November 6, 2007

Why Fear Isn't Real

I bought a bicycle the other day. I haven't ridden in many years, so I didn't think about such things as, "Santa Cruz is hilly, and bikes go very fast downhill." The bicycle is very basic; no bells and whistles, and it has only foot brakes, which, as I discovered, are no good at all downhill, and I don't have the world's greatest sense of balance. In addition, at 5'2", my feet don't quite touch the ground on a 26" bike, even with the seat lowered all the way down.

As I was catapulting down what has always seemed, by foot, like an innocuous incline, my mind entertained thoughts like, "I'm going to fall." "I'm going to crash into something." "I'll be injured." "I'll injure someone." "This isn't safe." All thoughts of a nonexistent future, and, when believed, very frightening.

There were thoughts of the past as well. "They should have sold me a better bike." "I made a mistake." "I am too clumsy to ride." "Accidents are always terrible." These in themselves were not frightening thoughts; however, they were circumstantial evidence that bolstered my fearful, future beliefs.

The good news is, it's impossible for fear to be about anything real. Fear is the story of a future, always. And, if you've noticed, the future doesn't exist. So there's nothing to be frightened of.

This is "Quantum Physics 101." It's even "Spirituality for Beginners." Many of us "know" this, intellectually. Why, then, do we fear? Because very few, if any, of us live with present-moment awareness all the time. As illustrated above, I sure don't.

I experienced my first California earthquake last week. I haven't been afraid of earthquakes, because I've had no personal reference for them, other than a little bitty wall-shaker in New York City back in the early 1980s. I'm told there are little quakes all the time in California, and mostly we don't notice them. You can't feel a small one happening if, for example, you're riding in a car and the road doesn't buckle. You might notice a slight tugging, as if you have a flat tire, but otherwise life goes on, the birds sing, the dishes don't fall out of the cabinet.

At 5.6 on the Richter scale, this quake registered as "moderate," and we all felt it here in Santa Cruz even though the epicenter was northwest of San Jose, some distance away. Before I realized it was an earthquake, I had no fear at all. I thought my neighbor upstairs had overturned over a bookcase or something! My thoughts, after the fact--about things like potential aftershock (and possible loss, damage, costs, injury)--were much more frightening than the quake itself, which was over in seconds. Once the thoughts kicked in, the body went into fear response: numbness in the extremities, pacing, loss of appetite. It didn't last, because I have some practice in noticing the thoughts that give rise to the reactions.

I've noticed a belief that the worst thing that could happen to me, or another, is death..which is the one future thought that is a guarantee. Nobody makes it out of here alive. What's truer is, the worst thing that could happen is a stressful thought about that death. Our fears about it can never be the truth. We can't know we won't be okay.

All fear is the fear of death: death of the body, death of the dream, death of the ego. When I noticed was that I was very much alive and well, and that I could neither know anything about nor control a nonexistent future, my fear disappeared, and I had a late lunch. I even got some sleep last night, even while my thoughts said, "Hey! Look at me! Possible aftershocks!" "We'll talk about it in the morning," I told them, "If we're still interested." (We weren't. There were other things on my mind, such as the imminent spraying of carcinogenic pesticides on Santa Cruz County, and whether or not I was ever going to get my thoughts and notes together in time for my upcoming classes.)

I continue to question what I believe, because I want to know that all is well in my last moments of life, whenever they are. They could be now, for all I know...and if that thought frightens me, it takes me away from living; I am dead already. The worst that could happen is happening already when we attach to our stressful thoughts: a fearful end to life.

Questioning and understanding fears means to have the presence of mind to live fearlessly. This doesn't mean you won't equip your bike with hand brakes, or that you'll blow your retirement account on a fancy car because there's no future. For this reason, some people are reluctant to question fearful thoughts; it's as if the thought itself were some sort of protection against disaster, and if we weren't fearful, we'd be inviting calamity. If you've noticed, "disaster" happens, whether we fear it or not.

I'm enjoying immensely my cute new bike helmet, which is white with magenta pikake flowers. It's supposed to protect me against some terrible head injury that could happen, but I don't think about head injury when I put it on. Similarly, now that I've done some inquiry about my bike not being safe to ride, I'm loving the thought of getting hand brakes so that I can ride with fewer restrictions. That's different from doing it because something terrible could happen if I don't.

I like having a retirement account; it feels right to me. However, I get nuts when I think the retirement account won't be enough, or that I need it at all. See the difference?

Based on these glimpses of "all is well, until I say otherwise," it seems to me that it is entirely possible to live a practical, sensible life without being ruled by fear. In fact, I'd say that's the only way to live a life that's truly sensible, practical, and loving.

That's what's real; not fear.

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: "Yeah, But...My Fear Is Real."

1. Write down your worst fear of the future, the one you really believe and don't want to work on because you KNOW it's true! Write it with this sentence construction: "I am afraid of ______ , because ______ ."

Example: Highway 17 is the commuter road that takes you out of Santa Cruz, California and "over the hill" towards San Jose. Many people really hate driving on the 17 because it is narrow, often congested, and has numerous hairpin turns and blind spots. Accidents are fairly common on this road.

So you might think, "I am afraid of driving on Highway 17, because I could have a terrible accident." (Possible proofs of truth: I'm a new driver; my car's too old; other drivers are careless, don't look, don't obey the speed limit; I had a bad accident on the 17 once before; my best friend died on that road; etc.)

2. Look at the statement you've written, and circle the fear itself.

Example: "I could have a terrible accident."

We're not going to question this belief just now, or the "proof" of its validity. Let's assume it's "true."

3. Now ask yourself:

What's the worst that could happen if your fear of the future came to pass?

If there's more than one "worst" thing, make a list. Depending on the fear you're writing about, your answers might look like some of these:

* I'll lose my relationship.
* I'll be homeless.
* My family will suffer.
* I'll total the car.
* I'll lose my job.
* I won't have enough money when I'm old.
* I'll hate myself.
* Everyone will be angry with me.
* I'll be disabled.
* I'll die.
* I'll be in anguish forever.
* My reputation will be ruined.
* I'll cause harm.
* God won't forgive me.

Your list will reveal more "future" to you...and more beliefs to work on. Good! Beginning with the one that scares you the most, hold each stressful belief up against the four questions and turnaround of The Work. Explore how you might live your life differently (in actuality, or even just mentally, as you may not need to change a thing that you're doing.) Discover what's real for you, in this moment, now. Is there any fear in it?

"The fear of death is the last smokescreen for the fear of love."--Byron Katie, Chapter 12, "Making Friends with the Worst That Can Happen," from Loving What Is

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

1 comment:

Brian Adler said...

I had a related insight recently..That no one experiences death. If we are experiencing, then death hasn't occurred yet. SO we don't ever experience death.

At first I thought that this only referred to death of the body. But then I saw that it referred to death of whatever in that it's only stressful if it hasn't happened. Once a dream or goal for example is dead, then it's death can't be a fearful thought because it's gone. You only fear losing what you still have. Once it's really gone and you know it's gone, it's not stressful. A stressful thought of something being gone would have to include some hope that it will return (which would mean it isn't really dead)...