Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happily Fearful

As I read the comment thread on More than You Know, I was inspired by Benevolent Warrior's (BW) commentary on fear.
If one 'chooses to believe it [fear] beneficial,' to embrace fearfulness, or even insist on its necessity, to the extent of not even being open to examining its ramifications, and the belief structures put in place by one to sanction or to idolize choosing fear, vs self trusting, isn't that a curious self-blinding?

I'm presently closely involved with family members, and histories of the adverse ramifications of choosing fear to the extent of being an interference of the bodies built in harmonic functioning of health. Isn't this where all 'dis-ease' is created? within fearfulness, not being at peace, OK? Isn't Stress simply another word for fear? Doesn't the harmonics of healthy functioning become distracted by fear?
As I read the above commentary, I found myself agreeing with BW. Certainly fear never seems to live in isolation. Fear can have tremendous, undesired consequences: failing relationships, declining health, angst, anger, hate, war... you name it. Certainly many of us have spent a lot of time overcoming fear and working towards fearlessness. Yet, as I considered BW's words, something felt a bit off or missing in his analysis.

I then realized that fear is just one of the ways that we manifest unhappiness; perhaps the root cause of these effects (stress, disease, war, etc) is not fear, but unhappiness.

Physiology of Fear
Fear is actually an amazingly useful phenomenon that evolved to protect us from bodily harm. It's likely that we humans would not be here today were it not for fear.

When we become fearful, chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are released into our bloodstream and hard-wired neural sequences fire in rapid succession. All this results in our bodies undergoing dramatic and rapid change.

Our rate of breathing increases filling our blood with oxygen. Blood is directed away from our digestive tract and into our muscles and limbs to provide the additional energy required to either fight or run away. Our pupils dilate, enhancing our vision. We lose all distraction as our awareness becomes intense and hyper focused. Our reactions and impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes and our immune system mobilizes ready to address any potential invasion.

If you're in a situation where the best solution is to either fight or run away, given the physiology of fear, all things being equal, I'd say that the bear is going catch and eat the calm, meditative guy, not the fearful guy.

Happy Fear
Since fear has got this bad rap, we sometimes use other words to describe it. One of the phrases that we use to describe fear is: a rush. When we watch a scary movie or an intense action sequence, when we ride a roller coaster, when we participate in extreme sports, we cause all that fear physiology to kick in. It's exhilarating. It's exciting. We feel focused and alive. It's a rush.

Some of us can become almost addicted to the physiology of fear. Why? Because it feels really good.

There are plenty of examples where each of us experiences fear happily.

Unhappy Fear
So then, the question is not one of being fearful or not being fearful. The question is one how we experience the fear: happily or unhappily.

When we're unhappy about that which we fear or the experience of fear itself, we start to fight our fear. Muscles that are primed and ready to fight or fly, become tense and rigid. A mind that is hyper-focused on the present situation becomes distracted with thoughts of the past or the future. Our situation becomes that of an automobile stuck in neutral with the gas pedal to the floor. We burn through resources without actually getting anywhere. The engine overheats and eventually seizes.

So What?
So, if you're thinking this article is about 'fear', it's not. It's about what happens when we make a priori decisions about the usefulness and effect of various phenomena. When we decide that things like fear or anger or ADD are not useful (often a euphemism for 'bad'), we miss out on all that we might learn or benefit from them.

In a world where there's so much to learn and so much to manage through each day, it's really easy to categorize various experiences, feelings, activities so that we don't have to spend a lot of time thinking about them. Indeed, doing so makes our lives operate more efficiently. However, the efficiency isn't free.

Happy Saturday!


  1. Fear can be a distraction.
    From my years as a driving instructor, I was fascinated by one of my employers skill in teaching truckers, and passing his emphasis on to the general public. Most accidents do not happen one-two. More often it is one two three. In avoiding in fear what one sees as needing to be avoided, one looses focus on what one actually Space in which to safely place the 'projectile' they are steering. We turned out superior drivers by emphasising 'wants' vs avoidance and fear.

    Isn't it quite similar in other aspects of what we 'bump into' in life?
    ........... bw

  2. Another thought that occurs to me is that all fear is illusionary.
    For many people it seems to be this illusion that gets in their way, somewhat like an excuse, for not going forward, through it, traversing through the fog to realize its nothingness. bw

  3. BW, I think what you're saying is right, just not relevant. Or, at leas not relevant to my intention.

    You're right in that fear can indeed be problematic in many dimensions. The thing is that, something being problematic in one (or even a few dimensions), doesn't mean that it is problematic in ALL dimensions. You can use fire to cook your food and you can use fire to burn down your house. Owning a car can be a useful way to get from point A to point B, or it can become an obsession.

    In either case, it's not the fire or the car (or the fear) that is problematic. It's just what we do with each.

    I would add that it's never the case that ALL anything is thus and such.

    What do you think?

  4. lol, I agree wholeheartedly, whilst playing with your thoughts Teffy.
    Focus and intention, (what one really wants to do in the sandbox) Questions are the Answer. Perhaps I could have enquired about intention, rather than assuming a brainstorming/sharing of the ramifications of how the choice of fear is manifested was in play.

    "The calm meditative guy" you described being eaten by the bear, to me, is still for me simply another reaction to unhappiness or fear, someone 'working at' being authentically happy/joyful....not actually there, present, and, in his own way distracted by a subsection of fear (avoidance of presentness)

    The authentically fearlessness I refer to encompassess highened awareness, a vibrant presentness, ability to respond to our higher basic wiring of self-preservation. Having said that I'm reminded of David Carradines presentation of fearlessness, depicting a sense of knowing, of being focused and not distracted by fear, as most are. It is this wisdom I was referring to that supports attentive presentness vs the distractiveness of fear. Whether one puts themselves in a state of running away from something, vs running towards something, isn't it simply a choice of attitude? At first glance for me I expect more disposal to happiness running towards than running away.(driven by fear) bw


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