Why am I always living by the clock? Why do I sometimes feel guilt for my relaxation and lethargy? Why am I so attached to achieving my goals? I am looking for reputation, stature, social standing and for that I am willing to sacrifice the essence of my freedom – being happy here and now – in order to reach my future objective. I seek this objective because in it I feel there will be security and stability in a world which I consider to be uncertain. I seek safety because I haven’t bothered to understand fear, to understand the psychological movement from certainty to uncertainty. I am not really, genuinely interested in this – if I was I would give it my complete attention, and I would reach understanding. Instead of doing this, I indulge in illusion, namely the illusion that I will soon be free – that I will soon attain the fulfilment I am chasing. If I am truly honest, this practice of escaping into illusion, designed to bypass my fear, has actually only strengthened my fear.
I have made my freedom into an idea, a thought, a product of my thinking. This thinking, my idea of the future, is formulated from the past, from my memory, experience and knowledge. In my present I am seeking to become something in the future, so my present is the transition of my projected past into an idea of the future. Fear exists in my passage to become something. It exists not in isolation but only in relation to the past or the future. When my attention is here and now, there is no fear. There is no fear when there is complete attention in the present moment. There is no fear when there is no longer resistance to ‘what is.’
If you ever have thoughts like these, perhaps you would care to ask yourself the following questions:
What do we fear?
Many people say they fear the unknown, they fear the uncertainty of what the future may bring. Let us consider this uncertainty which plagues us. Is it really the unknown, or is this uncertainty something which we are projecting from our own memories and experiences – from the known? Perhaps I fear losing all that I know – my wife, my daughter, my family, my home, my job, my memory, my very continuity; this sense of who I think I am and all that is associated with it. I fear losing all that is known to me. If I look into the actuality of the unknown I cannot fear it. I do not fear the uncertainty of the unknown. I cannot fear what I do not even know. I fear the known, never the unknown. If you think about this logically, you never really fear the unknown; what you fear is a projection of what you already know, a projection that exists in your mind as verbalised thought. I fear losing all that is related to me. I fear losing the known.
Can there just be fear and nothing else, without anything feared? Just fear on its own, not what I fear? Fear cannot exist in isolation. Our fear exists only in relation to an idea we hold, an idea about something related to ‘me’. Fear only exists as thought and this must be thought in relation to our ideas. Without something to relate to – without some known which we fear – is there fear?
The self – and all that is associated with it – is all I have. I am alone in this cold, dark, vast universe and, in reaction to this idea, I have built up many layers of attachment around myself in order to protect myself. I have structured an idea of who and what I think I am, of what I think, what I believe and what I crave. This sense of self is structured around all that I am attached to – my home, my family, my relationships, my comforts, my reputation; my financial, emotional and psychological securities; the religious, philosophical or political beliefs that I have taken on board and in which I have invested. I fear losing all this. I fear losing all that I have accumulated, all that I have become attached to in my life; these things that I have taken on board in order to defend myself against fear. I fear losing what I have and what I am because I believe there to be nothing else. I may believe in heaven, enlightenment, Moshka or in some kind of afterlife but, if I am brutally honest, I don’t truthfully know whether these are real or if they are just ideas. Regardless of what I may say – both publically and to myself – a lingering doubt remains: ‘Maybe I am just kidding myself after all?’ The fundamental truth is that I do not know, and so I cling to that which I can be sure of – my self, and all that encompasses. There is nothing more precious to me than my sense of self and its many people, things and ideas. I fear losing what I have built up across my life because I believe there to be nothing else. We know no relationship with existence. When anything threatens what we have – our sense of self and all that we have built around ourselves – our fear is so acute that we escape into all sorts of illusions and self-deceptions.
We fear pain, death, loneliness, isolation; this feeling of being ostracised, despised and hated. Inwardly we feel inadequate, insignificant. We feel that life lacks meaning. Our response to these stark realities is to undertake activities which keep us occupied and distracted. We have gathered a sense of emptiness inside which frightens us and so we build a wall around ourselves for our own protection, so as not to discover who or what we really are. Pre-occupied with our quest for gratification, a satisfaction in which there is no longer dissatisfaction (in the form of fear and pain), our minds are naturally concerned with the prospect that we may not actually achieve our goals; that we may not gain, that our pleasures will end and what will remain is pain. Our concern to overcome fear is itself a source of fear. All of these are processes of thought. All of these are simply projections of thought, verbalised memory, projections from what is past. This is what drives our daily activity, the fear of inner loneliness and emptiness. Our fear is driving our world.
“If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” Jean Paul Sartre
Why do we fear?
Fear exists because we feel isolated and disconnected from existence; we feel tiny, alone and insignificant. We feel isolated from existence – our existence and the existence of all that is – because we know no relationship with what is. This relationship stems from our attention, because when we give our complete attention to something – like death, loneliness or our sense of inadequacy – we have relationship with its essence, with the actual of what is. In such relationship there is no fear, because we know what is. We fear death because we do not know death. Without our complete attention, we only know ideas around certain facts; we only know our own particular idea about death. We fear loneliness because we do not know loneliness. We have never gone into loneliness and seen that, in essence, loneliness is an illusion, an idea constructed out of thought. We have never gone beyond our own idea of loneliness and embraced the fundamental essence of the inner empty state, which is the freedom of our aloneness. If we know – and fear – these ideas, these thoughts, rather than the actuality of what is, how then can we reach understanding, and freedom?
We fear because we do not give complete attention to fear, we are instead always looking for various escapes. We are always trying to run away from fear, escaping into our various distractions, suppressions or our methods of conquering. These may be news media, TV entertainment or escapes within the process of identification. When you identify with something larger than yourself, like a movement or an ideal (your god, your country, your group, your family, your team, your leader) you forget yourself for a while. All identification aids self-forgetfulness, providing a temporary escape from the pains and struggles of the ‘me’. In identification you temporarily forget your fear. It can be so effective that many of you doubt whether you fear at all. The more this continues, the more you avoid discovering your inner truth and so your fear inevitably deepens. Rather than face our deepening fears, we typically identify even further, as was evident in the response of people in 1930s Germany. We fear because we do not know who we are and many of us are now at the point where we are simply too afraid to find out. We would rather not face our inner truth. Who we think we are is this false entity called ‘me’ that, when you go into it deeply, is completely contrived. It is little more than our reaction to the world, a reaction to all the conditioning processes that began at birth. There is no true individual mind because life exists in relationship to society. Our social conditioning is part of the fabric of who we think we are. Our personality is a reaction to the world. Someone says you are ugly, someone says you are beautiful and, over time, this influences who you think you are. Your life is built in reaction.
Fear is the reaction of a mind looking for security. We all want to return to the security of the womb because inside we feel vulnerable, inadequate, insignificant and isolated. Our defence against these negative feelings is to seek out a state in which inner pain no longer exists. We all want a satisfaction in which there is no longer dissatisfaction; a peace of mind in which all turmoil, conflict and confusion have come to an end. We seek the peace of mind that security brings and our prime method to achieve this is to become something ‘better’ or ‘bigger’ than we are. Our whole idea of fulfilment is a process of psychological time.
Most of us go about this by seeking position, prestige or respect. We have seen that those who are successful in society are treated well and that those who are less successful are left by the wayside, isolated and alone. I am looking for reputation, stature and social standing, and for this am I am prepared to sacrifice the essence of my freedom – which is to simply be and to play here and now – in order to reach my future objective. I live by comparison; I am ‘this’ and I am striving to become ‘that’ because I believe that ‘that’ will bring me fulfilment. All comparison is fear in action, or rather thought in reaction, and these reactions are our strivings to become something better, stronger, more than what we are. When we are pre-occupied with becoming more, there is of course the fear of not achieving our goal, of not gaining; but we don’t see this for we are caught up in our belief that success will bring us security. Society feeds us these beliefs. If you live by comparison and measurement, if you feel the need to prove yourself or adjust yourself constantly, you are acting from fear. You are not being authentic, you are refusing to enter your own underworld and face your inner truth.
We dedicate our lives to achieving our goals and conforming to the various patterns laid down by society. We conform to what the church, the guru, the philosopher, the thinker or even the government have said will bring us ‘freedom’ in the form of spiritual or material fulfilment. As we all conform to similar goals, imitation becomes inevitable. Can you ever come to freedom, can you ever end all fear, through imitation? Is not imitation itself rooted in fear?
What is fear?
My problem of fear exists because I have not given my complete attention to fear. I have instead spent my life trying to escape my fears, undertaking various forms of distraction, suppression, control or discipline. I have failed to understand that, by continually running away from my fear, I am actually feeding it. Caught up in various little escapes trying to solve my problem of fear, I have been distracted from the true nature of fear. I have never questioned what fear actually is. I have only questioned what I fear. Do you see the difference? My life has been preoccupied with the covering up of what I fear, not with the understanding of fear itself. I do not know what fear is. I only know what I fear.
I have translated my fear according to some imported belief or some ideal or some image that I have created, – like ‘the government will protect me’ or ‘God will look after me’. All this has been designed in order to mask and avoid my inner fear. I have not realised that it is these designs – whether imported or my own – that are themselves fear. Fear is the state of mind that exists when we are trying to escape from ‘what is’, from the essence of a fact. It is the process of escaping, our very avoidance of ‘what is’, that is fear.
Fear always rests behind the desire to change. I may believe that, through tradition and conformity, I will find the peace of mind that I seek. What I fail to realise is this: the very nature of seeking and my whole idea of becoming – both rooted in the desire for greater security – are themselves fear. This fear can be translated into a need to live according to a fixed or pre-determined pattern. I become attached to the reward promised for following a particular pattern of living – whether Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. My behaviour and actions are then governed by the prospect that I may fail to reach my desired goal; they are governed by fear, and by greed. My chosen pattern offers a reward, usually packaged as the ending of fear coupled with the deliverance of bliss, and I therefore become attached to reaching it. Because I seek it so much, because I am looking to gain, because I have no humility, I dutifully live by it. I do not stray from what my inward and outward authority tell me that I can and cannot do otherwise I risk failure. When anything thwarts the prospect of my reward the result is one of aggression, which of course breeds conflict. See that those who fear are much easier to control, for they are always anxious not to lose.
If I am always adjusting, correcting or improving myself according to my own ideals or imported blueprints from the outside world, then am I acting from self love and self acceptance or am I acting because I fear and because I am looking to gain? Which is love and which is fear, fear being the movement of the ego to adjust? The need to adjust myself only exists because I have not fully accepted myself, therefore all adjustment can only ever be fear. The essence of love is to know your absolute correctness already, to freely accept yourself as you are without the need to adjust. We only adjust when we seek reward, when we see and follow criteria and condition. Does love contain criteria or condition? Does it? My actions to prevent pain, to live a life of duty, and my need to become something better than I already am, can only ever increase my pain.
To live according to a particular pattern only serves to strengthen that pattern. If the mind is living in a habitual pattern of its own making, following this religious system or that bearded guru, then the pattern itself becomes a cause of fear. Go into it and find out. Be completely honest with yourself. To sublimate, subjugate, modify oneself or divert one’s attention away from ‘what is’, are these not the reactions of fear? The pattern that your life follows – whether of your own making or one that you have imported from outside – is dictated by your thoughts. A mind that is modifying itself according to these dictates, sublimating itself according to some pattern (which it has designed for itself), is a mind which fears failure. You are caught up in the illusion that if you ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’ then you will be free. You have made the ending of fear to be a product of your thinking; you have attached criteria to it. Not only is there now the problem of adjustment there is also the possibility that you may be unsuccessful. All of your actions are rooted in the fear that you may be unsuccessful. Fear exists in the whole process of becoming, in the striving, struggling and disciplining of yourself to be what you would like to be, not what you are. Your ambition and your competitiveness are themselves fear. They are not separate from fear. They are fear. You instead believe that your ambition and competiveness will help you overcome your fear.
The mechanism of the individual against fear is to struggle and it is this struggle that drives society – since the collective is no more than a fractal multiplication of all that takes place at the level of the individual. If you strive but your efforts are thwarted, this leads to resentment, frustration and aggression. The result is anger, selfishness and even hatred. It is the fear at the root of the process of becoming which breeds the selfishness, corruption, misery, inequality and brutality in the world today.
Living according to a particular pattern is a source of fear. All action within a pattern only ever strengthens that pattern, and of course the fear of not living up to the demands of that pattern. Your mind is the pattern and the pattern is your mind. If conforming to a pattern is fear, then the mind itself is fear. The mind is built on fear. If you have heard that the mind is built on desire, consider this: desire is simply a facet of fear. To be free of desire, deal with fear. To be free of fear implies being able to live free from pattern. To break from a pattern by following another pattern is clearly absurd, you have only exchanged one pattern (one attachment, one routine) with another. To break out of living in accordance to a pattern, no matter how mild, one must see the nature of what a pattern is, and understand its entire structure.
Fear is thought; it is the thinking which leads us to follow and conform. All adjustment to change, all adjustment to a pattern, is fear. Patterns can only exist as thought and this thinking is fear. Remember that fear exists in my passage to become something. The very fact that I am constantly measuring and adjusting myself implies that I am seeking a tomorrow about which I can be more certain and more confident. I am looking to preserve myself because I feel weak, I feel vulnerable and at the deeper levels of my mind I don’t want to die. The more I adjust, the more I build a wall of security around myself and behind this wall I feel safer and more confident. My present is the transition of my past to the future, it is my attempt to reach my perfect ideal – an ideal from which I can be more sure of tomorrow. I am doing all of this in my search for some certainty in the future, so that I can alleviate my fear of uncertainty. But can I ever really be sure of tomorrow? Is the future even real? If the nature of reality is impermanent, can I ever build lasting security for tomorrow? It is like trying to build a house in the middle of a free flowing river.
How am I to understand fear and be free of it?
We were asking earlier whether fear exists without something to relate to, without something to fear. Can there just be fear and nothing else, without anything feared; just fear on its own, not what I fear? Fear is a state of mind that only is when we are trying to escape from ‘what is’, from the essence of a fact. Can you look at your fear without trying to escape it? If it is the process of escaping that is the actual cause of fear then, knowing this, can you look at fear without the need to escape, without the need to suppress, justify, condemn, distract or conform to certain patterns? To no longer seek an escape from fear is to end fear.
You fear death because you do not know death. You fear loneliness because you do not know loneliness. What you fear is the idea you have formulated in your mind around death or loneliness; an idea which is constructed out of memory and which is the result of thought. All you know are these ideas you have around loneliness or death, ideas which are just theories or abstractions, so how can you understand the essence of loneliness or death and be free of them? You have translated death or loneliness into your own particular interpretation, based on your memories and thoughts. Through meditation or shamanic practice, you can go headlong into death or loneliness and put aside all of your pre-disposed ideas. If you can do this, you will find that there is nothing to fear. You feared the idea you created in your mind. This image, this thought construction, has become so associated with death or with loneliness in your mind that you do not distinguish between the thing and the idea. The word ‘death’ or ‘loneliness’ stems from your memory (drawn from your knowledge, influences and experience) and it this process – the formation of the word, the idea, as images and associations – that is creating fear. The idea, the image, is drawn from my memory and knowledge, from thinking which, as we have established, is past. All thinking is verbalised thought and verbalisation itself must draw from memory, from the process of the accumulation of language over time. It is my idea of fear that is the actual cause of my fear, for without the idea there is no fear at all.
So fear exists only within thought. Fear is always the result of thought; the result of the ideas, projections and associations drawn from my memory. Without thought there is no fear. If fear is the result of thought drawn from the past, then fear itself must also be past. This is clear when you think about it. If I look into what I fear, that fear is always a projection from my mind, a reaction of my memory in relation to something, a projection of what could happen in the future. When I am facing something directly, there is no fear. It is only when thought starts thinking, having created an idea of itself as a separate entity wishing to move away from the thing that it fears so much, that there is fear. This suggests that to be free of fear one must be free of the process of psychological time, the process of the duality of the observer and observed. This implies understanding the whole machinery and mechanics of thinking, the self and time. Understand these and you will understand fear. Now if I can live totally in the present moment, not reacting to my projections as to what the future should hold (thoughts drawn from my past), surely then there can be freedom from fear?
To live totally in the present moment is to give your complete attention to ‘what is’. Right now nothing is happening, everything is all right and I am not afraid. There is no fear if my attention is here in the present moment. It is when I start thinking about the past or the future that there is fear. Fear is the reaction of thought arising out of the pool of my memory. I am not present if I am caught up in concerns about the past or future. When I have not given my complete attention to ‘what is’ here and now – when I am distracted by thoughts of the future – fear enters. Fear is a state of mind that exists when we are trying to escape from ‘what is’, from the fact of the here and now. It is my inattention towards fear and my motive to escape that fear, breeding further inattention (in my various distractions, suppressions or methods to conquer), which is the very cause of my fear. It is the process of escaping that is fear. When there is attention to a fact – to death, loneliness or inadequacy, for example – is fear real? Fear exists because we are not in relationship with the actual of a fact, we are only in relationship with the ideas we hold around certain facts – ideas that are all drawn from the past. Fear exists in the past or in the future, never in the present moment when there is attention.
Consider a moment of danger. Is there real fear in that moment, or can you simply face the fact of danger as it is? Fear comes into being when thought comes in, when rather than give your full attention to danger, you are instead preoccupied with the movement away from danger, from what you fear. This is what most of us do – involve thought in getting away from that which we fear. When you know death, when you know something of the death experience by going headlong into it without reservation, you will realise that what you fear about death is not the actual of death at all but rather an idea about death which you have formulated in your mind – a formulation which you have been fearing all of your life. So it is your idea and your conclusion about death, rather than the actual of death, which you fear. It is the past, the accumulations of your mind, that you fear. You only ever fear the word, your ideas and conclusions drawn from past memory and knowledge. When there is complete attention, which is to operate free from memory, knowledge, thought and time, there is no fear. You cannot fear without the ideas of memory. If the mind is completely and totally in the present moment, then when faced with the actual of danger there is no fear.
Fear comes into being when, based on an idea from your knowledge, you form a conclusion about something and you wish to run away. You resist and reject the words and ideas that you have created in your mind and it is this that is the basis of your fear. In the absence of conclusion there is no fear. When there is complete attention to the fact – without thought entering the frame – quite a different understanding takes place. The actual of death is really rather extraordinary. At the deepest levels of understanding you already know that you are all existence, that you are ‘all that is’ and that death has no real lasting significance. Human fear rests on the periphery, in the knowledge that we have accumulated about things and our reaction to them. The self is built upon these superficial accumulations and ideas that are not permanent.
Having understood the above, surely our enquiry must then ask why the mind is always thinking in terms of the past or the future. Why is thought, which draws from memory and thus the past, always formulating fears about what could happen in the future? What would happen if I did not formulate these fears? Would the mind stop completely? Would thought stop? It is the nature of thought to give itself an occupation. The ego mind is always seeking continuity, it is petrified of its own annihilation and so it is always looking for something to do. The alternative is for thought, the process of the ego, to end. Thought is by its nature impermanent, therefore it seeks permanence and one mechanism for this is to create worries, problems and anxieties for itself. The mind would rather create fears and problems for itself because to not create such continuity of conflict within equates to its own ending. We are afraid of the emptiness within and so numerous fears and desires are created in order to distract our attention away from the discovery of what is our fundamental truth. We are afraid because this fear allows us to avoid facing who we really are.
Conclusion: Am I separate from my fear?
This question ‘Can there just be fear and nothing else, without anything feared?’ gives us a powerful insight into the true nature of fear. We have established that fear is old, fear is the response of memory and that the mind will, within its various conscious and subconscious layers, create a series of fears in order to keep itself occupied. All fear is the activity of the ‘me’ seeking security because the ‘me’ is activity, the ‘me’ is its own continuity; this is how it feels secure. Fear feeds the momentum of the ego. You can fear death, you can fear loneliness, you can fear being insufficient, you can fear anything; what you fear may change but the nature of fear itself is always the same. It is the same with desire. You can desire pink dresses, you can desire a sports car; what you desire changes but the nature of desire is always the same.
What you fear will always be different but the nature of fear is always the same. You can divide and categorise what you fear – insects, snakes, heights – but you cannot divide fear itself. Fear, like desire, is a single movement of thought, though its expressions can be numerous. When you come to understand that fear is always the same, that there is only one fear, quite a different question presents itself.
The things I fear are things that I perceive to be separate from me. I am this entity who is resisting and rejecting the things I fear. It is the process of my resisting and my rejecting, which manifests as multiple escapes, that is giving me a sense of continuity. The battle between myself and fear – ‘I don’t like the idea of that and so I will resist it’ – is creating this distinction that I am somehow separate from my fear and that I should overcome it, resolve it, control it, conquer it or suppress it. The expressions of fear can be numerous and so to try to address each one in turn could take a very long time indeed. Can I look at fear itself without trying to resolve what I fear? When the mind is not looking for an escape, a way out, a resolution but just looking without there being an objective, only then is it sensitive enough and quiet enough to ask the question: Am I separate from my fear? Or am I – the observer, the thinker, the experiencer – actually fear? Is it my movement, my resistance, away from the things that I fear that is not just the cause but actually is fear? Until I realise that I am fear, that fear is not separate from me, then the whole process of me trying to overcome, suppress or conquer my fear will never cease. I am that which I am trying to overcome. I am chasing my own tail.
When I see that I am fear, not separate from it, then the dual process of the observer and the observed comes to an end. I finally give up trying to conquer my fear, run away from it, suppress it or distract myself from it because I clearly see that it is my running away, my distractions, my suppressions and my movements against what I resist that are my fear. I have not come face to face with fear because fear only exists within my aversions, my escapes. If fear only exists within this dual process of the observer and the observed, within my wish to escape from the observed – which is my idea of fear – then the ending of my wish to escape ends this whole dual process. Fear ceases.
Until I realise this, until I realise that I am fear, I will never learn what it is to live without fear. Fear exists when we reject ‘what is’, when we resist the flow of existence. Fear is the non-acceptance of ‘what is’. When we perceive ‘what is’ without any preference, prejudice or hindrance, without any reaction from the ‘me’ in any way, there is joy. There is no fear.
Understand that fear is you, fear exists only in the escape and you only wish to escape because you have not understood the nature of the thought, existence and time. You therefore seek protection, continuity and self-preservation. It does not matter what you are escaping from, it is the fact that you are escaping that is fear. You can only learn to live with fear when you realise that you are fear, not separate from it. You cannot escape from yourself. You cannot change the fact that you are fear; you are the escape. Understand this and fear comes to an end.
There cannot be adjustment away from fear because fear is the process of adjustment. All adjustment is fear. Adjustment is the non-acceptance of what is, which is fear. Fear is part of the fragmentary process of our thinking; our trying to overcome, trying to resolve, trying to suppress. When that fragmentary process ceases, when you see the totality of fear – not what you fear – the process of adjustment ceases, the process of the self ceases and so fear ends.