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The Scary Thing About Fear

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - June 2023

Newsletter - 6.23
Download PDF • 190KB

“You create your own version of reality inside your head … and then you listen to it.” – Michael Singer, in The Untethered Soul

Early humans faced dangers at every turn. With un-certainty the only certainty and without today’s conveniences, they lived in keen awareness of their environment. When the inevitable tiger came from behind a tree – again –the unconscious mind took over, reacting quickly with its “programmed response” to repeated dangers, thereby avoiding the conscious process of “trying to figure things out.” Retreat to [perceived] safety was nearly automatic.

The miracle of human evolution, however, is the conscious mind. The conscious mind allows us to solve problems, reflect on the meaning of the past, contemplate the potential of the present, choose the course of the future – even live life as a grand adventure into the unknown. In simpler (ancient) times, these minds may have found balance: check for tigers, then design a tool.

But we have a problem today, one evolution didn’t count on. We’ve been “taught” to view thoughts as dangers (I’m not good enough; life is uncertain; those people scare me). So the unconscious kicks in, steering us to [perceived] safety. Perceived safety from what … a thought? Thoughts are everywhere. So repeated exposure to “thoughts as dangers” puts the unconscious on overload. With survival more important than creative genius, we risk living full-time in the unconscious mind, just responding to such threats. But … the unconscious cannot discern truth; it sees repetition as validity. The conscious mind could easily get us beyond this (it loves thoughts!), but it’s been put on hold by the more pressing, yet misdirected, response to false danger signals.

If we’re reacting (unconsciously), we can’t be thinking (consciously). So, despite the limitless power held by the conscious mind, it’s not available when we need it most. And … we miss that this is happening, because we can’t imagine we’re not thinking! And why not? It’s all we know. My mind is full; it’s filled with thoughts; obviously they’re my thoughts; therefore, I must be thinking. We may even deny this could apply to us. It does.

Extremist politics exhibits this issue painfully well. Let’s say someone claims one of their own [learned, adopted, unexamined] beliefs/dangers/fears: “Anything/anyone unlike me is a threat.” (This is simply a thought). Then they create a story about it that stokes fear in others: “People like them are going to destroy the world for people like us.” They repeat the story – loud and often. Then they offer what they claim is a solution: “Exclude anyone different from ‘us.’” Now … It doesn’t matter that the solution has neither substance, merit nor efficacy, as those can be evaluated only by the conscious mind – which isn’t working! It doesn’t matter that the threat itself has no evidence of validity. Oblivious to both, we believe it all, without a single step toward conscious thought. This is how conspiracy theories take hold, how the “politics of fear” gains appeal, how the gap between rational thought and emotional reaction grows, how we lose our grasp on reality, and how fear-mongers wield illegitimate power. Confused, unaware, afraid to admit we’re afraid, we’re even less capable of stepping back to think logically. All along, the unconscious simply believes that opinions of others, repeated often and loudly, constitute real danger and evidence of truth. The conscious mind may be screaming “illusion,” yet it goes unheard; it has been hijacked.

We face wildly complex issues today – in health care, privacy, equality, climate, education, economy, environment. Solutions touch every aspect of society – science, law, business, ethics, economics, politics. There’s no one right answer or complete truth to any of them; we can’t know it all. Besides, “truth” changes as we learn. But fear-based response (blame, hatred, denial, exclusion) leads only backwards, into fear. Despite the wiring of the unconscious, compelling falsehoods are not safer than complex truths. The path forward asks us to nurture our capacity for conscious thought back into being. And that begins with awareness … just enough at first to see the illusion fear creates. The conscious mind awakens, and reflects on what’s going on, perhaps replacing old lessons about what we think with new ones about how we think … thereby reclaiming the amazing capacity evolution has given us.

Exercise: From fear to creative genius: Think of your experience as you ponder this: With “uncertainty as threat” everywhere, this month’s article explains … why we like to listen to people who agree with us … why we tend to believe what makes us feel better over what’s (uncomfortably) true… why we often deny information that doesn’t fit what we already believe ... why we like to think that we’ve thought everything through to the point of certainty ... why we’re hooked more easily by drama than by facts … why we judge, blame and distance ourselves from what isn’t ourselves … and why we claim none of these are true! It all just feels safer. It’s not. Lost in its grasp, however, we miss even that. The fear-mongers are lost in this loop, too – oblivious! And worse, they’re using their own fear response to wield power over others – actually, over others’ fears!

There must be a way to “catch the unconscious mind in the act,” the act of hijacking rational thought process and blocking our innate ability to make choices that serve us, and others, well. There’s only one missing ingredient here: conscious awareness. Simple, right? We get more conscious and become more aware. Except … why would we? We believe we already are. We believe we have “evidence” for our claims. We may even feel self-righteous in our justification. We think those who see and think clearly and objectively are trying to deny us our “rights.” We can’t imagine we’ve fallen for an illusion, and may outright deny this is so. Even if we could imagine it, we’d still pretend we’re right if only to not admit being wrong. Although both society’s messages and the unconscious mind lead us to the illusion of truth, that’s vastly different from truth. Ok, so maybe it’s not that simple.

If you’ve been lost in the illusion outlined above, it’s unlikely you’d know. So it’s unlikely you’d be reading this. But maybe you are. Or maybe there are cracks in the armor of your defensiveness. Or maybe the bucket of your opinions springs a leak. Or maybe you discover one thing you “knew” really isn’t. Or maybe a few of those you support head down a different road. Or maybe for ‘fun’ you explore a new information source. Maybe one day, you start asking a new question, like “what’s going on here, anyway?” And you follow the threads of your question back to the basics, holding your fixed beliefs and conclusions in abeyance … just for long enough … to stop for long enough … to be with yourself for long enough ... to gain awareness of what is objectively true inside your thinking ... in this moment. Awareness alone opens you to new ideas.

Are you willing/courageous enough to do that?

Life Lessons from Nature: Nature tries stuff out. If it works, she makes more; if not, she moves on. Sustainability (4 billion years of experience) depends on 1) viewing uncertainty as opportunity (there is no opportunity without it), 2) unbridled creativity (keep trying stuff out), 3) being attuned to what is (listen to feedback) and 4) avoiding single points of failure (variety and uncertainty ensure this). Nature’s way is paved with connectedness, diversity and collaboration … not separateness, judgment and exclusion. Like it or not, our sustainability depends on these very same principles. Can we remember? Can we listen? Can we learn? Can we adapt?

Book of the month:The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer.In a simple, yet elegant way, Singer opens the door to freeing the mind of its constant, negative, life-limiting chatter and fear-response, offering practical explanations and suggestions for releasing our unconscious attachment to the mind’s drama.I love this book!


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