This post is an attempt to explain why I’m a dedicated follower of fear. For as long as I can remember (and that’s probably way further than your lifespan dear reader), I’ve been keenly curious and unafraid of a good adventure. So it’s surprising that I was so slow to arrive at the threshold of my body’s dark knowledge. Needless to say, the Shadowlands had good reason to be well-hidden from my agenda…
But once the bellyflop into the deep occurred, the implications of the free-fall of fifteen years ago could at last percolate down and settle in the cells. I am writing this in the midst of another dive – a somatic meditation retreat, which I think of as a pre-death trauma detox. For the most part I’m avoiding the screen, but this pressed to be posted.
We hear it so often: To be happy, to be spiritually liberated, to be … (insert personal agenda), we must choose between love and fear. And the ominously silent insinuation is that choosing fear is definitely not the way to go.
My platitude-sensitive antenna start to hum; a dictum like this is demands scrutiny.
A good place to start is by being clear about what one actually is, i.e. the nature of one who could claim to make such a choice. If there’s still a belief in a separate, solid-state self, (which is a bit like admitting that you believe the world is flat and climate change is a myth), then you’ll believe there’s someone who can make a choice of this kind. You’ll believe that this mental object called “me” can adroitly and wisely select between other mental objects (fear and love) in order to become a happier mental object. To the imagined self – the chooser – love and fear are inescapably conceptual. And what follows won’t make a smidgin of sense. (Click X now.)
However, if you’ve sniffed out the falsity of an independent me thing, you’ll find it slightly incoherent that these two concepts, with their inherent duality, are so commonly presented as an either-or option. It sounds like an invitation to reconstruct a fresh version of a self – one that will either make the right choice (good work!) or get it wrong (see how hopeless you are?). You’d be right to want to sniff out the truth of the matter.
Let’s start with love. Having experienced the mind-shattering absence of anything that could exist as an independent ghost-in-the-machine, you’ve already noticed the sweetness, the benevolence that floods into the space vacated by that phantom. You’ve realised that that very sweetness is the Love (big L) you always imagined was elsewhere. (Hiding behind the façade of your spiritual teacher, your partner, your lover; waiting at the end of your seeking, your arduous practice-project…) You’ve woken up to the fact that it’s always been there; that it’s your inescapable fundamental state and that it has no opposite, only a limitless wardrobe of apparent disguises.
Repeat – Love has no opposite.
Which means: Fear is not the opposite of, nor an alternative to, Love.
So let’s look at fear. We’re told that humans are born with just two innate, hard-wired fears: fear of falling, and fear of sudden loud noises. All other fears are learned, and these are the ones I speak of here. I’m not talking about natural, normal reactions to any kind of physical danger.
I experience psychological fear as a contraction within my body. It’s a tension, a more or less subtle holding-on – sometimes so subtle that it escapes awareness – those who have encountered the consequences of heart tension know about this.
Unlike the changeless Love discussed above, which isn’t an experience but the space in which experiences arise, any experience will always have an opposite. If the cramping experience had an opposite, what might it be? Wouldn’t it be the absence of any contraction triggered by recent or ancient memory? Wouldn’t it be an open and accepting gesture towards my life? Towards whatever the universe is throwing in my face right this minute – regardless of how it conflicts with my stitched-together idea of how it should be?
Fear is a re-action posing as a new sensation. When I learned that after the age of six or seven we never experience a new emotion, but endlessly experience a replay of those established in infant-hood – albeit dressed up in fresh scenarios – I was shocked. I realised that since I’m well over the age of six, any experience of fear will always be a re-action. A re-enactment.
Another shocker came with this: 98% of what the body knows is unavailable to our conscious awareness. Meaning that – for the most part – I don’t know what I’m afraid of and why. Which makes it tricky to talk about “not choosing fear” – let alone being “honest” with myself. Gulp.
The primal imprints of my early experience were laid down in the cells long before there were words to describe anything, and proceed to map out my experience, decade after decade. Without my conscious awareness having a clue.
And so it goes for all of us. Until something moves us to inquire.
What moves us?
Since we’ve awakened to our abiding nature as Love, we must concede that Love moves Itself.
There’s nothing personal involved: It happens by itself. It happens for itself. And it happens exactly when It wants to.
It delivers an impeccable invitation to enter into an unabridged encounter with things we’ve been working all our life to avoid because the associated pain was/is unbearable.
If fear is in my face it’s because Love is fishing for a lost child’s pain – a pain unique to this matrix of experience and potential, yet universal to all humanity. And since Love is inescapably present as the shining awareness that knows my fear, I can turn towards this fear (or grief, or rage) without ever leaving Love.
I say, “Welcome!” to fear. I plump up a cushion for it in my heart. I stop.
I notice the instant impulse to act out habitual, conditioned re-actions. I desist – or at least press the pause button. I’m interested; having been informed that we are ignorant of the knowledge hidden in the cells, I’m curious. Who wouldn’t want to explore?
I turn towards the sensation that is visiting me – in dreams, meditation and daily interactions. I turn my breath, my awareness, my sensitivity and my curiosity its way. I don’t give it the label “fear” or spell out a story about it. I refuse to be tempted to fix it or lean into it or accept it or imagine any outcome.
So here I am, just looking, with the impartial gaze of whole-body awareness. As though I’m looking through the eyeballs of each of the 37.2 trillion cells in my body.
I watch what happens. I pay attention when those long-stifled echoes from the emptiness of my body begin to whisper.
Love clears its throat. And when it knows I’m truly committed (not furtively checking out the exits) it speaks loud and clear. Its language is felt rather than heard, sensed rather than known. It reorganises this neurological field and in so doing recreates my relationship to the world.
And further – since it’s evident that my body has no borders – it completely recasts my relationship with and as the Cosmos. Slowly but surely, I come to view this work as an offering made by the Cosmos for the benefit of one’s fellow-beings, the Earth, and the Cosmos itself.
Out of my mind
and into the star-stuff of my cells
I’ll follow the angel called fear
so resplendent in her costume
from Love’s limitless wardrobe.
The angel called fear.
Image: Frederick Walker, The Woman in White, 1871, gouache on paper. Tate London