What Is Fear?
Fear is arguably the emotion that holds together the ego, or sense of being a separate self. Until it is seen and released, it runs the show. It’s like the glue that holds together the story of future.
Fearful, thought-based scenarios dominate our experience only as long as we refuse to look into the body and rest as the awareness that sees thoughts and emotions come and go. The simple act of observation is the healing.
Most of us live our lives less than fully aware of what is happening with regard to fear in the body. We are well acquainted with the mind and its incessant storytelling about the future (e.g., “I’m going to die,” “I’m going to be ill,” “I’m going to embarrass myself,” “I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life”). The mind tries to figure out everything, making everything ok, by rearranging various thoughts about the future. But this doesn’t provide any real relief. At most, we talk ourselves into stories about how everything will be ok (yet we don’t know this). This is usually where hope comes in. Hope is the flipside of fear. As long as fear is running one’s life, hope is necessary. It’s like a drug that we inject in some attempt to escape the awful fear that is really driving these scenarios about the future.
So the mind does what it does, flipping between fear and hope.
But the real key is seeing what is happening in the body. Once you start being aware of what is happening in the body, you have a real shot of moving beyond ego and its fear/hope dance and into a more effective, content, easeful way of being.
Here Is What To Do (a very spiritually incorrect title, I know)
Fear is more than just a bunch of thoughts you are having about the future. It is an entire body and mind experience involving thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Thoughts about the future, when there is no identification, and therefore no fearful charge behind the thoughts…are harmless. They cause no suffering or seeking.
Emotions are the fuel for the stories about the future that run through our heads. The emotional and personal charge behind thought is the real culprit in suffering and seeking. The key is to become aware of the emotional and sensory energy in the body when you are experiencing fear. And these thoughts, emotions, and sensations are happening within your capacity to be aware. So this is all about recognizing awareness as the space in which thoughts, emotions, and sensations come and go.
Now, forget what I’ve said above. Let’s start with something very simple and practical. The next time you find yourself caught in a fearful scenario about the future, stop just for one moment and notice that you are thinking. That’s all you have to do! Just stop and notice that a viewpoint is arising. Look at the viewpoint directly. This does not mean entertain it more. It does not mean add more thoughts to the viewpoint. It means look at it through direct observation in the way an eagle would perch itself on a branch and eye a worm on the ground that it is about to eat. The only act that is necessary is observing itself. Thinking about the worm—thinking more about the future—is not effective.
What is effective is stopping and just noticing the viewpoint. The simple act of noticing the thought allows it to disappear on its own. Don’t PUSH it away. Just notice it. It will start to fade as you notice it. Another thought may arise right after it. That is fine. Just notice that one also. As you are noticing these thoughts, bring all your attention into your inner body. Feel whatever raw energy is happening in the body.
Don’t try to experience that energy through labels. Don’t try to find this energy by thinking of the word “fear” or any other word. That is just a label. You wouldn’t eat the word “banana.” You would eat an actual banana—the yellow tasty thing. To be aware of fear, you have to forget the word “fear” and find out what is actually happening in your body. If mental labels arise, just notice them, letting them gently fade away. Then become interested only in the actual, raw energy of fear in the body.
For example, when you have a stomach ache, you have more than the thought “stomach ache” arising. There is an actual ache there, located in the stomach. There is pain or some other sensation. If the doctor said, please tell me on a scale from 1 to 10 how much it hurts, you would have to experience the ache directly for one moment, putting all thought aside. There is no other way to know that an actual ache is there. The space around the ache would have to become aware of the ache directly, without the filter of thought. You could then use the mind to tell the doctor, “The pain is about 7!”
Same with fear. To know fear, you have to allow the awareness in the body to become aware of the actual energy in the body, without relying on the filter of thought. So go deeply into awareness of your body. Just rest as awareness, letting that actual energy just be there, exactly as it is. If thoughts arise that say, “This doesn’t feel good,” or “I wish this fear would go away,” or even “I don’t mind this fear,” just notice those thoughts and let them gently fall away. Stick to the actual energy, letting it be there completely.
Here is the important part: notice that the actual energy of fear itself is not, and cannot, think about the future. All thinking happens in thought, not in the energy in the body. The energy is quiet. It doesn’t talk. It never says a word. It doesn’t know the thought “future.” This reveals that the very energy that is fueling the thoughts about the future has nothing to say about the future. It’s just energy, arising. By letting it be just that-pure energy arising-you are making that fear conscious. You are bringing it into the light of awareness, so to speak. And that is where 100% of the healing occurs.
Once you have done that, take a deep breath and relax without emphasizing any thoughts. Take your attention off the fear and simply rest as the awareness that is taking in the present moment without any thoughts. Just relax and be, for one moment. Notice that this non-conceptual awareness has no position about the future. All positions about the future arise by way of thoughts. And all thoughts come and go to this basic, non-conceptual awareness. Notice that this awareness has no name, no history, and no story. Names, histories, and stories arise and fall within this basic, impersonal awareness. Just rest there, allowing all thoughts and emotions to come and go, but without emphasizing them-without doing anything with them. No analysis.
Do you see what this is showing you? It is showing you that there really is no person, or ego, beneath all these thoughts about the future. There is only emotion and basic awareness itself. As you do this little exercise, you are able to go back into thought, so to speak. Yet now, the thoughts are less frantic. They are not driven by fear so much. So you are able to use thought, to take any practical steps needed. For example, if the fearful thought was “I’m going to be ill,” you can now set an appointment with the doctor. That’s practical.
The reason we suffer in fear is because we are not aware of what is actually happening in our bodies and minds. We are usually preoccupied only with thoughts. In becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations and seeing that these are all arising in a basic, impersonal awareness, freedom starts to be revealed naturally.
We see that we can be so much more effective and content in our lives, dealing with any situation that arises. Genuine wisdom and the right response to life arise through this seeing. Relying only on thought keeps us trapped in cycles of fear, running around in circles. It paralyzes us, making us unable to take effective, practical steps. We are too busy being afraid and trying to overcome the fear. In seeing what is happening in our bodies, and in resting in awareness, we see that fear is not the monster we thought it was. It’s just energy. And in finally letting that energy into the light of awareness, we open the door to freedom and peace.