Quietly sitting in a meditation group, a question was posed by one of the members. The question asked what significance fear has in our lives. At first it seemed like a simple question but upon deeper consideration I realized that it held tremendous influence over the way I and others felt. This led me to attempt to, first, define the feeling.
Most sources defined fear as sensing and reacting to danger. But now this led me to search out the meaning of danger. The earliest meaning I could find comes from the 12th century French dangier meaning “the power to harm, mastery, authority and control.” So, essentially, fear and perceived danger are a sense or belief that we are somehow out of control or in a position where life and others have power over us. Why would being out of control evoke such an intense feeling? Granted, fear is a primal feeling and involuntary reaction innate to our animal natures. But that only relates to the immediate and impending physical consequences of survival. We as humans know fear as having a much wider and more powerful influence over our daily lives. So, where then does this power come from? I believe that it is trained into us beginning with our earliest ability to think.
As children and before our metal capabilities to think are developed, we have not yet developed the discrimination between self and other so what we feel deprived of or assailed by only seems to register as a feeling of pain or discomfort to which we simply react by crying. At that point the fear response, other than concerning our primal survival, has not yet formed as we need to have the experience of pain or discomfort, pair it with the perception of a threat coming from outside of ourselves and then create a retrievable memory of it. Memory is solely a function of the mind existing in linear time. Until we develop the capacity to think, that dimension has no relevance to us yet and hence no memory. Yet, at that age, having the experience of pain or deprivation creates a future trigger response in our animal natures to its next occurrence. Once the mind is formed and time is perceived, fear can now have a solid perceivable reference point for which it can generate feelings about future circumstances. So what are we actually saying? That animals gain an instinctual fear through the experience of immediate circumstances and that humans gain this too but we also develop ability to project far into the future and create fear based on “wouldn’t it be horrible if” through the power of our minds. In short, animals can feel fear in immediate circumstances but we humans have also learned to project it way into the future.
Our next question, logically, must be “how and why would we learn to do this?” I believe that our tendency to do this comes from being trained to believe that we must control ourselves and our circumstances if we are first, to stay “safe,” and, second, keep our personal world in a static state through the belief that circumstances can remain unchangeable. Even in light of the fact that we honestly know that security is an illusion, and this is still an unconscious knowing for most of us, we still consciously hold an irrational belief that the world can be held in a static state and that we should be able to control the rest of the world and others in it. But now, we have to ask “where did this irrational belief come from?” The answer is that we’ve been taught by our parents to expect to be able to control our circumstances. As children, how would have been able to know any different? At that age, we simply accept it as fact because our parents tell us it is so. What’s sad and disconcerting is that many of our parents still believe that this is so as they were taught to believe this by their parents.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself what fear has to do with eclipsing the heart. Right? To understand this we must first recognize that the heart uses feelings and intuition as its medium of exchange for communication. We first feel and intuit and then thinking is used to put it in a comprehensible form we can recognize, explain, create a judgment about (preference) and then commit it to our memory. What we think is an afterthought. While feelings and intuition are innate to humans, thinking, or our mental facilities, are all learned. This occurs after we are born through our exposure to the physical world within the landscape of time (past, present and future). In other words, we come into this life with feeling and intuition fully in operation already but skill in thinking must be acquired and developed before it can be used.
Feeling and intuition, the heart’s non-descriptive form of bringing our attention to something, is forever delivering us urges and impulses that are neither comprehended nor explained until they are subjected to the separative discrimination of the mind. Feelings arise in a moving wave and intuition occurs in a flash. It is not until the mind springs into action that they become “solidified” as a judgment of preference specifying whether we’d like to approach or avoid the experience expressed by them.
As our mental capacity develops more and more and our childhood physical world begins to take dominance over who we are and what we pay attention to, our feelings and intuition slowly become submerged under the monumental weight and emphasis on thinking. Thinking gradually becomes the strategic and dominant force determining virtually all the choices we make. When our mental functions change the channel to fear, it short circuits all of our considerations for how we choose to act…or not with “wouldn’t it be horrible if.” Our feelings and intuition no longer even have the opportunity to have an influence other than the fear generated by the mind through “wouldn’t it be horrible if.” In this way fear totally eclipses the heart. Other feelings and our intuition are still there but essentially crushed under the weight of our fear invoking mental gymnastics.
Granted, the fear that’s triggered by fight or flight encounters (innate animal survival instincts) is essentially unavoidable. But the fear that’s generated by our “wouldn’t it be horrible if” is something that can be reprogrammed. Remember, it’s only a mental perspective that has been trained into us. It can also be replaced by reprogramming ourselves to say and feel “wouldn’t it be great if.” All we have to do is consider the beneficial aspects of whatever circumstances we feel intimidated by. It’ll take work and time but in the long run the physical and emotional benefits far outweigh the tension, anxiety and stress triggered by the “wouldn’t it be horrible if.”