead us in such a way that we're never overwhelmed or faced with a collapse of our inner resources. Each session of meditation will open us to a deeper insight and allow us to clear out another layer of memory, another level of programmatic lies, another region of fear and estrangement. Each session will build upon the one before it, and prepare the ground for the understanding to follow in the next. Just keep in mind that when it comes to Fear, we are unraveling the knot of a lifetime's worth of obstruction and conflict: there is no hurry. Trust your experiences, and remember that, as Lao Tzu assures us, "in the course of disburdenment, there is healing."

Penetrating the Darkness of Fear: A Process Guide

Ask for help in gaining a fuller understanding of the fears that haunt your inner life and obstruct the forward movement of your outer life. Then begin a meditation and allow images and thoughts to pass before you. Have your notebook or journal nearby.

Listen for voices, phrases, noises from memory; feel for any marked sensations of discomfort or even physical pain that may arise; follow the course and movement of the emotions that visit your awareness in this meditation. Hold them long enough to feel their personal meaning to you; then let them go, with the assurance they that are not realthey are the phantoms of a darkness from which you are preparing to free yourself.

If a memory, phrase, or emotion arises that is guilt, or that contains guilt, once again: attend long enough to feel or hear its source, its strident, unforgiving voice, and then banish it; let it go.

Your body will tell you when it has had enough for this session: listen carefully to its helping messages. When your bodily senses of discomfort, pain, fear, and disorientation become pronounced, it is time to leave off for now. You won't get to the bottom of this in one sitting: be patient and understand that "The Sage" is speaking to you through your body-consciousness, carefully providing the measure and direction that you need to navigate this work safely.

Return to outer awareness and take a few steadying, regulating breaths as you look around you. Then, begin writing a few notes on the essence of what you just experienced. It need be no more than a few lines to remind you of what you heard, saw, felt, and understood from that meditation.

Then give yourself a break: do something that you enjoy, or simply rest. Later, you will be able to return to your notes and your memories of the meditation and start doing the work of disburdenment. Once again, there is no hurry: it will all be done much faster than you could have imagined possible, if you will be patient and let each stage of understanding develop naturally.

If you have identified some images or set phrases that you felt, both during the meditation and now, as the symbols of something that is obstructing your life's growth and progress, then in your next meditation, you can apply the inner No method to these beliefs or images. As you work with the inner No, see if you can feel the poison of the destructive beliefs being physically cleansed from your body.

Finally, here are a few more general examples of the kinds of memories, associations, and emotions that people have experienced in doing this work on Fear, along with the doctrinal metaphors and statements that often accompany them. Once again, this is meant to provide a starting point of inspiration and orientation for your personal work, which will be unlike anyone else's for its personal meaning and insight.

Guilt is a frequent emotional element that's connected with our fears, and it is particularly manifested in fixed religious and moral ideologies. Phrases that may arise often have to do with a doctrinally-fixed stain or flaw on our being, as represented in a term such as "original sin". Wherever it appears, and in whatever context, guilt must be firmly rejected, for it has no psychological or spiritual meaning in the Way of Nature. An inner No to guilt in whatever form it takes is fully justified and encouraged as a crucial step in liberating the true self from the grip of Fear.

Punishment is another theme that may arise for you, in the context of powerful emotional memories or flashbacks to childhood experiences. It is often deeply connected with guilt, but adds the component of physical or psychological suffering as a justifiable act of control and violence against us. Once again, recall to yourself that we were not designed by Nature to live this way: punishment is the outer mark of every tyrant's deepest fearthe fear of exposure and abandonment. The ideology of punishment is a Levitican medievalisman eye for an eye. If memories of punishment arise to you, hold them long enough to hear the demonic voice, or to see the demonic shape, of the punisher. And then let it go as you recall to yourself that no matter what that voice or image was telling you, you do not deserve to be punished. Later on, say a firm inner No to the Cult of Punishment and reject its claim to validity. As the history of nations has shown us, and continues to reveal, punishment is perhaps the most corrupt and inefficient means of solving problems and correcting people or situations. Punishment has no place in your life from this point forward, and the fear of punishment has no place to dwell within your body or psyche.

Societal Abandonment is a time-worn scheme of the institutional ego for reinforcing the Premise of Lack ("I am insufficient") from the competition syllogism. If you experience images and fears of isolation or abandonment in your meditations, then these are pointing you toward a recognition of a fundamental confusion that has been programmed into us intentionally. Collective ideologies want us to confound our natural social needsfor companionship, love, and acceptance within the communitywith an institution's projections of societal needs. More will be said in the next chapter about this distinction; for now, if you find that abandonment is a prominent theme in your meditations about fear, see if you can detect the ego-noise that is being madein terms of threats, pronouncements, or self-fulfilling propheciesabout the imputed cost in isolation of any renouncing of group values and institutional beliefs. To some, such ego-talk comes in the shape of Commandments voiced by Authority, as in the phrase, "Thou shalt have no other Gods (or Priests/Presidents/Popes/Masters/Gurus) before Me." If you do hear any such noise, take note of its force and expression, and apply the inner No method to all such statements and threats. We are no more meant to be isolated in this life than we are meant to be guilt-ridden or perpetually punished for imagined offenses against God or The Law. When we reject the poisonous projections of the institutional ego, we liberate the natural abilities that we possess to join with others in a community of equals.

Invasion is another theme that frequently comes up in the meditation on Fearoften with tremendous emotional force. Invasion can encompass memories of abuseeither psychological or physical; punitive or sexual. It can also raise feelings or memories of other kinds of trauma, from any phase of our liveseven a simple injury or fall from when we were young, that we were never quite allowed the time and attention to resolve within us at the time it happened, can be re-experienced as Fear. If, for example, you have images or feelings of a traumatic experience or encounter during a meditation, see if you can focus your attention on the ego-talk that arises amid these kinds of memories, rather than on whether the memories are "real" or not. Inner experience is always real, whether or not it relates back to a particular outer experience from your past: one principal message of this entire book is that there is scarcely any outer reality that is so immediate and crucial to our growth as the lived experiences of the psyche and the spiritual self. Indeed, we are only held back in our life's progress when our inner experience is minimized or debased as "not real." This, actually, is what much of the ego-talk that whispers through us in such invasion-moments is all about: it tells us, "this didn't really happen, so it's not important; and even if it did happen, you're making more of it than it deserves." If that minimalization of your inner life is the kind of noise you hear amid your inner experience of traumatic events or invasions, then perform the inner No toward all its associated images and expressions that come to you. This will free you to work through the invasions of your past and present more fully and naturally, with a trust in the guiding Presence that is beside you on this journey.

Encroachment is a variant of invasion in the context of the Fear-meditation. Encroachment involves the efforts of others to manipulate or pressure us, either outwardly or on the inner plane. Probably everyone has had the experience of being stared at or of feeling "vibes" from another that are distinctly unwelcome or disturbing. This kind of experience can evoke intense fear and discomfort, because it is so frequently indemonstrable according to external "rules of evidence," to borrow a legal term. Nevertheless, our feelings of being encroached uponinvaded on the inner planecan be so pronounced and vivid that our psyche will not allow us to repress them completely. In meditation, we allow these feelings some freedom of movement and expression, and we validate their authenticity. If the sense of fear you experience in a meditation is related to feelings of control, manipulation, or deceit coming from others on the inner plane, then affirm the validity of those feelings within yourself; and if other voices are heard within that tell you "it's not real" or "you're making it all up" or "you can't prove it", then turn a firm inner No upon those voices, and ask for help in silencing the petty skepticism of ego.

Death, in one form or another, will most likely arise to you in meditation as you work through the darkness of Fear. Some very old demons of the psyche, who have been living in our bodies for a very long time, will be shaken and aroused as images and thoughts of Death appear to you in meditation. Many of the threats, punishments, and other oppressive messages of institutional ideologies are couched in the language of Death, and they relate directly to guilt and many of the other inner torments that are applied to keep us towing the line of belief and self-sacrifice to the group. These voices of the institutional ego may tell us "The wages of Sin is Death," and other nonsense of this sort. If you hear any death-talk from the threatening, fear-inducing voices within your meditation, turn the inner No upon them. The only death worth fearing is inner deaththe death of our individual, true nature. When we sell our souls to the aggrandizements of power and belief, then we become like those pale, sunken-eyed, fear-mongering zealots of Desolation that we now see leading the nations of this planet into one endless war after another, disemboweling our planet as they march from depredation to depredation; spilling lies, bombs, and poison upon the Earth as they go. As you continue to practice, you will discover that as you inwardly expel the ideologies of inner death, the true nature of Death-in-Form will be revealed to youas a transformation of consciousness rather than an icy termination of Life.

If you persevere in your practice of meditation and transformative work, making it a normal part of your life, you will most likely find yourself facing all of the features of neuropia that we've discussed: competition, conflict, and fear. You will feel the pressure of painful emotions as you encounter the demons of cosmic racism and emotional consumerism, in whatever forms they take to your psyche. You will no doubt make new discoveries amid your darkness that will contribute to our understanding of neuropia, and of the means to free ourselves from its grip. You will feel a palpable and amazingly refreshing lightening of your inner burden as you progress, and these feelings of relief and of return to your true nature will inspire you and your practice further. You will also come to understand that the journey of learning is never complete, never finishedthat it goes on until the moment of our physical death, and that it probably continues even after that. You will find that this journey, though never complete, perpetually renews and fulfills itself in the regenerative dance toward our deepest treasurethe individuality and destiny of purpose that is each being's authentic natural giftand the enduring recovery of our original sanity.

More about this author: Brian Donohue

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