The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 18: May 2023

Dear Friends,

The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year in these latitudes. The winter was relatively mild, which helped weather the energy crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine, as we could manage with a significantly lower energy consumption. So perhaps it was to be expected that we might be experiencing the corresponding higher temperatures going forward. Now the scientists are predicting that due to the phenomenon of El Niño, whereby the heat in the waters of the Pacific Ocean is transferred to the atmosphere, 2024 is predicted to be the hottest year on record. This suggests that the processes of global warming and climate change might be already experiencing a accelerating chain reaction. The hundreds of wildfires currently burning in Quebec are another sign of the mounting environmental disaster that our own actions have set in motion. Instead of uniting in the resolution of the great ecological crisis affecting the whole globe, humanity holds on to its national, racial, ideological and cultural divisions, indulging in the old power struggles and the butchery of war. So it would seem that we are nowhere near reaching the global consensus and cooperation needed to tackle the mounting urgency of change. The scientific predictions are dire in their consequences and the combination of knowledge and inaction naturally gives rise to a good deal of apprehension concerning the future, for which the psychologists have coined the term ‘ecoanxiety’. Hope springs eternal, but the odds are not showing any signs of turning in our favour.

One of the dominant factors in our lives is anxiety and fear, not only in relation to the ecological crisis but in just about every aspect of our lives. Fear is closely related to danger and typically manifests as fight, freeze or flight. Fear is an instinctual reaction of physical protection as well as a psychological principle that is closely related to the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. If we pay a little attention to the movement of our own consciousness, we might see that our thoughts turn around three key psychological poles and that each pole comes with its own opposite: the pursuit of pleasure comes with pain; the pursuit of security comes with fear; the pursuit of becoming comes with failure. Although in this set fear is directly associated with security, it is actually involved in all three movements, for we are also afraid of failure and pain. This would suggest that fear runs through the stream of consciousness as we know it, both at its conscious and unconscious levels. So it may hold a key to the understanding of consciousness and its potential transformation.

“Fear can exist only in relationship; fear cannot exist by itself, in isolation. There is no such thing as abstract fear; there is fear of the known or the unknown, fear of what one has done or what one may do; fear of the past or of the future. The relationship between what one is and what one desires to be causes fear. Fear arises when one interprets the fact of what one is in terms of reward and punishment. Fear comes with responsibility and the desire to be free from it. There is fear in the contrast between pain and pleasure. Fear exists in the conflict of the opposites. The worship of success brings the fear of failure. In becoming good, there is the fear of evil; in becoming complete, there is the fear of loneliness; in becoming great, there is the fear of being small. Comparison is not understanding; it is prompted by fear of the unknown in relation to the known. Fear is uncertainty in search of security.
Commentaries on Living, First Series, pg. 148

Fear invariably manifests in relation to something. There is no fear without its object or cause. In one of his public talks K had suggested that each of us might have a dozen fears. In one of my in-person courses, I proposed to test this hypothesis by asking people to write down the dozen fears they might have. Some went beyond that number in no time while others seemed unable to reach it, with one person seemingly unable to list a single instance of fear in his life. This was not because he had no fears, but because he was not in touch with his feelings. So that is the very first thing in facing the fact of fear, namely, to be aware of it. While the objects of fear can be as numerous as the sands of the sea, the primary causes are perhaps not so many. In fact, it may be that it has a single root which, when discovered, might help to eradicate the whole tree of fear that has been growing in the human brain for ages.

One primary object of fear is pain. Physical pain is a nervous response to hurt but psychologically pain arises from attachment to things on which we depend for our security and satisfaction and which we then fear to lose. K points out that we accumulate things, knowledge and beliefs as a means of preventing pain and sorrow, whereas this accumulation is the origin of fear, which is itself pain and sorrow. Security is another fundamental cause in the generation of fear. The more we cling to security, the greater our fear and suffering because life won’t leave us alone. We seek outward security in possessions and relationships, and inward security in ideas and beliefs. Outwardly we set up separate nations with their sovereign governments and armed forces, which leads to conflict and war, which destroy security. Inwardly beliefs and ideas, which are illusory concepts, also divide people and lead to conflict. Outwardly we accumulate things and bring war and inwardly we accumulate knowledge and beliefs and bring pain. Fear and pain are thus inherent to this search for physical and psychologically security, which is no security at all. This whole process involves a radical contradiction, as it defeats its own purpose. Contradiction is one of the causes of conflict, and conflict denies love.
Fear is inherent to the movement of becoming, with its ambition. Even in such virtuous pursuits as becoming good there is the fear of evil and in becoming complete through relationship there is the fear of loneliness. As K says, fear is uncertainty in search of security. Everyone is trying to have more and to become somebody, both outwardly and inwardly. We are encouraged to pursue status and success, behind which there is the fear of failure. Everybody is competing to get to the top and society becomes a constant battle of man against man. In such an atmosphere there is no love or deep understanding. That is why we need to be very alert and to question so we will not be caught in the ugly web of society. That is why it is important to discover one’s true vocation, what one loves to do. In love there is no ambition, competition, fighting others for possession, position and prestige. That is fundamental in the creation of a new world free from its endemic destruction and misery. This is our great responsibility as human beings.

For K the essence of fear is the avoidance or escape from what is. He maintains that there is no fear in complete communion with the fact. The fact is there, and one can deal with it. For example, when we say we are afraid of loneliness, are we afraid of the fact or of the idea? It is the painful associations of the word, the past recognising the situation and projecting the images of thought upon the fact that bring fear about. This prevents direct contact, communion with the fact. Such communion is freedom from fear. This communion is difficult because the mind is quick to identify and label such feelings. So we need to learn to look without naming, interpreting and identification. This is part of the great art of seeing, which is its own action.

Ultimately, we are afraid of not being. The awareness of our inner poverty, emptiness and loneliness generates fear and brings about dependence. There is a natural dependence on things and people, on the organisational side of society for our physical wellbeing and survival. But the awareness of inner emptiness brings about fear, which creates dependence on property, people and beliefs, which brings about the fear of loss. This frantic flight from emptiness prevents our understanding of its real nature. K, however, points out that we cannot be afraid of the unknown, so what we fear is not death or emptiness but to lose the known, i.e., our attachments to things, people and ideas. Impermanence is what is, but we escape from it by seeking security, continuity and permanence. Perceiving its own impermanence, thought projects the thinker, the knower as the permanent. Thus the knower, the thinker, is an escape from the fact of impermanence and, as such, the essence of fear. It is the desire not to see or not to accept what we see that brings on fear. So fear is the ignorance of what is.

As we’ve seen, fear is in every search for security, in every relationship of dependence with physical things and psychological contents. Fear begins and ends with the desire to be secure, to have inward or outward permanence. Outwardly security, however necessary, is precarious. Inwardly there is no security, permanence, and the flight from this reality breeds fear, hope and despair. Thought is the source of fear, pleasure and pain. We fear pain as we fear the ending of pleasure. So pain and pleasure cause fear. The deeper root or cause of fear is in thought and time. Thought it not only its content but the psychological centre it has created. This centre is the origin of fear. With the ending of fear the power to breed illusions ceases and consciousness begins to empty itself. K says that when there is total emptiness, there is complete stillness of time-thought in which the unnameable can come into being.

The topic of fear is rather fascinating. There are so many aspects to it. K accepts it has a right place as the instinctual response of the physical organism to an actual threat. Where he sees the danger of fear is in the self-contradictory movement of thought in its pursuit of security and becoming. This pursuit of security and becoming stem from the avoidance of the facts of impermanence and of inner emptiness. That seems to be the case with every object of fear, which is why the essence of fear is the movement away from what is. Thus we are afraid of loneliness, of emptiness and death, of not being – not because death, emptiness and loneliness are fearful but because of the pain and loss we attribute to them. So fear is fundamentally caused by the associations of the word, which is the movement of thought and time. That movement of escape creates dependence and attachment to things, people and ideas, which we then fear to lose, reinforcing our dependence. This traps consciousness in a vicious circle. So freedom from fear requires an insight into this self-deceptive movement of consciousness, so we may live without illusion, which is without escape and in communion with the love, beauty and intelligence of living with what is.

“Fear does extraordinary things to most of us. It creates all kinds of illusions and problems. Until we go into it very deeply and really understand it, fear will always distort our actions. Fear twists our ideas and makes crooked the ways of our life; it creates barriers between people, and it certainly destroys love. So the more we go into fear, the more we understand and are really free of it, the greater will be our contact with all that is around us. At present our vital contacts with life are very few, are they not? But if we can free ourselves of fear we shall have wide contacts, deep understanding, real sympathy, loving consideration, and great will be the extension of our horizon.”
Life Ahead, pp. 53-54

Be well, amigos, and watch this great tree of fear endarkening the horizon of consciousness.


Photos: Friedrich Grohe: 1. La Videmanette, Rougemont, CH; 2. The Lotus Pond, Chalet Solitude, Rougemont, CH.

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