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Taming the Fear Filled Mind

Letting Go of Fear

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Dear Friends,

Sometimes Suwanti and I get asked what are the ‘problems’ we most enjoy working with in our clinical practice.  Su might say, “I like seeing children, and Ron likes dealing with fear.”  Why fear?  The main reason is that I have been researching this most debilitating of human emotions for nearly forty years.  I was catapulted into searching for an understanding of fear by my own nervous breakdown in 1971 (1).

In the world around us we can feel a rising tide of fear sweeping across our communities.  Fed by media and political interests, hardly a day passes without yet another ‘threat’ to be fearful of – whether it be Asian Bird Flu, terrorism or global warming.  Even our local pharmacy is stacked up on facemasks for the coming avian epidemic, and yet the virus has not shown any inclination to mutate into a human strain.  More and more our society seems to be living in fear and ruled by fear.  The end result is that we are becoming increasingly timid, unable to take simple yet critical steps toward ending poverty, discarding nuclear and chemical weapons and reversing greenhouse pollution.

There is an saying: “The polluted river of humanity can only become clean when each individual drop decides to reform itself.”  The fear that we observe in others is really our own fear - mine and yours too - for everyone is just a mirror of our own personality traits.  So we are the individual drops in the river of humanity who are called upon to change, to rise above our fear, seeing it as but a shadow created by the mind.  And, as we change, so too will a hundred around us, and so it goes on until fear is banished from our midst.  Yes, that’s how it works.  It is up to each one of us to learn how to master the emotion we call fear.

How can we become totally fearless, or at least begin to move in that direction?  The first is to understand that death is but a doorway into a new part of our ongoing life (2).  It is this body that dies while we continue our journey in another plane.  The second requirement for fearlessness is a quiet mind - a restless mind fans the flames of fear into an inferno.  And the third is to have an open loving heart.

There is an old story of a man walking along a road towards a town in India and he meets Death coming out from the town.  Death tells him that a cholera epidemic had just come upon the populous and thousands died but, Death remarked, only one in ten of the victims were killed by the disease itself - the majority died of fear.  Those who did survive were the ones who went about tending to the sick in a loving way, secure in the conviction that destiny decides a person’s fate and not a disease, and fearless in the knowledge that their real Self was immortal.

When someone comes to us for therapy because they are being swamped by fear, each one of the above principles is valuable by itself and out of these we develop self-help techniques suitable for that person’s challenge.  To give you a few ideas to go on with, I’ll tell you about a man that I saw not too long ago.  We’ll call him Tim.

In his early thirties, Tim was a get-up-and-go entrepreneur who’d left school early but ended up owning several houses before he’d turned twenty-five.  The demands of his lifestyle resulted in triple by-pass heart surgery.  This was one year before our first session.  He recovered well with a diet and exercise program, which led to him running on the beach every morning at 6.00am.  Then on the anniversary of his heart attack - to the exact time and day - he experienced his first panic attack while walking on the beach prior to beginning his run.   Faced with a galloping heartbeat, rapid onset of dizziness and nausea, Tim used his mobile to call for help.  Having assumed that his heart was in trouble again, Tim was relieved - although somewhat embarrassed - to be told that he was physically healthy but would need help for his mental-emotional state. 

When Tim came to see me two weeks after the first onset, he was having several panic attacks a day.  These were so debilitating that he found difficulty in breathing and was too exhausted to even check in on his office staff at work.  After brief history taking I suggested to Tim that we develop a simple meditation technique to calm the mind and nervous system so he could relax and breathe easily.  He settled back in the easy chair with eyes closed, and my words went something like this:
 
                        Observe the body breathing…Observe the body breathing by itself… Put the attention at the nostrils…
                        Observe the breath going in and out of the nostrils.

We did this for a while, with the attention being fixed only on the left nostril for a while, then the right nostril, then both nostrils together again.  The next step was to breathe with the abdomen:

Each time you breathe in, push the stomach out… As you breathe out, pull the stomach back towards the spine… Keep returning the attention to the breath at the nostrils…

After doing that for a few minutes, I asked Tim to open his eyes again so I could explain something to him.  First of all I compared thoughts to electricity - if we get too close to a ‘live’ wire, we might touch it and not be able to let go.   In the same way, if we get too close to our thoughts, we’ll not be able to let go of them.  This is what happens when a panic attack starts: we can’t stop thinking about the fear.  Fear of fear leads to even more fear, until we collapse or run away from the situation.  So it is important to have practice in letting go of thoughts. I told him that letting go of thoughts is the first stage in meditation, that we’d be learning to do just that.  At this point I added:

It is the nature of the mind to hold onto something.   If we want to let go of unwelcome thoughts, we must give the mind some other (welcome) thoughts to hold onto.  This is the reason that monks and other meditators repeat a mantra or prayer over and over again.  Of course the thoughts you decide to hold onto must have real meaning for you; otherwise you’ll soon get bored and the mind will gravitate towards catastrophic thinking yet again.

So, lets find what the best words will be for your mantra, your constant prayer.

I asked Tim: if he was touched by a magic wand, what emotion would he like to experience for the rest of his life, every moment, every day?  What would it be? Confidence, love, compassion, enthusiasm, happiness?  Which one would it be?  After a few moments of reflection, he said, “Love.  I’d really like to feel love all of the time.  Pure love, good love, sweet love.”

Then I asked him, if the same magic wand touched him again, what emotion would he like to banish from his life forever, so that he never had that feeling ever again.  Without hesitation he replied, “Fear, I’d banish fear.”  “Good,” I said, “now we have your meditation mantra.  These are the words given to you by your inner wisdom for your mind to hold onto.  Let us begin our meditation again.” 

This next phase in our session would have gone like this:

Close the eyes… Observe the body breathing... Observe the breath going in and out of the nostrils… Now, each time you breathe in, say silently to yourself, “I breathe in love”… Saying, “I breathe in love” each time you breathe in… Observing the breath at the nostrils… Now, each time you breathe out, say silently in your mind, “I let go fear”…  Repeating, “I breathe in love.  I let go fear”, each time you breathe in, and breathe out…

We continued this for about five minutes and the settling effect was quite marked.  I told him that to give the words even more power, it was important to understand their deeper meaning:

Let’s look at the word ‘love’.  The truth is that our real nature is Love.  The whole universe is Love.  So when you say, “I breathe in love”, you are affirming to yourself that Love is your true nature.  This opens a door in the unconscious mind, allowing you to feel more and more of the Love that you are already immersed in.

I then turned to his choice of ‘fear’ as the emotion to be banished from his life forever.  Fear, I told him, is not real, in the same way that a shadow is not real.  A shadow is but an absence of light.  Likewise, fear is but an absence of Love; it is not part of who he really is.  To explain further, I gave the following analogy:

A sculptor begins to chisel a rough block of stone.  He knows that the perfect form already lies within, waiting to be revealed.  He can see it in his mind’s eye.  So he begins to chisel.  Chip! - “not this bit.”  Chip! - “not this bit.” And he keeps ‘letting go’ of the bits of stone that don’t belong to the form slowly being revealed.  In the same way, each time you say, ‘I let go fear;’ you are moving one step closer to discovering who you really are.  Who you are, is Love.  Fear is but the rough part of the stone covering up this beautiful form of Love that you truly are.

Asking Tim to keep this deeper understanding of his mantra in the back of his mind, we began to meditate again, this time for fifteen minutes or so: “I breathe in Love… I let go fear,” again and again with every cycle of breathing.  There were occasional reminders to keep observing the breath at the nostrils, and to “push the stomach out as you breathe in.”

The effect was profound.  For the first time since his collapse, Tim felt safe and relaxed.  He left the session with the commitment to practise his meditation diligently.  When I saw him one week later, Tim had been free of panic attacks and had been doing his breathing mantra for five hours every day.  Within six weeks, Tim pronounced himself fully recovered.  His way of living in the world had changed markedly.  Compassion for others less fortunate than himself was growing daily.  And he was happier, more at ease, than at any time in his life.

Notes:

  1. The story of my (Ron’s) own journey into and recovery from a catastrophic nervous breakdown is described in our self help CD’s: ‘Nervous Breakthrough’ and ‘Mastering Fear’.
  2. The principle of death being a doorway into a new stage of our ongoing life is explained in our self help CD: ‘Healing through Grief, Loss, and Death’

With love,
Ron and Su Farmer

Practice

Letting Go of Fear

Fear is the emotion that comes when we are faced with the ‘unknown’, when we are on the brink of having our certainty (about ourselves and the world) removed. This ‘unknown’ which beckons us is an expanded heart, a higher level of loving.  The false certainty which is about to disintegrate is that we are this body, separate from the rest of the world. 

Pure love is present when we love everyone and everything the same.  Such love is accompanied by the ever-present certainty that we are not separate individuals.  The two antidotes for fear are Love and Truth.  The arrival of fear can begin the awakening into our true nature: Love which knows no fear.  The presence of fear tells us that we are ready for the Truth: we are the conscience; we are immortal spirit resident in this temporary body-house and there is no ‘other’ of which to be afraid, for there is only the One.

The Practice

  • Repeat silently (or aloud, if alone) many hundreds of times: ‘Perfect love casts out all fear’.
  • Practise a simple meditation to dissolve the belief that we are this body: Imagine that you are a circle whose circumference is everywhere, and whose centre is nowhere.
  • Carry out inner checks to identify those actions of yours, which have been going against the conscience, your Inner Voice.
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  • Practice several times a day for 10 to 15 minutes the meditation described in this Notebook: ‘Breathe in love; let go fear’, repeated silently while observing the breath going in and going out of the nostrils.
  • Do loving things for more and more people more of the time.  And say loving things about them and think loving thoughts of them also.
  • Listen to our ‘Mastering Fear’ CDs.
  • Read the books:
    1. ‘Love is Letting Go of Fear’ by Gerald Jampolsky
    2. ‘In Stillness Conquer Fear’ by Pauline McKinnon
    3. ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers.                       click here for word doc of this