Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fear and Focus

The High Desert
-looking outward-

A while back I wrote a blog post about fear, suggesting that especially in this time of terrorism, "fear" (named or unnamed) underlies every aspect of our everyday life. 

I was rather amazed at the response I received to my thoughts on fear. It apparently touched a nerve because many people replied agreeing with me; and when they thought about it, some degree of fear was a constant companion in their everyday living. 

I have been thinking a lot about what it is that people fear. People are afraid of what will happen or they are afraid of what will not happen. Over my years as a priest, I have heard so many people tell me so many times that they are afraid: 

 I am afraid to commit to the relationship because I will get hurt. I am afraid I will not have enough money. I am afraid of being alone. I am afraid of the next terrorist attack. I am afraid of an impending earthquake. I stay quiet because I am afraid of being rejected or embarrassing myself. I am afraid of getting sick. I am afraid of dying. 

As I think about it,  there is always one common denominator in each and every expression of fear - the use of the word "I," and herein is the key to why fear is so insidious and such an impediment to finding deep peace in life.

Fear places the focus of life upon the separated, individual, isolated self. Fear keeps us looking inward and not outward; and so "fear" is the basic ground of the "ego". 

Whenever the gaze of life is inward, focused on the ego, a person cannot be at peace because human beings are relational; and we find our "true self" when our focus is outward.  

In some sense, fear helps us to believe that we are in control. If I fear the earthquake, or fear being abandoned or fear my financial future, somehow it makes me think I have some control over it; but in reality I don't. In fact, we have very little control over most things in life.

Yesterday, in a book of Buddhist essays, I came across a very helpful insight about the destructive ego-centered focus of fear: 

There is no secure or unchanging ground and we make ourselves safe only when we see and accept the way life is- utterly spontaneous and impermanent. When it is time to laugh, we laugh. When it is time to weep, we weep. We are cheated of nothing in life except that from which we withhold ourselves by ego's narrow bounds. These bounds were made to break; indeed they must break if we ever hope to be whole again.

This morning I was thinking about how many times the phrase, "Do not be afraid" appears in the Bible. Some commentators say that it shows up 365 times (maybe an exaggeration, but close enough).  Think about it, 365 times "Do not be afraid" surfaces in the Bible- spoken enough times to be said every day of the year: "Do not be afraid." 

Fear keeps us from being fully human. Fear focuses "me" upon "me," but my "true self" (my fully human self) is a relationship with "you," and with "God."  

Do not be afraid.

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