Fear - The Great Illusion

All humans experience feelings. It does not matter your race, nationality, creed or affiliations. One thing is for sure; you will experience the full range of human emotions. Everyone, at one time or another has felt all of the five primary feelings of fear, love, anger, sadness and happiness: FLASH. What is also true is that the primary reason for experiencing these feelings is identical. Simply put, your ego is the catalyst that generates your feelings. Your ego consists of many beliefs and thoughts about you and your world. How you perceive yourself at any given moment, in relationship to your ego, becomes the springboard for feelings. If your image is fulfilled, then you will judge your feelings as positive. If not, you will judge them as negative. The emotion that you select is based on your perception of having your desires, expectations, hopes, wants, needs, musts, shoulds and should nots fulfilled. This list of nouns applies to your ego as well as to events.

Only when you move to the state of NOW will you experience the Buddha state of Nothing. It is not that you feel nothing, but you feel everything and you do not place your feelings in categories, classifications or give them titles. You simply are what you are in this moment, and it is perfect. No further explanation is needed. You are accepting you and all that it means to be you in this moment. The fact is that you have experienced this Buddha state many times, but you have not recognized it as that. It is when you are in the zone. You are lost in this moment. You are no longer thinking about the past or the future. In truth, you are not even thinking. You’re simply doing.

When you are not in this Buddha state, you are experiencing one of the five feelings, and there are specific reason for experiencing those feelings. One of those five feelings is called fear, and what a marvelous emotion it is. Very few things can generate such a vast array of reactions. The response to fear can be negative, positive or in some situations, a mixture of both. You can be frightened silly riding a roller coaster and enjoy every minute of it. You can be frightened silly by walking down a dark street and hate every minute of it. You can go to a movie that frightens you and you can enjoy and hate it. Fear does not mean that it has only one interpretation or valence. Depending on your interpretation of the situation, you will find it pleasurable, un-pleasurable or both. Furthermore, no one situation will create the same response in all people. What produces a negative response in one person may result in a positive response in another. It is very unpredictable. It has no definite way of being. Yet, fear has struck every living human being, at one time or another.

If I were to ask a hundred people if they ever enjoyed fear, I think I would get a no response, most of the time. People generally think of fear in very negative terms. It is something that they do not want. It is something to avoid. It is a bad feeling. It is something to get rid of. I have a question for you, “Is fear truly a negative emotion?” Have you ever gone to scary movie, gone on a frightening amusement park ride or done something crazy that was fear provoking? Were all of these experiences bad, negative, something to be avoided or gotten rid of?

I remember when I went to an Outward Bound school in the North Carolina Mountains in the early 70’s. The school was a survival, self-esteem and life growth program. During my time there, I learned how to climb and repel down a mountain, and complete a course called the Ropes Course. More importantly, I learned a lot about myself. While doing this course, I hit my greatest fear, heights. As a result, I had the opportunity to dive into my most intense fears. Was it a negative experience? Was it something I tried to avoid? Was it something I wanted to escape? On the contrary, it was something I totally enjoyed, something I might even do again. In fact, I loved the experience. I was alive. I faced my fears, learned to accept them and eventually went through them.

During my experience doing the Ropes Course, several very significant events occurred that can illustrate what fear is about, whether it is negative, positive or just something to experience. Before I go any further, I want to tell you a little bit about this Ropes Course. It began with each participant being hooked up to a safety line. Thus, if you should fall, the safety line would prevent you from falling very far and getting hurt. In other words, you were protected. The chances of your hurting yourself were greater getting in a car and driving down a highway than it was doing the Ropes Course. Yet, the fear among the participants was as intense as if there were no safety device. Everyone felt the fear. Everyone knew that everyone else was experiencing fear. It permeated the environment. At the same time, the environment was filled with excitement, anticipation and the idea of being on the cutting edge of life.

The first part of the course was pretty simple. All we had to do was walk across a log that was about one foot off the ground. The next level was a bit more difficult, and the next level was more difficult than the former. As we approached each level, the distance off the ground increased significantly. One of the many levels was a rope bridge. Three ropes were attached to each other forming a V shaped bridge. You placed your feet on the bottom of the V, and the outer edges of the V were your handrails. The bridge swayed from side to side and up and down as you walked across it. Not only was the bridge swaying, but it was on an incline. By the time you reached the end of the rope bridge, you were about 25 feet up in the air. Each step of the way was higher and higher. Remember that I am petrified of heights.

The fear really began to sink in when we got to one exercise that took us about 45 feet from mother earth. Talk about misperceptions, my perception was that we were at least 1000 feet off the ground. Our task was to walk across a huge log that was about 30 feet long and at least five feet in diameter. We were to walk across this log without any hand supports.

I watched the first person begin the journey across. He did just fine. He stood up tall, and simply walked across. The next person was not quite so brave. He crawled across the log. As he was crawling, I thought to myself, “He’s really afraid. That won’t happen to me. I will walk across without any problem.” Of course, I wasn’t yet near the point of having to actually make the long journey. The next person who attempted the walk did fine. Finally, it was my turn to make the trek into the world of log walking. Now you must remember that we all had on our safety lines. Danger was not emanate. Yet, as I got up to the log I only saw one thing, my death! Fear was the emotion. The longer I delayed my walk, the more fear I created. When I finally went for it, instead of walking across like I had seen several of my friends do, I crawled across. I hung on for dear life. My fear was so great that I would not trust the use of the safety line. In fact, I was experiencing so much fear that I did not even remember that there was a safety line. I would not trust anything, and in particular, my own ability to be able to the “impossible.”

In one way, the fear was controlling my life. If I were not more afraid of my own self-ridicule I would have turned around and gotten off that log. I had fear stopping me, and I had fear goading me on. What to do? Only one thing, finish what I had started. I crawled. In fact, I was hugging the log all the way across. I could think of very little, except the idea of falling, the idea of being destroyed, the idea of fear and the idea of finishing.

Well, I was able to make it across, and no sooner than I had reached the other side, I started experiencing anger and sadness. I regretted not having attempted crossing it by walking instead of crawling. I was angry because I let my fear control my behavior. I was sad because I would not have the opportunity to actually make the walk across. Sure, I could do the course again and walk the log, but this time it was too late. I did not take the risk on the first shot. How many times in life do we get a second chance at anything? Indulging my fear prevented me from going for it, from being total and from taking a risk. On the other hand, my fear did not prevent me from crossing the log altogether. I experienced happiness, fear, anger and sadness. What a powerful moment.

After 45 minutes more on the Ropes Course, I finally got to the last of the exercises. By now, we were about 60 feet off the ground, or at least so it seemed. We were sitting on a limb of a tree, with only one way to go, and that was the next feat of magic that we were to perform. This next task was to strap yourself into a harness seat that was attached to a rope someplace out in one of the other trees. I never really checked to see for sure where the end of the rope was attached. All I know was that once strapped in, you had to pull a lever that released the seat you were sitting in, and you dropped down 60 feet like a pendulum.

Talk about fear, I was terrified. What happened next was something that just intensified my fear a thousand fold. The person in front of me was sitting in the release chair. He sat there frozen with fear. He said he could not pull the lever. He said he could not make the jump into his fear. He spent 10 minutes in that chair arguing with the instructor that he couldn’t do it, that he wanted to return the way he came up. That meant doing the entire ropes course again, but in reverse.

Understand that the longer he sat there contemplating his future, the more fear he and I were experiencing. I can only guess at his thoughts that were generating all of his fear. For me, the thoughts of my death were upon me, thoughts that I could not do it, thoughts that I was going to show everyone what a coward I really was. Finally, out of desperation, I yelled out to him that he had to jump. He turned to me and said nothing. He unstrapped himself from the harness and refused to complete the exercise. Instead, he began his long trek back down to earth.

Now it was my turn. I climbed onto the seat, strapped myself in, took one long look, yelled bombs away and pulled the lever. I didn't want to think about it, I didn't want to do anything but pull that lever. I knew that if I just sat there I would start thinking and thinking and thinking. The longer I would sit the more my thoughts would be of harm and negativity. These thoughts would only feed my fear. I jumped. What a rush!!! It was one of the smoothest rides I have ever experienced, and one of the most intense. All my fears and all my thoughts just went right out the window as I fell the 60 feet to earth. I was Tarzan, I was Superman, I was all the super heroes wrapped up into one being, me.

What is fear about? Most people think it is about the unknown. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fear has absolutely nothing to do with the unknown. It has to do with your belief that you are going to lose power and control. It is about believing that you are going to lose something dear to you. It is about you and your projections of what you believe is going to happen. A key word is believe. A second key word is going.

My fear of heights had nothing to do with the height itself. It had nothing to do with what other people are thinking. My fear had to do with me. The fear had to do with my beliefs. I thought that I would lose control, lose power, die, get hurt, be a coward or look foolish. These were my thoughts, my beliefs, my ego. If I could have changed my thoughts, I would have changed my feelings. I could have used as many excuses as I wanted, but bottom line, I would have to take responsibility for my own feelings. Since they were caused by my thoughts, and I created my thoughts, then I created my fear.

If you did not project a future that was bleak or harmful, would you feel fear? Think about it for a moment. If you are walking down an alley and you do not have any thoughts at all about what might happen, you will not experience fear. If you are walking down that same alley thinking about the good time you had today, you would probably be feeling happy. If, on the other hand, you were thinking about what harm might happen to you while you are walking down the alleyway, you will experience fear.

The unknown did not cause you to feel fear. Your projections of what might happen did. If you believe that you are going to be hurt at any moment, you will experience both the belief and the feeling of fear in the present moment, even though the event has not happened yet. You accept the belief as the truth. You then feel fear. You see yourself as having lost control over the situation and power over being able to anything about it. You want to do something about it, but you do not know what. Even if you do discover something to do, such as light a match to see your way through the alley, you do not believe that it will really help.

These examples were of situations in which your life was threatened. What about times when your life is not threatened, such as talking to an audience, taking a test, talking to a judge, being stopped by a policeperson or telling someone something that you think will cause that person pain? What caused the fear? The cause is still the same. First, you have a belief. Second, your belief is about something that will happen in the future. Third, you believe something bad will happen to you. Fourth, you believe that there is very little you can to prevent this bad thing from happening. Fifth, you wish there were something you could do about it. Sixth, you want to get rid of the fear. You want it to stop! Seventh, unfortunately, whatever you do to stop it fails. This only adds to your belief that you have lost power and control.

Take the example of talking to an audience. You feel fear before you even begin presenting. If asked why the fear, you may say that you do not know or that it is the unknown. You may also say that you are afraid that people will laugh at you, be embarrassed for you, criticize you or in some way disparage you. The fact is that none of that is correct. Your fear stems from your beliefs about you! You imagine yourself screwing up. You see yourself as being the fool. You see yourself as the inapt speaker. You see yourself as incompetent. You see yourself as someone that you would laugh at, criticize or in some way disparage if you saw him behaving the way you would. It is your view of you that is causing you your fear. To top it all off, you have a belief that there is very little that you can do about it. With this belief, you believe that you know that you have lost power and control. You would really like to do something about it. You would really like to be the way you want yourself to be. However, you believe you know that it is impossible to be who you want to be. You are you and cannot be any different. You want this insufferable fear to end, and you cannot even do that.

Fear is always yours. It is never caused by some outside force. It is never caused by the unknown. The more you believe your beliefs to be true, the more fear you will experience. Bottom line, the basic fear is the belief that something about you is going to die. You are going to lose your body and die. You are going to lose some self-concept or self-esteem that you hold dear to you. You think you are going to prove that you are this negative projection that you believe you are. You are going to do some type of damage to your ego. Something is going to die, even if just a little, tiny, smidgen bit.

What makes the difference between a fear that you judge as negative and one that you judge as positive? Yes, you have a belief. You think you have lost power and control. Yes, it is in the future. Yes, something bad is going to happen to you. Yes, there is little or nothing you can do to prevent it. So, what makes the difference? One difference lies in the fifth aspect of negative fear. Remember, the fifth step is that you wish you could do something to prevent or stop what is going to happen. You either believe nothing bad will happen to you or you do not care. With positive fear, you give up that dream. Furthermore, the sixth component of negative fear is dropped. You have given up the desire to get rid of the fear. In fact, in many of the enjoyable instances of fear, the feeling was sought, not avoided or seen as something to escape from. With the alley example, you want to survive the walk. You want to be able to come out of it in one piece. You do not want to feel the way you do. With the roller coaster, you still experience the fear, but you also believe that you will come out of it unscathed. You have given up your power and control to some forces outside of you. You have let go of all your power and control issues. You are free to simply experience your emotions without real concern about survival.

So, what to do with fear? The first step is to recognize that you are feeling fear. The next step is to take responsibility for causing your own fear. You do this by recognizing that your thoughts are caused by you. You recognize that your thoughts and your belief in those thoughts created the fear. Third, do not try to get rid of the fear. Instead, embrace it. Next, surrender your power and control. You have done all that you can; what more can you do? It’s no longer up to you. It will turn out the way it will turn out. Trust that whatever happens is the way that it is supposed to happen. Look at what you do when you feel positive fear. Allow that to be your guide. Finally, learn to meditate. You can meditate before, during and after the situation. This meditation will allow you to go beyond your fear and experience this moment. Fear is about the next moment. Meditation is about this moment. Between understanding fear and meditating, you will experience fear as your friend and ally, and not something you must vanquish.

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