A Meditation on Fear

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Course Ideas

When we are in a fearless state, the edges that delineate us as individuals blur. We flow into the world comfortably, and the world flows into us without resistance or hesitation. This is the primal form of giving and receiving on which I think all beings are nurtured and sustained. It is not a state of excitement or of euphoric abandon, but of peace and of enduring joy.  When this is our experience we respond easily to the movement of the world, without wondering if our responses are the “right” ones, and somehow they end up being good (rather than right) anyway, even if they trigger the unexpected. The unexpected is okay: the phoenix needs ashes from time to time, if it is to arise.

When we are in a fearful state, the edges that delineate us harden, and collapse. We contract. Something in the world appears to threaten our existence or well-being and in accepting this perception we instinctively move to protect ourselves. The protecting that we do cuts off the circulation of ourselves into the world, and the world into us, leaving us even more unsafe in our experience than we were before. We can end up isolated from the subtle tendrils of knowing that pass back and forth between ourselves and the heart of the world, without which we are left to our own devices.

With a smidge of reflection and honest self-appraisal, we recognize that our thoughts and feelings tend to feed off of one another. We discover that a sensation of well-being is accompanied by particular types of thoughts and feelings, and that the sensation of being fearful, or threatened, likewise is attended by a particular pattern of thoughts and feelings. Often in our initial review we attach our thoughts and feelings to worldly phenomena: I feel good when I imagine I will be successful or when I actually achieve some goal, and I feel poorly when I suspect I will be a failure or when I fail to achieve some goal. One of the most critical objectives of the spiritual path is to look more deeply at these cycles of thought and feeling, so that we may discover the underlying conditions that generate them.

In time we discover that our assignments of well-being and fear to phenomenal conditions was only an effort to project the realities of our inner life upon the symbols of the world; we discover the true causes for our sensations of well-being or of fear and threat are in fact only indirectly related to the world. The world is not the cause; rather, the world—or rather, our interpretation of the world—mirrors our innermost choices and beliefs. We respond to it based on our sense of well-being or fear, and these responses feed the cycle. Thus in looking at our responses to the world, and in looking carefully at our ideas about the world, we see what our own deepest beliefs really are.

At some point it becomes clear that a sense of well-being may be maintained in any set of circumstances—even if at first we are only capable of imagining this in others, like a teacher or a saint or a figure like Jesus or Buddha. Upon discovering this we fill with the desire to sustain this well-being indefinitely in ourselves, to make it the very ground of our living. We know that if we could do so, we would suffer no more. What disturbs this on an almost continual basis is our fear, which we ultimately discover is the product of various deeply held beliefs that contradict the nature of reality. When we believe in ideas that are in contradiction to the nature of reality, it places our hearts and minds into conflict. This is because our hearts don’t forget so easily, or rationalize things, so even though we may convince ourselves of something intellectually, if it isn’t in accord with our authentic nature at a very deep level, then we experience conflict. And when we are in conflict within, we are afraid.

The great paradox of a spiritual journey is that knowing all of this is not enough. Even though we recognize we must relinquish our fear, while we are afraid this is an act we are not remotely capable of completing. It is like having the world’s stickiest glue at the end of your finger, and you’re trying to shake it off, only it is motion-activated so the harder you shake the sticker it gets. Our efforts to relinquish the fear merely reinforce its existence. When our efforts fail, we feel that we have failed twice over.

At the same time, we will not be rescued. When we lament and pray for our fears to be removed, or appeal to some higher power in a similar way, it almost goes without saying that magic wands and silver bullets do not arrive. We are left with ourselves, and this in turn can lead to despair, too. We can’t shake it off and we aren’t going to be rescued. What are we to do?

One thing I’ve learned is that we too often miss the gift of silence that comes in answer to our desire to be rescued. We miss its real meaning. The first year I did a vision quest I thought if I was good and genuinely giving and as vulnerable as I could be in all of my preparations, that I would be rescued. I didn’t say it that way to myself, but that is what I thought. And then I stewed for the entire time in my own juices, and the difficulties inside me seemed only to magnify. I knew I couldn’t dispense with fear through intellectual slight of hand, and my effort to offer up everything I had fell on its face. But then I realized there was this silence given. What did it mean?

In our efforts to be fearless—to be worthy and loving and unified of mind and heart—our approach is almost always rooted in changing ourselves somehow. We live in a world where we believe we have the power to make and to change ourselves. We believe we have some say in our destiny. But this is not only false at the deepest level, changing ourselves is precisely what is not required. In fact, it is not possible, for we remain as we were created forever. Sure we change outwardly all the time: we develop skills, we pick up hobbies and interests, we are “changed” by our experiences, but this is not the level at which we are changeless. It is the level at which we are afraid.

The real difficulty is that we have attempted to be something we are not and can never be. We have attempted to assert a dominion that is invalid, a personhood that supersedes our point of origin. We think we can change what needs to be changed without yielding on this one false assertion we have made: that we know and define who we are. There is great difficulty in relinquishing our cherished notions of who we are, and this is why fear is so tenacious, and why miracles are so necessary. For miracles are the middle road between being rescued and being in charge. Miracles are flashes of the unity and relationship that are our authentic selfhood. Miracles are given naturally when we stop driving the bus and pining to be rescued.

Our authentic selfhood is a bit of an enigma to define, but we know it when we allow it to be. For suddenly our boundaries have blurred, and the world within and without is simultaneously known. There is a familiarity with the unknown itself, a comfort with its movement in our life, and an awareness that well-being is flowing in steady supply from each to each, and all to all. Our mind discovers the true nature of things and in doing so is no longer conflicted with the heart, and our fears dissolve.

Our part in this is really interesting. Our part is to stand amidst the evidence of our brokenness –our illnesses, our broken relationships, our failures as we perceive them, our shortcomings and inadequacies, our doubts—and allow them to be turned inside out. Rather than interpreting our circumstances as a meaningful reflection of who we truly are, we allow grace to provide the interpretation. And if we feel we must contribute something to the process, we can nurture a view that encompasses not only ourselves, but all beings, and looks so deeply upon them that their innate goodness emerges in our sight. This choice, which is not a choice about ourselves alone, but a choice about all beings, is powerful.

This is a choice we can make. And it will heal our misperceptions, and dissolve our fears in time.

33 Comments

  1. these words offer joyful cause
    to pause & reflect, Michael.
    i’ve experienced this choice making,
    although that process is sort of a mystery.
    when sitting peacefully or
    dancing joyfully among daffodils
    of spring’s freshness, seeds of
    fear’s potential seem un-watered.
    but amongst those who are affected
    by daily discomforts and/or latest headlines,
    whether in person or on-line,
    fear seems watered & fortified with manure.
    may we all look deeply into being skillful
    gardeners of what seeds get watered & fertilized.
    also i’ve found it useful to ask
    other’s to shine the light
    on words, actions & aspirations,
    as self assessment is perhaps
    somewhat & occasionally
    biased 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi David,

      Two things jumped out at me in your response: first the importance of being skillful with and conscious of the seeds were are nurturing in our own minds; and the second was the absolute difficulty of self assessment. Around the time that I was feeling the lowest–sizzling in that pot of my own fearful juices–the real gift was the recognition that I couldn’t spring the trap on my own. I’m perhaps most grateful for having had the experiences that produced that realization.

      That said I don’t think being alone and the number of human beings in the room are the same thing, and that opening our hearts to the spiritual forces available to work with us can lead to inner transformation. So we can be physically alone, but in the company of great support; and likewise we can be in a group and yet be oh so alone…

      Peace and Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

      • smiling to your shining
        example of traversing
        the self actualization horizon, Michael!
        like many others
        i can use all the help
        i can get, david 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Dear Michael, Your writing brings tears to my eyes. You capture beautifully how I have stood within and walked through this crazy journey I’ve been on the past seven months. How sweetly affirming your words are as they flow into my heart. “Our part is to stand amidst the evidence of our brokenness … and allow them to be turned inside out … we allow grace to provide the interpretation. And if we feel we must contribute something to the process, we can nurture a view that encompasses not only ourselves, but all beings, and looks so deeply upon them that their innate goodness emerges in our sight. This choice, which is not a choice about ourselves alone, but a choice about all beings, is powerful.” Perhaps you’d like to read the story of the first two months as I lived into what you say “This is a choice we can make. And it will heal our misperceptions, and dissolve our fears in time.” I chose. And yes – all fears dissolved. Email me. Much love, Christina xo

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Christina,

      I will e-mail you shortly and am of course interested in your experience. I’m touched that this piece touched you, and it is nice to see you here! I look forward to your sharing.

      Much Love to you, too.
      Michael

      Like

  3. Love this:

    Our part in this is really interesting. Our part is to stand amidst the evidence of our brokenness –our illnesses, our broken relationships, our failures as we perceive them, our shortcomings and inadequacies, our doubts—and allow them to be turned inside out. Rather than interpreting our circumstances as a meaningful reflection of who we truly are, we allow grace to provide the interpretation. And if we feel we must contribute something to the process, we can nurture a view that encompasses not only ourselves, but all beings, and looks so deeply upon them that their innate goodness emerges in our sight. This choice, which is not a choice about ourselves alone, but a choice about all beings, is powerful.

    Being human is less and less about what my mind has collected over the decades. I see my self more at times of communion, where all is blurred and golden. The mind/emotional connections are tricky yet valuable. I have heard recently that the mind should serve the heart. Any thoughts 🙂 ?

    PS, please look for an email from me within a week or so with some good news!

    peace, Linda

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Linda,

      I think the mind and the heart need to be on the same page, fulfilling their intended functions. I can see the value of the idea the mind should serve the heart, because for too long of late I think the intellect has typically been relied upon to trump the heart in many matters. And this won’t do. Ha! But I do think a unity where the two are in alignment, and sort of dissolving into one another, is important. In A Course of Love there is a passage where Jesus describes the heart as “the heart of the mind” or something like that, and he says that he chose to speak of them separately initially because that is how we conceptualize and understand them ourselves. But truly there is no gap between them. I think in healing, as their unity is restored, the knowing of the heart and the concepts and imagination of the mind are reconciled somehow. And we no longer find ourselves in these quandaries where we know we “should” be doing something, or we are of any type of split mind. But as I said, in the interim or perhaps as a path of returning to unity, the mind in service to the heart makes some sense to me. The heart has the clearest knowing, and the mind would do well to let it be so…

      I look forward to your note!

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A brilliant and beautiful treatise Michael. Judgement, of ourselves, of others, is such a harsh master. Labelling equally so. Without both we do that thing you write of – “We flow into the world comfortably, and the world flows into us without resistance or hesitation.”
    Alison

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Alison. Yes I agree completely on judgment and labeling. Fear is such a pernicious animal, but a valuable reminder at the same time, for I suspect fear doesn’t come first: the learning of some false standing precedes it. This falseness to which we grasp leaves us conflicted and uncertain, and fear is the telltale sign.

      To a life of flowing in and through the world.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Quite superb, Michael, as Alison immediately remarks. Fear is a slippery and ubiquitous customer in the realm of spiritual seeking, it seems. So used are we to navigating around and hence avoiding its referents (the objects that we fear) that it, itself, becomes obscured as a primary motivation for our actions in the world — we fail to recognise that fear is driving our lives along in equal measure to our desires. One of the most courageous things we can do is to sit silently with ourselves and observe this process at work; to passively sit and watch with a laser-like, unstinting attention these otherwise unnoticed movements of the mind. Fear isn’t something ‘out there’ to be avoided; it’s ‘in here’, to be confronted, obviously enough. More often than not, in the clearest seeing of it as raw emotion (as you say, a thought-feeling complex), then it dissolves of its own accord. I learned this the only way that I think one can (which is as described), given there’s no cure in the realm of the intellect, and it was quite a revelation to see how much fear was a primal force within me, yet not one I was never previously fully aware of. Great writing Michael, and so insightful. With respect and mettā, Hariod.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Hariod, and well said yourself. It is a primal force. We don’t realize the way it works and while society can become fixated on fearlessness without understanding the deeper elements that give rise to fear, it seems we become bound to attempting feats that would supply the evidence to ourselves that we are fearless! And more often than not such attempts merely prove the reality of the situation. When we’re unafraid, what is there to prove?

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

  6. So good to see you back here in the sun, Michael, after your vision quest, and with such a beautiful gift to share!
    Much of what you say, ring so deeply true, somewhere under the veil of words even. I love the flowing into and out the world image. Yet, even the plants, the grand masters at that flow between them and the environment, benefit from the dormant season.
    And I love this passage:
    “There is great difficulty in relinquishing our cherished notions of who we are, and this is why fear is so tenacious, and why miracles are so necessary. For miracles are the middle road between being rescued and being in charge. Miracles are flashes of the unity and relationship that are our authentic selfhood. Miracles are given naturally when we stop driving the bus and pining to be rescued.”
    Peace and Fearlessness,
    Kristina

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kristina. I did have a nice little respite, and it was nice to post something again. There is something renewing indeed about a change of habit, a change of scene, even if something like a little flu bug is the cause of it. There are always deeper waters flowing past, and we are given just what we need… The vision question experience was about fifteen years ago now, but has stayed with me. Slowly I let the world in and move into it…

      Peace and Joy!
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Love this 💕 Thank you for this real, funny, touching and intelligent post Michael. I will be coming back to it as the insights settle in.
    What comes up for me right now is that contraction and fear are one, just as openness and fearlessness are one. The trick is to identify which is at play. The ego mind is such a great deceiver. As long as we remain in our intellectual minds, we will never recognize the difference, or be able to embrace what is beyond.
    “The great paradox of a spiritual journey is that knowing all of this is not enough”. How true. That is why taking ourselves out of our normal life, such as in a vision quest is so powerful and revealing.
    Namaste

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Val,

      You bring up something I find so hard when in a fearful state, and that is authentic discernment. You’re right that the intellectual mind cannot really navigate things at the level that is required to dispense with falsehood at a deep level. It just cannot do anything but push logic around the page, and the truth is logic can build almost any conclusion depending on the premises. Fear is a sure signal to me there are some false premises at work. Having a chance in meditation retreat or an experience like vision quest to sit with the deepest parts of ourselves we can contact really puts things into perspective, and recognizing the impotence of the intellect in the face of my inner difficulties was a real gift. It leads you to open. You have to open up to the nourishment if you would have it…

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post.
      Peace and Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

      • We can’t trust our intellectual mind, but we can learn to trust a sensing that comes from within our being. When I listen to my body, I find the truth. Have you read John J Prendergast’s “In Touch”? His work is ground breaking – at least in terms of “groundedness”. 😉
        Peace and love to you. 🙏

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi Val,

          I have not read that one, but I resonate with your comments about sensing truth by listening to our bodies. I have felt that myself. That is very much in line with what I was trying to describe about the way we “feel” a certain way when we are coming into contact with something truthful. And not to dive too deep into nuance, but I also feel that this faculty has a really interesting property, which is this: sometimes a scientific realization or an insight into a scientific realization will ring with truth. I’ve learned that what I’m resonating with is not the science, but the scent of truth hidden within it. The science will often later be revised or modified, but what we see is a glimpse of unity, or relatedness, or mutual arising shining through the canvas of the world, and that is what I think inspires us to resonate in this way. Just an interesting observation I’ve made.

          With Love
          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    I like that term you mentioned to Val – authentic discernment. ” intellectual mind cannot really navigate things at the level that is required to dispense with falsehood at a deep level. It just cannot do anything but push logic around the page, and the truth is logic can build almost any conclusion depending on the premises.”

    And what you mentioned to Hariod – “When we’re unafraid, what is there to prove?”

    I love this piece, Michael. All of it.

    “The phoenix needs ashes from time to time, if it is to arise.” I keep coming around to that with all that is going on in the world. Trusting that all is unfolding perfectly, as we all sift through the ashes and rise.

    Thank you Michael, for this well worded reminder that ” When we are in a fearless state, the edges that delineate us as individuals blur. We flow into the world comfortably, and the world flows into us without resistance or hesitation.” As we do our inner work, we get to be in this state more and more. Very cool.

    I just love the way you write.

    Much love,
    Mary

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mary! I appreciate your echo of these thoughts that resonate between us. I have been enjoying the time since I wrote this, and sitting with this feeling that the goodness of our given nature is something we can contact directly. If there is anything we can know directly, I think that may be it. We can know our point of connection to the whole, which feels like our inherent goodness, and this reservoir of unalterable “truth” within us can backstop and redeem just about any silly thing we think or do when we get distracted by this strange ole’ world.

      Much love to you also,
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So much to ponder here. I’m always kind of at a loss when I try to comment on your posts, Michael. Nowadays it seems that everyone wants to take control of their destiny. To manifest. There is no shortage of coaches/gurus/whatevers who are clamoring to show us the way. They have the system/code/secret to infinite happiness. And so many of us are so desperate to be rescued. We speak others people’s words as if they’re some kind of spell to ward off the fear. I believe we can receive guidance, but only we can rescue ourselves. Yeah, it’s work, but not as scary as it seems. Wishing you a glorious spring.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Julie,

      I know what you mean about the idea that we can think (manifest) our way to happiness. I think it is a line of teaching that can easily be misinterpreted to thinking that if we just change our surface thoughts then we can call into our lives whatever we desire. I think the reality is we can accomplish a great deal, but that it requires a wholehearted surrender to becoming a reborn being, from the very depths to the very surface, and this is not something we can do like flipping a switch. I don’t think we can do it at all while we think we are alone.

      But that said, your comment reminded me of the movie Kundun (Martin Scorcese film about the Dalai Lama in case you haven’t seen it), which I watched a couple of weeks ago when I was sick. The Dalai Lama says to Chairman Mao, after the Chairman says he only wants China to “save” or “rescue” Tibet, that “China cannot save me. Only I can save myself.” With all of this, there is the surface meaning and the deeper meaning. I would say we save ourselves by submitting to a practice or a teaching or a path that opens us up to grace. We do not control the grace, but we are the only ones who can allow ourselves to withdraw our investment in our own theories and proclamation.

      There is a lot to this! Wishing you an equally glorious spring. We’re hoping it will come soon. We’re expecting 6 inches of snow tomorrow!

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Your meditation on fear is interesting. I’m not sure that you entered into it on purpose, though I am aware of this meditation on fear as a strategy for overcoming it. I once did a sort class series meditating on the process of my own death, and still ‘fear’ is different. That said, I must confess though you made the notion of flow sound quite wonderful in the beginning of your passage, I rather not appear on Earth as a blur. I am quite happy having edges, as this was something that I was thinking about lately, and in such a way that I hadn’t thought so embracingly about before. I noticed that embracing edges feels just about as good as embracing blurs, except I’m not as aware when I am embracing blurs, because I am not a thing that witnesses, then. Anyways, that edges can flow, too. I’m standing up for edges, Michael.
    Wishing you, my dear friend, a lot of fun….
    Ka

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Ka,

      I think we are always dancing around paradox in these sorts of things. What helps us each perhaps is to express what we are feeling in that moment, with the best words we have, and in doing so it may provide the perfect opportunity for another to discover what they mean! Edges and blurs are equally relevant I suspect, in their proper time. But I do think I follow what you mean. Perhaps it is something about being this, and not that, and that seems entirely appropriate for beings of intention. I think they go hand in hand really. 🙂

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m right with you on that paradox. We are dancing with the paradox, I think. Each moment is unique to itself wherein maybe even the meaning of the words we use are anchored perhaps to a certain time and space one moment, and then more free form in dimension at another time – space sequence. I agree that edges and blurs are equally relevant, and I so appreciate the way in which you clarify your position while allowing for that perfect opportunity for new discoveries. Peace to you too, Ka

        Like

  11. Hello my friend! Wow…I can’t help but think that the answer to the question I asked today lives inside your words!! I will read this again…and probably again.
    I hope that life is caressing your soul…that you are starting to experience ‘spring’ with its rebirth and that light shines brightly in your part of the world.
    I have missed you, and when I think of you…I always feel your spirit! Many blessings to you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lorrie!

      I’ve missed you, too. Thanks for reaching out. I’ve been busy on various things but haven’t blogged too much this year. But I have been enjoying a lovely spring! Hope yours is going nicely as well and that you are feeling full and bright in this birthing year.

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

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