Barbara Hebert – USA
Barbara during the last held TheosoFEST on the "Olcott grounds" in September
Dealing with fear is, like most other aspects of living this physical incarnation, part of a process. Learning to live without fear doesn’t happen overnight; rather, there are steps that we take to facilitate the process. Spiritual concepts can help us learn to live without fear as well.
Before we talk about living without fear, we need to address a few questions first. What is fear? What do we fear? How does fear impact us? These questions help us understand what is happening and what we want to change. Change requires awareness, and awareness requires self-introspection and self-observation. It is at that point that we can begin to talk about specific steps that may be helpful in learning to live without fear. Finally, we can discuss spiritual concepts or guidelines that will help us in this process of learning to live without fear.
First, fear is an innate response to danger—physical or emotional danger. It is rooted in the evolutionary process. We needed to be fearful in order to survive. In the past, lethal dangers were everywhere, and we needed a fear response to protect ourselves. Today, we don’t face as many lethal dangers, but that innate response to fear still exists. It still provokes the same types of responses from us: physical, emotional, and cognitive. This response is rooted in a part of the brain called the amygdala. When the brain perceives dangers, the amygdala floods the body with stress hormones. This physical response helped us to survive when we were faced with dinosaurs or rockslides or approaching enemies. Today, it helps us as well. We are still faced with some dangers, although lethal dangers on a daily basis don’t seem to be as prevalent. When the stress hormones are released, we can jump out of the way of a car backing out of a parking space or move more quickly to catch a toddler as he or she reaches for a hot stove. Having some fear is helpful. We don’t want to let go of fear entirely because we want to catch that toddler or avoid being hit by a car.
At the beginning of the article, I indicated that fear is useful and valuable. It is useful and valuable, as long as we are not constantly afraid. When the amygdala is constantly flooding the body with stress hormones, there are a number of physical and emotional issues that can arise. Our bodies are hard-wired so that we react to predators and other aggressors as well as other life-threatening situations so that we can survive. As mentioned before, things have changed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have many stressors in our lives. The body perceives these stressors (not having enough time, paying bills, problems with family, etc.) as threats. Sometimes we may even feel as if we are constantly under attack. The body responds, as it is supposed to, and releases the stress hormones. Continual release of these hormones can cause any number of physical and emotional problems including headaches, insomnia, feelings of being overwhelmed, excessive anxiety, and so on. (See the American Institute of Stress website for more information, https://www.stress.org).
As human beings, we try to avoid feeling fearful. It is a vulnerable feeling, and it makes us want to hide in the closet or under the bed. Therefore, we typically try to handle our fear in several different ways.
One of the things that we may do when we feel fear is replace it with anger. Anger is a motivating emotion and provides one with a sense of power: the perfect antidote to fear! One of the best examples I can think of is when a teenager misses a curfew and arrives home late. The parent, who is probably really fearful that something has happened to their child, feels angry and reacts angrily. I’m sure we can all think of times when we were fearful but covered that fear with anger.
Another way we avoid feeling fearful is through being in control. Sometimes we may believe that if we can control people or situations, then we can maintain safety for everyone. We don’t necessarily realize we are doing this. One teenage client told me that the strife between her and her mother was due to the mother’s determination to control the girl. The mother had had some difficult childhood experiences and was worried that something bad might happen to her daughter. Without even realizing it, the mother began to control her teenage daughter’s behaviors and choices. The more she tried to control her daughter, the more the daughter rebelled. This led to a vicious cycle of fear-control-rebellion.
A third way we avoid feeling fearful is to simply avoid situations that seem risky or even unfamiliar to us. We don’t look for another job even though we may be unhappy in our current one; we avoid relationships because we don’t want to be hurt again; we don’t continue with our education or pursue an interest because of fear of failure, fear of looking silly to others, fear of being hurt.
Some studies show that religion is strongest in those areas of the world where things are most miserable; and when the quality of life improves, religion declines. For instance, religious institutions prosper during recessions (along with the sale of alcohol). Why do you think this occurs? Possibly because our fears are part of our personalities, and as personalities, we are looking for answers to--or perhaps escape from--our fears.
Fears are based on survival, but they also originate in our minds, from our thoughts, our perceptions, our beliefs. When I was a child, my mother was terrified of going to the dentist. I’m assuming that from her fear, I told myself that dentists and dentist offices were to be avoided at all costs. They were dangerous places; after all, if a parent is scared of it, then a child should definitely be frightened. That fear remains with me to this day, even though I know that neither the dentist nor anyone in the office will hurt me. Here is another example. A friend of mine had experiences as a teenager that continue to have an impact on her today. Every time she left the house as a teenager, her mother questioned her about the way she looked, including her make-up, her clothes, etc. The questions weren’t necessarily nice, either. Her mother would say things such as, Why are you going out dressed like that? What if you see someone you know, and you don’t have on makeup? To this day, my friend fears being judged by others for her appearance. She will not leave her house without makeup nor will she leave her house with being dressed “for display.”
I need to once again remind us that some fear is very good. If I’m walking and a big dog comes at me barking furiously with his teeth bared, I should have some fear. If I meet someone who makes me feel uncomfortable, I need to register that discomfort and process it a bit. I’m a firm believer in listening to ourselves, to our intuition.
Because fear is intensely personal and is sometimes communicated to us in covert ways, we may not even be aware of what we fear. As human beings, we can sometimes shove our fears down so deeply into our subconscious that we are not even aware of them regardless of their impact on us. So, we must look inside of ourselves. The answers are always within us. We seek outside to learn, but in reality, there is no outside.
Practically speaking, how do we do it? There are certain steps that we can take to find the answers within.
- Identify the fear;
- Identify the behaviors, thoughts, etc. that support the fear. Or, if the behaviors or thoughts are easier to identify, then trace them backwards. Ex: why do I avoid….? What makes me feel uncomfortable or fearful?
- Ask yourself if the fear is rational?
- Make friends with the fear; that is: face it, accept it. The fear exists to protect you, but ask yourself, if you need that protection?
- Make a plan to take steps forward into your fear. Focus on your behaviors and thoughts regarding the fear.
This process looks simple. It’s not, of course, because these fears are sometimes deep in our subconscious. It takes time, effort, and energy, just like creating a new habit. It’s a new way of thinking about a situation.
But there’s so much more. We are looking for the answers that will allow us to live without fear. We can work with, and need to work with, the personality since that is our temporary abode, but there is more. To paraphrase Shams of Tabriz, the spiritual teacher of Rumi, we are like fish swimming in the water, searching for the water. The answers are around us, within us, supporting us, feeding us. The answers are in the air that we breathe.
It reminds me of the meme from the Wizard of Oz: Glinda the Good Witch says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.” We have the power to face our fears, to make changes, to fly and be free.
As Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” When we look for the answers outside of ourselves, we are human beings searching this temporary world for temporary answers. When we look inside, we are allowing the soul, our true selves, to provide not only the answers but the safety and security and love that is inherent in touching who we truly are. We become the fish who has found the water, and we can relish it. We become Dorothy who clicks her heels and wishes for home.
Do our souls experience fear? It is unlikely. Our souls are the true essence of who we are is, and who we are is the essence of the One Reality. When we look at the personal fears we experience from a different field of consciousness, from the soul’s perspective, we may realize a couple of things that put fear into a spiritual perspective.
We realize that there is an order and a plan to the universe. The universe is not driven by chaos. Things don’t happen by chance. Each and every one of us is connected to one another and to that Divine Reality. When we intuitively touch that connection, we feel a peacefulness that is almost impossible to describe, but it allays every fear and concern we might have. We realize that life is a spiritual journey, a spiritual evolution of the soul, and the fear dissipates almost immediately.
We also recognize that this life is only one of many and lasts but a blink of the eye in terms of eternity. It is an opportunity to learn and grow. Given these thoughts, it may be helpful to ask: What can I learn from facing my fear? How will I grow by moving beyond my fear? How important is this issue if I look at it from a more universal perspective, from the perspective of my soul or higher self?
We are moving forward on this spiritual path through the spiritual evolution of our souls. We can move forward more effectively by putting our fears into perspective and ultimately leaving them behind.