Monday, February 21, 2005

Basic Fear #1: Not Having Enough

One of our most basic fears is that of not having enough. Unfortunately, this is a fear that afflicts almost everyone, regardless of how much he or she actually has. In fact, some of those suffering the strongest pull of this fear are those with plenty. In fact, this fear is very creative. We often believe it is only about money. It is not. It is having enough of anything: friends, time, toys, health, you name it!

This fear drives in us a need to find more and more. For some, this is the root cause of tendencies to hoard. We look at people in the news whose homes are stacked from floor to ceiling with junk, trash, magazines, whatever. But we fail to notice our own ways of hoarding --hiding money in accounts or under beds, having friends that we never contact and don't really have anything in common with, gadgets that don't meet our needs yet lure us to buy them. We hoard rolls of tissue paper, as if there will never be more, or at least more on sale! We move to bigger and bigger homes to hold more and more of our stuff.

We are predisposed to want to hold onto things. In fact, just look at the design of our bodies. The vast majority find it very easy to gain weight, to have our fat cells accumulate the extra calories. But we find our bodies very resistant to letting the weight go. Even at a cellular level, we end up hoarding!

Our bodies have lived through times of feast and times of famine. Those able to efficiently hold onto those extra calories got to pass on their genes. Bodies quickly burning through the available supply perished.

But it is our fear of not having enough that leaves us scrambling through daily life, so close to our work that we miss the destruction of this drive. Few people arrive at the end of their lives with regret for time they took in leisure. But many bemoan the lost time spent in work propelled by fear.

Many would argue that perhaps it is this very fear that has led us to great successes. And in many ways, they would be correct. It is another bit of irony that humans are much better at running away from something than running toward something. In other words, we are often more motivated by fear than by a goal.

It is also unfortunate, then, that this fear extracts a heavy toll on the individual. In some sense, it is society that profits from the motivation of fear, but at the expense of the individual. Look at it in a corporate sense. The bottom line of a corporation is often directly related to the degree of effort exerted by the individuals in that corporation. If fear is nipping at the heels of these individuals, more effort is exerted. This effort pays off for the company, but rarely for the individual. The reward for extra effort and extra time spent at work? Often, it is more responsibility, more stress, and more time required.

The individual is not benefitting in the same way the corporation does. In fact, the cost can be rather heavy. Our bodies are designed to live with stress for short periods of time --not for entire careers! In the short term, stress creates a readiness in the body for that flight/fight response. But in the long term, our bodies begin to break down when exposed to a constant level of stress. High blood pressure, diabetes, even cancer all have been attributed as outcomes to stress.

As is often the case, sometimes a fear has a basis in reality. Perhaps there really is a shortage, that there really isn't enough. But sometimes a fear is irrational. It is not a reflection of reality. We come to believe there is not enough, but that exists only within the paradigm we weave within our mind.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Our Basic Fears

We share fear with every living creature. The difference is that we are able to add emotion and thought to the feelings. Sure, some animals are capable of emotions --anger in particular. But as far as we know, no other animal reflects on their fears.

Because we are thinking creatures, we take a fear and weave it into a story about ourselves. And this leads us to some basic fears. These fears rotate around the following:
1) Not having enough.
2) Not being good enough.
3) Not being loved enough.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Quotes on Fear

Ever noticed those quotes at the beginning of a chapter in a book? That chapter is often "hung" by that quote. Below are some of the quotes I've assembled for my book. If you have others, PLEASE submit them. Many minds think clearer than one!

Quotes on Dealing With Fear:

A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are for. --John A. Shedd

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. --Mark Twain

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive -- the risk to be alive and express what we really are. --Don Miguel Ruiz

Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live. --Dorothy Thompson

Fear grows in darkness; if you think there's a bogeyman around, turn on the light. --Dorothy Thompson

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. --Eleanor Roosevelt

[W]e now know that the human animal is characterized by two great fears that other animals are protected from: the fear of life and the fear of death... Heidegger brought these fears to the center of his existential philosophy. He argued that the basic anxiety of [humanity] is anxiety about being-in-the-world, as well as anxiety of being-in-the-world. That is, both fear of death and fear of life, of experience and individuation. --Ernest Becker

Don't be afraid to go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is. --H. Jackson Browne

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact. --Henry James

Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness. --James Thurber

I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship. --Louisa May Alcott

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. --Marcus Aurelias

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. --Marianne Williamson

Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom. --Marilyn Ferguson

Worry gives a small thing a big shadow. --Swedish Proverb

Usually a person has more faith in their fear than faith in their future. --Doug Firebaugh

A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears. --Michel de Montaigne

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. --Franklin D. Roosevelt

Love is always creative, fear always destructive. --Emmet Fox

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. --Helen Keller

Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death. --Betty Bender

Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today? --Mary Manin Morrissey author

Friday, February 11, 2005

ANNOUNCEMENT: Looking for Stories of Living Beyond Fear

If you, or someone you know has a story about Living Beyond Fear, please let me know. I am collecting stories and interviews of people who have moved their lives beyond fear and discovered ways of living fully.

Perhaps you have overcome a major difficulty! Maybe you have challenged yourself to go beyond your comfort level! Or perhaps you have made a huge leap in your development, one that made you understand yourself and the world differently!

I want to hear about it. Contact me to let me know about it. Or, if you'd like, post your story here!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Two Approachs to Life Based on Fear

There are two basic approachs to life that are steeped in fear: Controlling and Passive. These approaches, on the surface, appear to be opposite. But in reality, just below the surface, they are identical. They are steeped in founded in fear.

In fact, there is a core terror involved in both approaches.The Passive person chooses to let life make the decisions for him or her. Wherever the waves toss, there is where the person lands. Being active feels either futile or terrifying. For some, the terror is based on feeling as if others will be watching and judging. And perhaps even more frightening, life might just hold that person accountable.

Passivity comes in many flavors. For some, it is just a matter of inaction --staying in the same job and miserable year after year, staying in a miserable marriage but doing nothing to make it better, or a myriad of other things. We stay and do nothing.

Then there is the inactivity of avoidance. This is when we pretend not to notice, put those blinders on, and keep moving. Miserable job? It hasn't even registered. Relationship falling apart? What relationship?

Some master passivity as a way of expressing anger. Instead of expressing our anger, we use passive behavior to sabotage the other. Someone asks us to do something. We agree to do it, then don't. They confront us, and respond with "I forgot." Abdication of responsibility on a silver platter!Some maintain passivity as a philosophy better known as futility. It is much easier to pretend that nothing matters, that actions account for nothing. In believing this, we are relieved of any responsibility. At least we pretend this to be the case.

When I was a boy, my father returned from a trip with a gift, a small piece of granite with these words painted on it: "Not to decide is to decide." To a small boy of eight or so, those words don't mean a lot. But they have become more and more pronounced as I have grown older. In actuality, there is no such thing as passivity.

Every moment of every day, we are making decision after decision. Often, we make those decisions by not deciding. We pretend we have relieved ourselves responsibility by not deciding. Yet a decision has still been made.

The Controlling person is just as fear-based as the passive person. But the control is based in the clear illusion that anyone has any level of control over life. Okay, that might sound paradoxical or even contradictory to what I just said about being passive. I moved the conversation to the importance of being active. Yet now I state that there is no control.

Here is the key: people who act in controlling ways fool themselves into pretending they have some ultimate control over their life. People who are pro-active in their lives assume that nothing is guaranteed and everything is at risk. But moment-to-moment, pro-active people move in ways that allow them to meet life, to approach life with hope, an antidote to fear.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

An Analogy

I just read about a quietly growing segment of the rock climbing population: DWS. That stands for "deep-water soloists." They work with no equipment, and their only safety mechanism is the water beneath them. Their climbs happen at the seashore, rocky coast-lines, with crags suspended over the water.

Clearly, these free-climbers work more dangerously because the chance of a fall is present, but less dangerously than those who work over a hard surface. There is an inherent risk in the sport, but not necessarily life-threatening.

The author of the article was a more typical rockclimber. He states that his entire participation in the sport was based on not falling. At all costs, he avoided the chance of falling. But in avoiding the chance of a fall, some climbs, or attempts within the climb are avoided. Holds have to be easily "do-able," so the risk is minimized (at least within the realms of the sport).

What the author discovered is that being over the water meant the risk could be taken. An impossible hold could be attempted.

Here is the point: it was not avoiding the fall. It was knowing the fall would not be life-threatening --painful, but not life-threatening. But if you have been taught to avoid a fall at all costs, you lose the capacity of trying something amazing when the risk is lower. Sometimes, we have to examine whether the threat is as real as we have learned it to be.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Remember "Fight or Flight?"

Imagine yourself living millenia ago. The world was far less safe to you than it is now. Replace our city streets with small paths running through the jungles or forests. Imagine miles and miles between safety. Imagine not being at the top of the food chain (that's a big one!). You are, literally, at the mercy of the elements! In some ways, it is amazing that our genes are even still around.

Through the process of natural selection, those capable of getting away, steering clear of danger (in other words, quick to feel danger and fear) survived to pass on their genes. Those more reckless or those unable to detect a threat no longer have genes to pass on. Those genes became extinct.

Now, in evolutionary terms, it has only been a blink-of-an-eye since then. While we have used our intellect to tame the wild, pushed back nature and its threat to the edge of town, we still live with those genes that were selected way back! In other words, we are wired to have a fear response.

Not only are we wired to have that response, it is a response that happens automatically. Remember that class when you heard how animals have a fight-or-flight response? That response is also a part of our make-up. Not only is it a part of our make-up, it still happens as automatically as it does for that animal.

For survival's sake, our bodies do not need for our minds to take the time to consider a risk analysis. It needs for our minds to go on automatic while our bodies get out of the way. Imagine again, being alive millenia ago. Imagine walking down that path we mentioned. Imagine seeing a shadow move across the path. Our body does not need for us to have this thought: "Hmmm, I wonder if that was a saber-tooth tiger? Or maybe it was just my imagination? Perhaps a bird flying by?" By this time, if it were a saber-tooth tiger, our questions would have ceased, and a very satisfied tiger would remain.

And if we determined that it was, indeed a tiger in time, our mind does not need for us to ask the question: "should I run away? Or perhaps I should climb that tree? Or maybe I can scare the tiger away?" Our body needs us not to think, but to act. And in order for it to act, our body goes on automatic. It responds in ways that are almost impossible (notice the "almost" part) to control.

We see the shadow, and our pulse quickens, our breathing becomes more rapid. Our stomach tenses, and our palms become sweaty. Perhaps we even feel our feet take on a life of their own: they want us to run, move, get clear of the danger!

Our brain and body need for this to happen nearly instantaneously. That is what is necessary to survive. So we perceive a threat, and we respond.

Now, fast-forward those millenia. There are no saber-tooth tigers. Rarely do we find ourselves below the top position on the food chain. And our threats have become much more difficult to ascertain. Who is the enemy? Is it that person around the corner? Is it the boss? Is it our spouse? We still feel that immediate and automatic response to a sense of threat, even if that threat turns out to be nothing more than someone who had a bad day, someone who is not a threat but a grouch!


There are but two choices in living life. We can live in fear, frozen and unable to act. Or we can accept the fear and act anyway. The fear is not optional. Our reaction to the fear is. Courage has never been the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of fear. Living a life beyond fear is accepting the fear, and living a full life anyway.

Many people would love to believe that they can conquer their fear. For a few days, they may even live in this delusion. Unfortunately, it is impossible to short-circuit fear. It is built into our very essence! In fact, it is hard-wired into our brain! And it serves a crucial function --it keeps us alive. But for the vast majority of people, the fear works too well. It keeps us away from living.

There is a difference between "being alive" and "living." This blog, and the book that it creates, marks the difference. Being alive is the foundation. Clearly, without that, there is no living. But fear makes us believe that we must live well below our potential, pretending this is necessary to keep us alive. It is not. It keeps us from living.

We cannot choose the circumstances of our life. Our circumstances usually choose us. However, we can choose our response to what life throws our way. A life lived without risk is an illusion. And a life lived to avoid risk is truncated and suffocated. But a life lived by accepting the risk, then moving forward –that is a full life!

In future posts, we will explore how we automatically respond to fear, our brain and fear, and begin to move toward ways of combating fear.