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Facing Fear

This article first appeared in Tricycle Magazine, Spring 2002.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I watched in shock as the great cathedrals of globalism, the World Trade Center towers, crumbled into dust. The tallest and grandest buildings of any culture represent beliefs in invincibility, entitlement, and power. When these illusions are shattered, fear arises. Events such as 9/11 and the anthrax mailings reveal that all of us are vulnerable to injury, ruin, and death. Such threats can materialize at anytime from anywhere, inside our outside our own culture. When concerns about survival, safety, or identity resonate strongly with basic fears, we experience terror. It is not a comfortable experience.

Fear is a reactive mechanism that operates when our identity (including the identity of being a physical entity) is threatened. It works to erode or dissipate attention. We move into one of the six realms and react: destroy the threat or seek revenge (hell being), grasp at safety and security (hungry ghost), focus on survival (animal), pursue pleasure as compensation (human), vie for superiority (titan), or protect status and position (god). Because we are less present to what is actually taking place, our actions are correspondingly less appropriate and less effective. We go to sleep in our beliefs and ignore the consequences of maintaining them.

How do we experience fear or terror without crumbling into reaction and the six realms? Sit with attention in the experience of fear, and you become aware of the feeling itself and how it resonates with other areas of life. You become aware of older, uncomfortable, buried feelings. You understand and know directly the structure that formed in you to keep you from being present in your life. The task is to take the structure apart, dismantle the projections, and know fear directly as it is, a movement of emotional energy.

First, identify a reactive behavior and repeatedly ask, “Why am I doing this?” Cut through the layers of projection or suppression until you arrive at “I don’t know.” Right there you will be experiencing an emotion. Ordinarily, we do not experience feelings because we either act on them and the energy goes into the action, or we suppress them and the energy goes into the body.

Stop doing the reactive activity. The feeling will be right there. Enter into it and be the feeling. Being the feeling is different from being with the feeling. A feeling is like a ball of multicolored yarn, with all kinds of secondary reactions that may conflict with each other. Open to the different shades and hues as fully as possible. What emerges is a distinct and identifiable feeling. Be the feeling as fully as possible, yet rest in attention.

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