Conversations with Fear
I was born into a nightmare of fear well hidden from the outer world in the bosom of an abusive household headed by a tyrannical father; with a gentle, but powerless mother who learned how to manipulate in order to survive; and a favored sister. Growing up was a peculiar kind of hell in which I do not remember ever feeling safe at home. With this initiation into life, the first lesson I learned was the way of Fear, which imbued me with the notion that every uncertainty was a threat to my mortal being, a threat that was always lurking just beyond reach in the dark shadows of the unknown in a time beyond the present, where the enemy has no face.
"What are you?" I asked.
So I gave my undivided attention to animals and Nature. As I did so, my life transformed to one in touch with Nature as the focal point and people and society as an emotionally distant backdrop. Animals and Nature, I learned, would accept me unconditionally. Whoever I was, whatever I was, I was always "okay," and that was all I asked.
Thus, I entered, as a young man, into the realm of biological science because it was far easier for me to relate to Nature than it was to deal with people, in whom I had no trust. Besides, I was still laboring under my father's failure-oriented tutelage, although he was dead by the time I turned twenty-seven. Despite his death, which physically silenced his constant reminder that in his eyes I would never amount to anything worthwhile, I sometimes felt so inadequate and depressed and my self-esteem so minuscule that I would head into the mountains in search of solitude. And it was in a high mountain meadow, where I was watching a humming bird flit amongst the flowers of June, that I noticed an ominous dark spot floating about at will in my mind.
"I am Fear," it replied.
"Where did you come from?" I asked.
"Your father introduced me to you the first time he abused you when you were but a wee child because his abusive act caused you to doubt your safety in his presence—and with that doubt, I was born in your mind, where I have resided ever since. With each successive abuse, that seed of doubt was nurtured and I grew in stature until I became a permanent fixture in your imagination. At some point, all I had to do was cause your adrenal glands to fire blanks when there was really nothing for you to be concerned about, but you thought they were real bullets that you had to dodge, or you would die. Then you were mine! Clever, huh?"
"Fear," I mused, ignoring its last comment, "what exactly do you mean when you say, 'I am Fear?'"
"I am the doubt—the saboteur of your confidence—that enters your mind when things go other than you planned. From then on, the doubt you cling to becomes your personal saboteur, the one you unconsciously turn to for guidance. You remember Oliver, don't you?"
"Yes, of course," I answered. "He was the old rancher I worked with in northwestern Colorado."
"And do you remember what he said when you asked him why he quit riding horses?"
"He said that he rode his last horse at 74 years of age, that it had thrown him, kicked him, and in so doing broke his leg. And . . ., oh yes, he told me that 'the fear' got him."
"Precisely. I belong to no one, but everyone who has even a fleeting doubt about themselves, like Oliver when the horse kicked him, belongs to me. That's the day I took possession of Oliver's horsemanship, and he never again rode a horse."
"Where do you live?" I queried.
"In the dark side of the future. I can dwell nowhere else," Fear explained, "because I am the dark, negative side of the future, just as Love, who lives only in the present moment, is nevertheless reflected in the light, positive side of the future. I am the absence of Love."
"What do you mean when you say: 'I am the dark side of the future'? What, exactly is the 'future'?"
"The future exists only in your mind as a figment of your imagination based on an illusion of time, which is also a figment of your imagination. 'Time' is not real; it does not exist. All that is real is this eternal moment. Think about it. Everything happening in the world is happening simultaneously—now, right now in this present moment, which is beyond time because it's always the present."
"What do you want from me?" I asked.
"Your obedience," came the reply.
"Why should I obey you?" I snorted.
"Because I'll blind your conscience, which will make the path you follow in life easy by absolving you of all personal responsibility for your behavior."
"How can you do that?"
"Simple," said Fear. "My kingdom is irrational and knows only the narrow focus of self-centeredness and victimhood. In my kingdom, your wants are your first and only concern. Love, on the other hand, demands personal accountability for the consequences of your actions. Love demands rational logic, which means you must place others before yourself and then have faith that your own desires will be met."
"You sound so sure of yourself," I said. "What makes you certain you'll prevail?"
"I shall prevail because most children, like you as a child, are taught that Love is conditional and therefore neither real nor safe, whereas I'm both real and necessary to personal survival; I'm thought of as 'The Great Motivator.' You see, although each child is born with a sense of Love, when parents teach their children that Love is in any way conditional, they plant a doubt and thereby teach their children about me—the most popular subject of the 20th century and, I predict, of the 21st as well. Besides, once a child, raised with me as its guide in life, reaches adulthood, few—very few—have the courage to look within themselves and search me out. I therefore feel quite safe in the heart of humanity.
"I, like Love, am but a choice. The difference is that I'm the easy choice, the one in which a blind eye to the consequences of your thoughts and actions absolves you of all responsibility. I offer you the sop of pseudo-independence laced with caution and inertia, all free of charge. Love, on the other hand, offers interdependence, energy, and action, but with a price—responsibility.
"I'll protect you with a cloak of unconsciousness, for that is what my darkness is. Where I offer you the spectacle of differences that allows you the illusion of superiority so you can take with impunity whatever you want, Love makes you look at the human monogram of commonalities, which makes you equal with everyone else. How then, can you, as a mere equal, take what you want when someone else owns it?
"As Love grows, I shrink. As I grow, Love shrinks. It cannot be otherwise because we are part of the same dynamic—your human emotions. Thus be not deceived. I shall not magically vanish now that you know me, because all schools in all nations teach about me and celebrate me on every holiday that is somehow devoted to violence, such as your Memorial Day, Canada's National Day of Mourning, Mexico's Day of the Dead, and Europe's All Saint's Day. I fill not only the annals of history but also the daily news, magazines, novels, television, motion pictures, and religions. Eternal vigilance is necessary to counteract my powers of persuasion. Eternal vigilance is exhausting, however; so it's easy for me to slip through your lapses in vigilance."
"What you're telling me is that the ecclesiastical representation of Good versus Evil is not the consummate struggle it's made out to be by organized religion. But rather, Good versus Evil is simply someone's self-righteous judgment about someone else's behavior. The real struggle, the one we witness and partake of, but without understanding it, is really your struggle with Love for world rule. Am I correct?"
"You are. To know Love is to know yourself in the true sense, in the present moment, to find yourself enveloped in trust as Love's shadow, and only through self-knowledge can I be thwarted. So you see, there's little danger of my disappearing because humanity is loath to look into its heart and thus acts mostly out of the blindness of distrust—the essential element of my power. Besides, I focus on draining people's strength, leaving them little time to develop personal defenses against me, which means that people, particularly men, out of the weakness I breed in them, turn almost inevitably to violence in order to assert and protect what little power they feel they still possess."
"Why," I challenged, "do you think distrust will always rule the heart of humanity?"
"Because," responded Fear, "people are perpetually rushing from the regrets of the past, to the imaginary disasters of the future, and back to the regrets of the past, which once again propels them to the dark side of the future in an attempt to move away from that which they do not want to acknowledge as part of themselves to that which they do not want to experience. In their frantic racing back and forth, they skip the present. I shall therefore prevail because both the past and the future are but virtual reality, whereas the present, the place people avoid, is reality and therefore the only place Love and God can be found—the only place I am forbidden to go.
"Nevertheless, the South Carolina state motto sums up what I consider a marvelous human weakness: Dum spiro spero, which means that 'While I breathe, I hope.' This motto is, in a sense, self-defeating for you people because it means that you are constantly pinning your hopes on a distant future, on something you want that is not of this moment. Therefore, you want what is in my kingdom while ignoring what you already have in Love's kingdom. And if you don't get what you want, you feel cheated, which immediately adds you to the roster as one of my subjects, a status you reinforce over and over and over.
"But to be in Love's kingdom, you must accept the here and now, which means total immersion in this day, in this moment, with no escape clauses, for it is only here, in this moment, that you will find God."
"What do you mean," I asked, "when you refer to God? 'God' in what religion?"
"That's your choice."
"Well, Fear, I think of 'God' as the 'Eternal Mystery,' the ineffable Spirit that abides in and moves through all things. The Spirit you oppose, the one you think of as Love. But that aside, you mean to tell me that you have absolutely no influence in the present moment?"
"That," said Fear, "is true enough. My only weakness, and, therefore, my best kept secret, is that I am barred by the Love of God from entering the present.
"But," Fear continued, "the fact is that the future—my domain—is only one second from the present, and very, very few people have so disciplined their minds as to be eternally in the present moment with Love and, and . . . well, however you choose to think of 'God.' That's to my advantage."
"Can I ever get rid of you?" I asked.
"Yes," replied Fear, "you can, but few have there been in all of time with the capacity to be so truly in the present that all they feel is Love. Let there be a single expectation in your love, a single blemish in your acceptance of what is, a single second of your time spent away from the present moment in either the past or the future, and there am I! Remember, every expectation you harbor attaches a condition to your thoughts, which projects you into the future, and there am I!—eternally, there am I!"
As the years passed, I came to see that Fear had spoken truly. It can dwell only in the doubt and uncertainty that cloaks the dark side of the future, a land always out of reach despite the length and breadth of life's journey because tomorrow, wherein the future lies, keeps curiously apace to the fervor of one's striving and is thus always on the horizon and forever receding. Unlike the past in which one may have participated, the future is a land beyond time and dimension, a land shrouded in possibilities and probabilities that lie beyond the grasp of even the transient certainty of knowledge.
The past, a country of remembrance, is seen more clearly in the imagination than through the lens of reality, where truth often becomes lies and wishful thinking is mythologized into fact. Being a country bounded by things that have already happened, the past is a land without Fear but not without peril for it is haunted by injustice and regret. After all, the past, which is largely an archive of human strife, is written by the winners and thus tainted by the color of their biases.
The future, on the other hand, is a country seen but dimly through the mist of imagined possibilities and nervously calculated probabilities. The future, like all countries of the mind, is divided into two competing kingdoms, one of light and one of darkness. The kingdom of light, ruled by the positive possibilities of Love, has a tiny population because almost everyone crossing the border into the future becomes entranced by the dark powers of negative possibilities in the kingdom ruled by Fear.
It is strange, given a choice, as people are, how they gravitate to the dark kingdom of in-between times when the perceived enemy has no face. There people strengthen Fear by giving credence to its demands of absolute surrender as though it was a concrete entity rather than a self-created monster of negative energy in one's own mind. By accepting Fear's irrational logic that the most probable outcome of any important circumstance will undoubtedly be an unmitigated disaster, people empower Fear with their obedience. Such unquestioning loyalty allows Fear to become an unrelenting power in one's life, and "power," said American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, "concedes nothing without demand. . . ."
Fear, on the other hand, demands without giving and thereby enslaves all who obey, and it is precisely one's obedience to Fear's demands that creates the institution of slavery. I have, for example, seen how childrens' minds become enslaved by the fear of their parents. I once watched two children in an airport greet each other. They were both about two years old—one black, the other white. There was an instant recognition of the common human soul known only to children prior to intervention by the fears of their parents.
The children looked at each other, ran forward, and embraced with squeals of joy and wet, slobbery kisses. The parents, meanwhile, looked nervously around to see who might be watching. As soon as their eyes locked, each mother hastened to separate the children by physically, nervously, and rather roughly pulling them apart and leading them to different places in the airport, each child in tears. Thus began the lessons taught by Fear, Lessons captured well by President Clinton in part of a speech he gave to the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 1999:
For all our intellectual and material advances, the 20th century has been deeply scarred by enduring human failures, by greed and lust for power, by hot-blooded hatreds and stone-cold hearts.
"At century's end, modern developments magnify greatly the dangers of these timeless flaws. Powerful forces still resist reasonable efforts to put a human face on the global economy, to lift the poor, to heal the earth's environment. Primitive claims of racial, ethnic, or religious superiority, when married to advance weaponry and terrorism, threaten to destroy the greatest potential for human development in history, even as they make a wasteland of the soul."
There is a another kind of slavery, however, one not based on the color of one's skin, or one's nationality, gender, religion, or creed; it is the fear of material loss, which masquerades as the devil of financial insecurity that enslaves people to toil endlessly for the god-idol called money wherein Fear teaches them to think security lies. Security lies not in money or any other outer thing, however; it lies within the core of each person's faith secreted deep in one's own heart. To be free, therefore, one must withhold one's obedience to Fear's demands because an oppressor cannot enslave without the permission of the oppressed to do so. Consider, for example, that Mahatma Gandhi was a free man, even when imprisoned by the British, because he accepted his imprisonment as the cost of India's freedom, and he was therefore always free in his mind.
How does one deny Fear permission to enslave? There are two ways. One is to live forever in the present moment, in the here and now, for by doing so one imprisons Fear in its own kingdom, the dark side of the future, a place it cannot leave and exist. With Fear thus imprisoned, there neither is nor can there be any fear in the present moment for that is where Love and God reside, however one defines God. After all, Fear is only a flight of fantasy into the dark side of the future.
The second way to foil the power of Fear is to simply accept life as it is given because Fear feeds on and is nourished by resistance to that which one does not want. Unconditional acceptance of circumstances is to deftly sidestep Fear and allow it to rush harmlessly past, like the clumsy brute it is.
Life becomes perfect, despite its pain, when one accepts its circumstances as lessons and opportunities for personal growth, which, in turn, brings increasing immunization against Fear. With this in mind, I think we humans can raise ourselves to a higher plane by so refining our own nature that it reflects what is behaviorally possible when we elevate our consciousness to its highest potential, where Fear cannot tread, even as a stranger. This said, however, I often wonder how it is that species we consider to be lesser than ourselves can approach us without fear while we shrink in fear from practically all species in one way or another, mostly our own kind.
Be that as it may, there is a bird in the mountains with which many a camper throughout the western United States and Canada is familiar—the gray jay, Canada jay, camp robber, or whiskey jack, as it is variously known. This soft gray, white, and black jay is a friendly bird. I have in years past had them eat out of my hand while camping in the high mountains during the deep snows of winter. And I once had a plucky little fellow sit on the lens of my camera, reach over it, and eat the huckleberries I was attempting to photograph.
I knew a female short-tailed weasel that, unlike all others of her kind, was gentle and loving. She never bit, but instead would lean her head into my hand wherever she wanted me to scratch it. I also met a deer mouse deep in a forest that came every night for weeks to sit on my chest as I lay in my sleeping bag and wash herself within mere inches of my face. And I knew a heather vole (a small, soft, gray, mouse-like creature) that I caught alive along the edge of a mountain meadow. The vole explored my arm, neck, and shoulders and finally sat quietly on the collar of my shirt from which vantage it sniffed my ear with no attempt to escape. Although I could cite other such examples, I think these suffice to point out that Fear does not exist everywhere in the world—only where we give it the power of life.
Wouldn't it be nice if the world were powered by Love, such as found in these little animal stories, or found in the unconditional acceptance and loyalty of one's dog. There are teachers in the world—some human, some not—from whom we can learn the meaning of love. We have only to listen, trust, practice, practice, practice, learn, and grow. It is, after all, our choice—to live with Love in the present moment or with Fear in the dark side of the future. If we do not make a conscious choice, Fear will choose for us. It always does, if we let it!
Now, as I approach my mid sixties, I challenged Fear to discuss some of the issues with which I have for so long struggled. Fear, with its usual conceit and arrogance, agreed. The following are transcriptions of our conversations, which took place over many months.
© chris maser 2000. All rights reserved.