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Mastering Fear

Mastering Fear

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” Perhaps you have seen this phrase in reference to journalistic articles talking about various aspects of what is going on in the world today.  Wherever you read it, it is absolute idiocy, total ignorance, and should be jettisoned immediately from your thoughts. Fear is highly overrated and not only is it considered inevitable and necessary for humans, it is actually extremely bad for you. You do not have to be afraid to avoid getting burned from a fire. You do not have to be afraid to run away from a Tsunami or flood waters. You do not have to be afraid to confront or escape a mugger or a rapist.

You do not have to be afraid when you are near a battle zone or disaster site. Your mind will create all kinds of arguments to negate these points but in the end they are simply true. Each human being is powerful enough to raise their frequency and transform any situation they are in to a more positive outcome if they just only knew it. There are no accidents nor are there any terrifying situations if you do not choose to be terrified. Of course this takes practice and some skills to achieve but it can be done. The problem is that people the world over have been taught that terror is inevitable and there are only two reactions to it, fight or flight accompanied by great fear.

Have you ever carefully examined your experience of fear? What did you find out about it? What did you learn? If you have not examined it, then how is it you could have had such a terrifying life altering experience and not studied it in order to learn about it? Unfortunately fear is almost our constant companion even though it is often not obvious because it likes to masquerade as other feelings and reactions. You can trace fear to all anger, all greed, all self-destructiveness, all impatience, all lack of self-worth, all narcissism and judgment of others, all resignation and cynicism, and all resistance to others. What makes fear so pernicious, so truly awful is that it always begets more of itself. It grows like a cancer so that the more afraid you are the more afraid you will be. The end result of letting fear run rampant is that you will end up totally paranoid if you do.

Fear is also quite catching just as is the most virulent strain of virus. It can spread to others quickly and easily until the whole situation appears ugly and horrible if you allow yourself to see it that way. It does not have to be. Even historical events that appear extremely nasty can be viewed with some neutrality and compassion so that they are gradually healed over time. Denying, forgetting, or overlooking these events like say 9/11 or the holocaust is not helpful. Directly confronting the event with love and compassion in the heart can work healing wonders. PTSD perpetuates when we resist remembering or we refuse to address the situation. Reliving it and experiencing helplessness and horror is not the answer either. That just reinforces it.

Consider many ordinary thoughts that we might have during the day or night. Let’s say we are in a public place and we notice a beautiful person, man or woman. At first we might experience appreciation but soon there might be other thoughts like, “I wish I could be beautiful or handsome too and then I would have great success or I could have anyone I wanted. Beautiful people always end up with all the attention, money, and success in life.  I wish I could have a relationship with such a beautiful person but I am not attractive enough. That is probably why I am alone.” Perhaps we feel an itch and we go to scratch it and we feel a bump on our skin. “Damn I hope this isn’t skin cancer. Mary had a bump just like this and it turned out to be cancerous and killed her.”  You get the idea. Practically any thoughts can turn into fearful thoughts that occupy us and hypnotize us for periods of time. These thoughts tend to come back for us to obsess over periodically.

Fear is the product of feeling separate and this can only happen in a dualistic world where you can identify as being separate and different from something else. In this gap, fear can originate, generate, grow, and spread. Fear cannot be conceived in a universe in which everything is connected, at one with each other. Our world appears to be a dualistic one where separation is a reality but that is only in our perception, in our minds. There are some few human beings who experience no such separation, no divorce from everything they experience. They are the few enlightened ones, the ones the Buddhists call Precious Ones or Awake Ones. Most of us dismiss them outright because the idea is so foreign, so impossible, so crazy to us. In fact we totally reject it because it threatens us. It threatens our unique identity that we experience as “me” different from you and them. If we let go of our sense of self as separate then who and what are we? It is as if we were going to be assimilated into something that means our death, elimination, termination, total annihilation even though the awakened ones say this is not the case at all. Although the ego may be dissolved there is still a very real sense of being sovereign and alive, more awake than ever.  But we don’t want to believe this. It is just too threatening, too scary to let go of our unique sense of identity even though it is the cause of all our suffering and of course fear.

There are a variety of exercises that can help you examine your fearful feelings to find our what they are all about. For example you can deliberately take something you find fearful and explore it. Let’s say you have a fear of rats. You imagine a rat running down the hall in your house. It is headed right for you. Exactly what is your experience? What are your sensations, thoughts and feelings? A sharp intake of breath? A sense of narrowed focus onto the rat? A feeling of paralysis? Holding your breath? A reaction of wanting to run away, get away as far and as quickly as possible? Do you look for a stick or anything you can use as a weapon to fight it off?

Let’s say you stick with your fear. The rat comes closer. Maybe it starts to climb up your leg, go up the cuff of your pants or claw up your dress? Maybe it bears its sharp little teeth and sinks them in your leg injecting you with some fatal disease. “OMG, it’s killing me.” Remember this is all happening only in your head. There is nothing actually threatening you at all. What is this strange phenomena that you are absolutely fine and yet you are not. You are suffering with fright, perhaps terror or horror, and yet nothing at all is actually happening to you. Even though you don’t think you are, you are actually in charge of your experience, yes, even the source of your experience. How can this be that you can terrify yourself so effectively?

If the rat doesn’t work for you then try a huge spider or a snake. Those are the three things that terrify most people.  If none of them do it for you I am sure you can find something else that will accomplish the same effect. Examining your fears in this way can actually teach you a great deal about yourself. Where did this all begin? How did it gain such power over you.”

Almost every human being has phobias and fears stored in their subconscious minds. From where do these memories come? One explanation is that they come from past lives where they are stored in the instinctive center or the first chakra, which is heavily involved in the survival of the body each lifetime. With each fearful life threatening experience memories become stored in the instinctive center for future reference in case one should encounter a similar situation. They will then know to avoid it.  The instinctive center reacts to anything that looks similar to something that killed or injured the person in a past life situation. This is why it is said that older souls are hard to kill while younger souls die more easily from lack of experience.  Phobias are a result of memories that are laced with much fear, however the memories of threatening events do not have to contain fear. Although some older souls may carry millions of memories of this type they are not necessarily phobic. The fear associated with some memories is what makes a person phobic.

Alex Honnold is a free climber, well known for his free climbs of many extremely difficult routes including El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. A free climber does not use ropes or other climbing gear that other climbers use to ascend peaks. They just use their hands and feet to find holds and grabs. There is no rope to stop them from falling. Alex says that he has felt fear a few times in his life but never during free climbing. How is this humanly possible? To understand this we have to consider the amygdala.

The amygdala is gland about the size of pea at the left point on the horseshoe shaped hippocampus in the central part of the brain. It is not exactly a horseshoe because the back ends curve up to form a point above it. You can look it up online in Google images and see many examples. This strange looking brain structure lies horizontal with its two points pointed toward the frontal lobe, behind the eyes so that the amygdala is behind the left eye. The amydala sits in the very central part of the brain near the pituitary, pineal, and thalamus glands.

The Hippocampus is in charge of many things including short and long-term memory. The amygdala is in charge of fight or flight reactions in so called emergency situations. So if a big vicious dog charges you or attacks you your amygdala is going to activate providing the adrenaline to fight it or run away from it. Cat-scans of Alex Honnold’s brain show almost no activity when he imagines climbing or is engaged in that activity.  He has almost no fight or flight response. There is no medical explanation for this rather rare phenomena. The medical world cannot explain why Alex is different from others in this regard. For this understanding we may have to look elsewhere, for example to shamanic understanding or esoteric knowledge.  Alex Honnold is clearly an old soul. He lives very simply in a bus and travels around and climbs yet he has a non-profit in which he gives away considerable sums of money, a third of his income to bring solar energy to impoverished communities.

Older souls are known for mastering their fear. They have lived enough lives that they no longer have a great fear of death. Interestingly there are indigenous people who are known for their feats climbing up impossible cliffs without any ropes or gear whatsoever. The Huichols of central Mexico are one such shamanically oriented people whose shamans are known for these feats. They have revealed that they are able to do this by using tiny fibers emanating from their solar plexus to climb up cliff faces. The Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists make reference to such fibers or energy channels they call nadis which they say every human has seventy two thousand of in their bodies. However it is the unusual advanced person who has developed the ability to control these energy channels or streams for external activities. They usually refer to these powers as siddhis and usually only very old souls exhibit them.

To my knowledge Alex Honnold has never mentioned these abilities to the press but it is rather easy to make the connections here. He is clearly an older soul who has mastered most of his fears and exhibits to the world his abilities which then draws attention to his environmentally friendly activities. This is typically the way older souls do things. From my understanding he is a rather shy and humble human being with extraordinary abilities. Recently a very successful documentary has been released of his climbing capabilities. If you want to experience your own amygdala at work, see the documentary.

In the meantime consider that you potentially can transform any experience into a fearless one. This does not mean that you will do stupid things or risk your life unnecessarily. You are not stupid. You do not have to be afraid to avoid stepping in front of a speeding car. You just know not to do it unless you purposely want to kill yourself. If you are mindful you will look both ways before you cross the street. If you are mindful you will not take unnecessary risks. Many people suffer injuries and death because they are not mindful. Practice being mindful and chances are you will be less afraid and will live much longer.

José Stevens PhD is an international lecturer, corporate team builder and organizational coach, consultant and trainer. A psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and author of more than twenty books and numerous articles, he is also co-editor for A Journal of Contemporary Shamanism and a board member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. He is the founder, with his wife Lena, of the Power Path School of Shamanism and The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating youth in indigenous cultures. He has completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Maracame in Mexico and has studied with the Shipibos of the Amazon and the Paqos of the Andes for the last thirty years.
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