“Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hordes, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear, Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes, Fear attacks, love amends.”
~Neale Donald Walsch
The condition which we commonly call “unhappiness” is a psycho-physical state of negative reactivity originating from a complex contraction in the being itself. Moreover, this contractive activity spawns an ongoing internal conflict which we are habitually reinforcing, based on uninspected programs that we have incorporated in the course of our human experience. Although these afflictive programs are as diverse as there are humans, they all derive from a fear-based reaction to life and relations.
For that chronic fear reaction to maintain its prominent position in our mental and emotional life dramas, a level of identification with a solid and enduring self-sense is necessary. In other words, a “me-story” must be created and preserved, in the form of an ongoing narrative in which the survival and validation of the central character is always the prime concern. There’s an old Buddhist saying: “If you want to be unhappy, think only of yourself”. Is there any emotion more associated with such self-interest than fear?
Of course, there are many who claim that the fear-response is hard-wired into our very molecular structure — our DNA — for a very important and even critical purpose, directly related to the ancient challenge for physical survival. Although most of us do not currently live in an environment in which we need to be on the lookout for predatory animals, nevertheless there are still plenty of threats all around us. Because of that, a certain degree of prudent concern and attention is certainly necessary.
For one example, on a societal level, we employ a criminal justice system in order to protect the populace from those who would do us harm in one form or another. For another example, on a personal level, we have learned to avoid participating in unprotected sex, considering the looming dangers of sexually transmitted diseases that are potentially deadly, such as the virus associated with AIDS.
Therefore, given that some degree of fear may still be a necessary component of living in this human world, at what point does that energy become the basis for the persistent mood and assumption of unhappiness that seems endemic to our present civilization? When does appropriate caution transform into a neurotic prison, in which the future is dreaded and we are eaten alive by worries and cares? And perhaps most to the point: does the appearance of fear energy and the accompanying sensations confirm the reality of the solid, independent, and enduring person most of us imagine ourselves to be?
Upon investigation, we can notice that there is a specific mode of perceiving that makes it seem as if there is an actual person implicated by the arising of sensations such as fear. This same mode of perception creates the appearance of self and other, and when an “other” appears (a not-me), so too does the seed of fear take root. This mode of perception is called “dualism”, and it is the usual way we humans apprehend the world, based on a division between what we identify with as our “self”, and all that we take to be “not-self”.
The eminent Dzogchen teacher, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, delineated the effects of clinging to the dualistic perspective:
“If, through fundamental misperception of reality, the individual enters into the confusion of dualism, primordial consciousness, which is in fact the source of all manifestation (even of dualistic consciousness and, in fact, of all phenomena), itself becomes obscured. The individual’s deluded mind then mistakes the manifestations of its own pure, innate primordial awareness for an external reality existing separately from itself, which it endlessly, and ultimately unsuccessfully, attempts to manipulate, trying in vain to bring an end to the continual underlying sense of dissatisfaction and unease which is the inevitable experience of the obscuration of pure awareness. The experience of underlying dissatisfaction (or ‘dukha’ in Sanskrit) that unavoidably arises with a deluded mind, continues, no matter how ‘successful’ the individual becomes in dealing with his or her world in materialistic terms, until the individual regains the experience of the primordial state.“
By carefully observing the actual nature of perception itself, we can eventually (or even immediately) come to realize that that there is no actual subject-object division in direct experience. Such a breakthrough recognition reveals that the dualistic model of processing experience consists of an essentially arbitrary and non-binding modification of consciousness, a mental fabrication or fantasy of interpretation on perception which is strictly dependent on the reality and belief that we happen to grant it. In other words, our sense of reality is based on our own limited conditioning and perceptual filters, which necessarily obscure “what is”. On one hand, it may seem to be a convenient and even useful way of seeing things in the objective realm — inferring a subject apart from the object — but on the other hand, the ensuing sense of separation and apparent division in consciousness which accompanies such a view invariably leaves us with a chronic sense of dissatisfaction in life and relations.
Indeed, for most humans, life is one long experience of dissatisfaction, alienation, resistance, and suffering, only rarely punctuated by pleasure, relief from anxiety, and some measure of fleeting happiness. Hanging over our very heads, there seems to be an ever-present sword waiting to drop, and this sense of apprehension infects all of our relations. Poets may rage against the fact of impermanence, and yet is there anything in life that is not subject to change? Even so, the fear of change most of us share is one of the main obstacles to accepting life as it is, and that fear itself is rooted in a distrust of the unknown.
However, it is only in fully relaxing and coming to rest in the unknown that we are able to find the space for our natural happiness to emerge from the shadow of fear. In reality, we don’t know. In fact, by incarnating in the human realm, we have purposely set aside our universal knowledge in order to fully appreciate living in the unknown, with all the uncertainty that such an adventure implies. Not knowing is a fundamental human condition, but accepting that fact need not provoke some sense of dread and insecurity. Rather, we can shift from our typical fear-driven dualistic perception to one wherein experiencing the unknown is no longer fraught with inherent divisions in consciousness between a “me” that needs to be protected from whatever appears as “not-me”.
In order to make such a shift, however, we need to see through and discard all limiting conceptual and emotional overlays, as well as all dualistic superimpositions, that obscure reality as it is. Rather than fixating attention in some conflicted view of self and other, based on a felt contraction in the being, we can directly recognize ourselves as the source, or projector, of the indivisible flow of reality itself.
In this regard, Nisargadatta Maharaj suggested: “Contemplate life as infinite, undivided, ever present, ever active, until you realise yourself as one with it. It is not even very difficult, for you will be returning only to your own natural condition. Once you realise that all comes from within, that the world in which you live has not been projected onto you but by you, your fear comes to an end. Without this realisation you identify yourself with the externals, like the body, mind, society, nation, humanity, even God or the Absolute. But these are all escapes from fear. It is only when you fully accept your responsibility for the little world in which you live and watch the process of its creation, preservation and destruction, that you may be free from your imaginary bondage.”
In practice terms, even when primal-type fear arises, we need not add our usual conditioned interpretations to it, and in turn confirm some distinctly separate and concrete self-sense as a result. Rather, we can simply allow it to arise in the light of naked awareness, and also let it dissolve accordingly, without trying to change, name, or claim it. In this way, the fear is not given a chance to gain a foothold – it has no place to land. Moreover, if we continue in this shifted mode of free-flowing non-dwelling perception (rather than falling back on the dualistic default of a subject-object illusion), we can notice that our prior nature of aware spaciousness moves correspondingly to the forefront, like the sun melting away the clouds of unhappiness.
In other words, what is not used becomes obsolete. Consequently, by not indulging the mechanics of unhappiness (which is after all a foreign installation), we have opened the space for our true happiness to shine through. Such genuine and heart-felt happiness naturally illuminates all that it comes in contact with, thus raising the frequency of vibration for the whole collective in the process.
Both happiness and unhappiness are infectious, just as are fear and love. Regardless of how things may appear in any situation, we always have a choice about which mode of perception we will feed, and therefore what kind of influence we will manifest in this realm. Since we live in a world of interdependence, the choice we make is for all. In choosing love over fear, we are also choosing freedom over bondage, and by remembering and embodying that liberating truth, we support the grounds for an increasingly sublime evolutionary advancement as a species.
To love or fear –
that’s the test.
At the core
the heart knows best.
Open your eyes and
you will see,
The fearful mind is a
conflicted thing, obscuring
the songs that love would sing.
Let the healing begin within —
don’t prolong a war that
no one can win.
Give up the fight with yourself
before it begins, why struggle
in vain with your own
Our nature is to be at peace,
to know ourselves,
to let fear cease.
Only love can liberate
entanglements that we create.
If you want to be happy
let go of yourself, and
offer your best to
There’s no heart math
more plain than this –
the more selfless the love,
the more lasting the bliss.
Relax your fears
and enjoy life’s play.
Above all, love,
and you won’t go astray.