Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Calling off the war with fear


Rather than going to war with fear – and deeming it a mistake or problem that you must eliminate, transform, or transcend – the invitation is to enter into relationship with it. Fear has been wired into your nervous system for millions of years and is unlikely to be undone in a few decades through spiritual process. You can rest in the strong likelihood that fear may arise most every day for the rest of your life, in some form or another. Welcome. You are alive.

Look very carefully inside your present experience. Is fear a problem? Is the surging of sensation, feeling, and intensity within you something you must continue to argue with, to shame, and to subject to the movement of self-aggression? Must you continue to tell stories about how it is the “opposite” of love (as if love had an “opposite”) and that as soon as you are no longer scared, then you will fully show up and participate in life, in relationship, in your own vulnerability?

Is it actually the appearance of fear that is the cause of your struggle and suffering? That wavelike movement of felt sense as it ripples through your belly, your throat, your chest, and your shoulders? Or is does the struggle emerge from the abandonment and rejection of the life as it moves through you? As well as from the unexamined conclusions that its mere presence is evidence of a problem that must urgently be solved, that there is something wrong with you, and that you have failed?

Yes, fear may be a fierce and burning companion, but it is not an enemy that has come from the outside. It is a lost part of you that is requesting your attention, arising in the radiant here and now to reveal something that you have lost contact with.

With practice, it is possible to enter inside your fear, and to infuse it with your presence, with your tenderness, your curiosity, and your warmth. To even open your heart to your fear, to become friends with your fear. Of course, this is a radical invitation that the mind may have a difficult time embracing. It is also one that may not go over so well in a culture that has abandoned the shadow in its scramble to get to “happiness” at all costs.

But as an act of self-love, you can start to open into your fear. First, drop the word “fear” as it can never touch the unprecedented movement of energy and color within you. Surround it with your awareness. And start to move just a bit closer. And see. Close enough to start becoming intimate with this part of you, but not so close that you fuse and identify with it as who you are, or overwhelm yourself. Slowly. Short periods of time. One second, Two seconds. Three seconds. And rest. And then maybe next time for four or five. Then rest. 

You might then come to discover that the movement of energy that we call “fear” is not an adversary, working against you, but actually an ally, sent to bring you closer to yourself, and to reveal wholeness.

You can call off the war and put down your weapons of dissociation, aggressiveness, and abandonment of what is. Reality will appear at times as fear, for even fear is a tool of skillful means in the arsenal of love as it has its way here. Slow down. Say yes to what is and it will liberate in front of your eyes. There is no enemy here. There is nothing working against you. Only further revelation. The path is everywhere.


4 comments:

  1. Matt, before sharing my reaction to this I want to first say that I feel blessed to have stumbled across your work. It feels deeply important and unprecedentedly compelling. I'm eating up your ideas with great enthusiasm, gratitude and endless curiosity.

    I also have an intellectual side that is quite introspective about ideas and concepts, emotions, etc. It is from this place that I react critically to your ideas, as a means of fleshing out some kind of ideological incongruence between you and I. I hope my critical engagement with you here and in other posts is as meaningful to you as it is to me.

    With respect to this particular post on fear:
    While I agree with the invitation to befriend fear by seeing that it is not an adversary from the outside, that its intention is to alert you to something, and thus ought to be accepted and welcomed in, I think there's more to say here.

    For some, perhaps entering into the fear is enough to bring about the peace of mind they're looking for. The radical acceptance, the laying down of the arms and surrendering, yes these things can be good.

    But what about for the individual whose incessant fear is driven by suppressed anger? What if, for that individual, the most effective and nourishing response is, in addition to accepting fear's presence, getting angry. I've seen this happen first hand. The nonstop fear alarm that many simply label "chronic anxiety" may, for some, point to a disconnection from anger. What is the true remedy to fear? My experience tells me it's anger/protection. Sometimes acceptance is not enough. When anger is inaccessible, there is a lack of protection, a sense that safety is not near. When a person starts to enter into a deeper relationship with suppressed anger, all of a sudden the means of protection is there once again, and in comes the feeling of safety. When suppressed anger becomes expressed, it's as though a sharp sword has been put back in your hands whereas before you were attempting to fight a monster with your bare hands.

    I disagree with the invitation in that it seems to reject anger/aggression as a means of transforming fear. I think if a person learns how to accept an emotion without identifying with it, there's nothing wrong with then seeking to transform it. Anger has been a potent protector of mine and any response to fear that doesn't involve some degree of protection strikes me as a little too vulnerable, temporary, fleeting. Anger and the protection it brings is long lasting, filled with energy.

    Where do you stand on these ideas?
    Were you referring to a particular kind of fear? Isn't fear a bit more nuanced in the form it takes? Can't you go to war with fear and also not see it as a problem?

    Is the intention not to transform fear when you decide to enter into it? There must be some intention. Is there some paradox you are referring to here? Where as soon as we stop resisting fear, it ceases to be the adversary? But where does that leave us? What if the surrendering and the stopping of resistance does not actually lead to any sort of relief from suffering? Do we just endure the painfulness of fear as long as it occupies us simply because seeking happiness and the transformation of uncomfortable states of mind is too American and consumerist?

    I know I've thrown a lot at you here, and I welcome you to tell me this is or is not the place for this kind of dialogue. It's harder to get you to engage with me on Facebook so here I am on your blog.

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    1. Hi Paley, it’s nice to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to share your experience with me (and others). My apologies for missing you on Facebook. Unfortunately I am inundated in correspondence right now (and family matters) and simply cannot keep up with it all. A few comments embedded below, just off the top of my head…. I wish I had a bit more time to engage. Take care.

      While I agree with the invitation to befriend fear by seeing that it is not an adversary from the outside, that its intention is to alert you to something, and thus ought to be accepted and welcomed in, I think there's more to say here. I AGREE, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO SAY. MY POSTS ARE VERY PARTIAL, AND USUALLY COME OUT OF A VERY SPECIFIC CONVERSATION I’VE HAD WITH SOMEONE, ABOUT A PARTICULAR SITUATION THAT HAS COME UP FOR THEM. OFTEN MY POSTS ARE MEANT TO BE VERY GENERAL, AND FOR ME ANYWAY SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT ALWAYS THE BEST PLACE TO BE TOO NUANCED (I TEND TO DO THAT IN PERSON).

      For some, perhaps entering into the fear is enough to bring about the peace of mind they're looking for. The radical acceptance, the laying down of the arms and surrendering, yes these things can be good.

      But what about for the individual whose incessant fear is driven by suppressed anger? What if, for that individual, the most effective and nourishing response is, in addition to accepting fear's presence, getting angry.

      I AM A HUGE FAN OF A PERSON MOVING TOWARD THEIR ANGER AND EXPLORING IT AND GETTING TO KNOW IT, INCLUDING THE EXPRESSION OF IN SOME CASES. IN LARGE PART MUCH OF MY DISSERTATION EXPLORED THE IMPORTANCE OF A DIRECT RELATIONSHIP WITH ANGER AND THE SHADOWS OF A CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUALITY WHICH PATHOLOGIZES IT. AT OTHER TIMES, I HAVE FOUND THAT THE NEED TO “EXPRESS” ONE’S ANGER CAN BE SERVING A DEFENSIVE FUNCTION, AND WHILE IT MAY LOOK LIKE EXPRESSING ANGER IS A WAY TO GET “CLOSER IN TOUCH WITH IT,” IT IS ACTUALLY DOING QUITE THE OPPOSITE. MEANING, THE BEHAVIORAL ACTING OUT OF ANGER CAN BE A WAY TO FURTHER ABANDON OURSSELVES AND THE SENSATIONS AND FEELINGS THAT ARE ALIVE IN OUR BODIES AND PSYCHES. WE HAVE TO LOOK FOR OURSELVES AND SEE. A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH ANGER AND AGGRESSIVE ENERGY IS CRITICAL AND ULTIMATELY AN ACT OF LOVE THE WAY I SEE IT.

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    2. I've seen this happen first hand. The nonstop fear alarm that many simply label "chronic anxiety" may, for some, point to a disconnection from anger. What is the true remedy to fear? My experience tells me it's anger/protection. Sometimes acceptance is not enough. When anger is inaccessible, there is a lack of protection, a sense that safety is not near. When a person starts to enter into a deeper relationship with suppressed anger, all of a sudden the means of protection is there once again, and in comes the feeling of safety. When suppressed anger becomes expressed, it's as though a sharp sword has been put back in your hands whereas before you were attempting to fight a monster with your bare hands.

      I APPRECIATE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING HERE. IF A PERSON HAS A DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY OF SUPPRESSING ANGER, I WOULD VERY MUCH WANT TO HELP THEM COME BACK INTO EXPRESSING THIS ANGER, ASSERTING THEIR NEEDS, BOUNDARIES, SAYING NO, ENTER INTO CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT, ETC. THIS IS CRITICAL.

      I disagree with the invitation in that it seems to reject anger/aggression as a means of transforming fear.

      I WOULD NEVER, EVER REJECT ONE’S FEELINGS OF ANGER OR AGGRESSION. A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH ANGER OR AGGRESSION IS NON-NEGOTIABLE ON THE PATH, THE WAY I SEE IT. THAT DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN, HOWEVER, ACTING OUT ONE’S ANGER AT A BEHAVIORAL LEVEL, FOR REASONS MENTIONED EARLIER. THERE ARE TIMES, HOWEVER, WHEN SUCH ACTING OUT IS SKILLFUL AND HELPFUL. BOTH CAN BE HELPFUL, DEPENDING ON THE PERSON, THEIR DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY, HISTORIC CORE VULNERABILTIES, ATTACHMENT ORIENTATIONS, ETC. ‘BOTH’ MEANING AT TIMES TO EXPRESS WHAT IS THERE AND AT OTHER TIMES TO EXPERIENCE IT WITHOUT NEEDING TO FOLLOW THE IMPULSE TO EXPRESS IT. BOTH CONTAIN VERY RICH INFORMATION.

      I think if a person learns how to accept an emotion without identifying with it, there's nothing wrong with then seeking to transform it. Anger has been a potent protector of mine and any response to fear that doesn't involve some degree of protection strikes me as a little too vulnerable, temporary, fleeting. Anger and the protection it brings is long lasting, filled with energy.

      AGAIN, I AM A HUGE FAN OF OWNING AND MOVING TOWARD AND WORKING WITH AND INTEGRATING OUR ANGER, AND FEEL THAT ITS REJECTION IN CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUALITY HAS TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES. IF YOU FEEL DRAWN TO TRANSFORM A PARTICULAR EMOTION, THEN I WOULD HONOR THIS CALL WITHIN YOU. IN MY EXPERIENCE, THE INTENTION BY MOVING TOWARD IT IS NOT TO TRANSFORM IT, BUT TO GET TO KNOW IT, TO BECOME INTIMATE WITH IT, TO BEFRIEND IT, TO LEARN FROM IT, TO LISTEN TO THE UNFOLDING NARRATIVE WHICH HAS WRAPPED AROUND IT, TO COME CLOSER TO THE FELT SENSE IN THE BODY, THE RAW SENSATIONS, ETC. EMOTIONS ARE INTELLIGENT, EVEN FEAR, EVEN ANGER AND IN THE DIRECT PENETRATION OF THEM THEIR WISDOM CAN BE REVEALED. AND THAT WE NEED NOT “LET GO OF THEM” IN THE SENSE OF TRANSFORMATION, BUT THEY WILL LET GO OF US (OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM BECOMES MORE FLEXIBLE AND OPEN AND WE CAN USE THESE ENERGIES TO HELP US LEARN MORE ABOUT OURSELVES AND TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS) IN DIRECT APPREHENSION. BUT THIS IS JUST MY TAKE, BROTHER, AND HOW I WAS TRAINED, ORIGINALLY IN THE VAJRAYANA TRADITION, WHICH SEES EMOTIONS AS PORTALS AND CONTAINERS OF WISDOM. WE COULD ALSO BE GETTING CAUGHT UP A BIT HERE IN SEMANTICS. I AM CERTAINLY NOT ADVOCATING BECOMING SOME VICTIM TO INTENSE EMOTION AND JUST WALLOWING AND SUFFERING IN THEM IN THE NAME OF JUST ‘ACCEPTING THEM AS THEY ARE.’ THERE ARE CLEARLY TIMES WHEN OUR NON-ACCEPTANCE CAN BE SKILLFUL, INTELLIGENT, AND A GREAT ACT OF INTELLIGENCE AND CREATIVITY. I AM NOT CLAIMING THIS TO BE OBJECTIVELY TRUE OR IN LINE OR RESONANT WITH OTHERS’ EXPERIENCES. BY ALL MEANS, IF YOU FEEL CALLED TO TRANSFORM YOUR EMOTIONS, PLEASE DO SO.

      ...continued

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    3. Where do you stand on these ideas?
      Were you referring to a particular kind of fear? Isn't fear a bit more nuanced in the form it takes? Can't you go to war with fear and also not see it as a problem? YOU WOULD HAVE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION, I DO NOT KNOW. I HAVE NO INTEREST IN GOING TO WAR WITH PARTS OF MYSELF SO COULD NOT ANSWER THAT FOR YOU. BUT I WOULD THINK IT WOULD BE THEORETICALLY POSSIBLE, YES!

      Is the intention not to transform fear when you decide to enter into it? NOT MINE.
      There must be some intention. THE INTENTION IS THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, CURIOSITY, NOT TRANSFORMATION, BUT THAT IS JUST ME. I APPRECIATE IF OTHERS HAVE DIFFERENT INTENTIONS, ABSOLUTELY. I DON’T WANT TO GET RID OF MY FEAR OR MY ANGER OR TRANSFORM IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE. I WANT TO COME CLOSER TO IT AND KNOW IT AND PROVIDE A HOME FOR IT AND SEND MY ESSENCE INSIDE IT AND SEE IT. BUT AGAIN THAT IS JUST ME. THIS IS NOT ANY SORT OF CLAIM OF WHAT IS MOST TRUE OR RIGHT OR BEST FOR ANOTHER. I AGREE WITH YOU THE IMPORTANCE OF INTENTION AND CLARIFYING THIS. Is there some paradox you are referring to here? ALWAYS PARADOX. Where as soon as we stop resisting fear, it ceases to be the adversary? THAT CAN HAPPEN, BUT DOES NOT ALWAYS HAPPEN. IN MY EXPERIENCE WE CANNOT FULLY EXPLORE AND EMOTION AND ITS MULTI-DIMENSIONALITY IF OUR SOLE AGENDA IS TO GET RID OF IT. WE HAVE TO APPROACH DISTURBING EMOTIONS IN STAGES, IN MY EXPERIENCE. FIRST A SIMPLE RECOGNITION OF WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, THEN WE CAN GRADUALLY BEGIN TO TOLERATE IT, THEN TO CONTAIN IT, AND THEN TO OPEN INTO IT, IF WE ARE INTERESTED IN THOSE THINGS. IF WE ARE NOT, THEN WE COULD APPLY OTHER STRATEGIES TO EXPRESS THEM OR TRANSFORM THEM OR SHIFT OR CHANGE THEM. ALL GOOD.
      But where does that leave us? What if the surrendering and the stopping of resistance does not actually lead to any sort of relief from suffering? Do we just endure the painfulness of fear as long as it occupies us simply because seeking happiness and the transformation of uncomfortable states of mind is too American and consumerist? IN MY EXPERIENCE THERE IS NO SUFFERING INHERENT IN THE MOVEMENT/ APPEARNACE OF THE SENSATIONS/ NARRATIVES/ FEELINGS/ FELT SENSES THAT WE CALL FEAR. WHEN FEAR IS EXPERIENCED DIRECTLY, WITHOUT THE CONDITIONED EMOTIONAL CONCLUSIONS ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS ABOUT US, HOW WE’VE FAILED, ETC. IT CAN BE VERY INTENSE, YES, BUT THE SUFFERING IS IN THE MOVEMENT AWAY FROM THE FEAR, AND EMBEDDED IN THE LARGELY UNCONSCIOUS ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES THAT ARE WRAPPED AROUND CERTAIN EMOTIONS AND THE MEANING WE HAVE COME TO MAKE OF THEM. IN MY EXPERIENCE OUR FREEDOM IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON WHETHER A WAVE OF FEAR ARISES OR NOT IN THE BODY, THE PSYCHE, THE NERVOUS SYSTEM. THE FREEDOM IS NOT FROM THE FEAR, BUT IN IT. AGAIN, JUST MY VIEW. IF YOU FEEL CALLED TO TRANSFORM THE FEAR OR ANGER, OR SHIFT IT OR CHANGE IT OR GET RID OF IT, OR EXPRESS IT, I WOULD TRUST THAT, AND WORK TOWARD THAT END. I APPRECIATE THAT.

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