The mindful way to take back control of your pattern of anxiety and fear is what I have just described in the last chapter, where awareness of the body sensations that trigger the fear will enable you to apply non-attachment to the body sensations and not react to them and thus avoid entering your pattern.
This works in the exact same way that I described my pattern of anger in the beginning of the last chapter: when you are aware of your body sensations before they trigger your pattern you have the choice of not reacting to it and simply observe it. This may be a bit uncomfortable at first but remember that as everything else this pattern comes and goes, so all you have to do is observe it and soon it will pass away.
This is really the most effective way to deal with anxiety and fear by breaking the pattern at the root level, and this is why you should seriously consider meditation. However, together with this very effective key to solve your problem I will also give you some of my insights about the nature of anxiety and fear.
The Bible tells us that, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” This is an important insight about fear; that its antidote is the trust that grows out of love, which as described in chapter six is your true nature and the foundation of reality.
Love also contains acceptance through embracing the fear but like I just described, you can accept the fear and the body sensations without reacting to the pattern and without triggering a thought pattern, which makes the fear grow out of proportion.
There are many things that we are afraid of but there is only one fear. This may sound simple but the deeper insight of this is important as what we fear can change but still the mechanism that makes us afraid is one and the same.
On one of my first vision quests, our ceremonial leader told us before leaving us in dark night of the forest that; “if you see a demon: love the demon.” Anyone coming from a Christian background will find this shocking; something I once learned firsthand when I told the story to a devout Christian. Without hearing me out, he rejected was I was saying with great shock as he thought that I was speaking literally. This was his loss.
During my night in the forest on the vision quest, I heard many sounds and noises and being both tired and weak from the fasting, I first got scared by these. At a point during the night I woke up with a sound and looked into the forest. Here I saw a scary faded shadow in the darkness and I got all taken over by fear. I began to shake and imagine what this thing in the darkness could be. My mind wondered and I saw the scariest things in my mind until I remembered the words: “Love the demon.”
Through my repeating of these words in my mind, the fear started to go away and the images in my mind dissolved. I sent the shadow in the forest love and as I did so I began to see that what I was looking at was nothing but the shadow of the moon reflecting a shape in the forest. There was nothing there.
My fear had been an illusion all created in my mind and what had turned my mind around was to turn my fear into trust through thinking about love – through ‘loving the demon.’ The words does not mean that we have to hug and love demons literally so that we can get more of them, but since demons are most likely always created in the mind, changing our mind by thinking love makes the fear go away.
This story illustrates how we have the control over our fear, but it also explains how fear is overcome through surrender to the positive thinking of love. Love is trust. Love is acceptance. And love is openness. If we go back to Heidegger who told us that truth has to do with freedom we can also see how this works.
Here truth is the freedom that lies in the disclosure or openness to what is there. By being open and letting things be as they are we can both see and experience the truth. The illusion or what is not true comes from covering up what is actually there. This is what I did in the forest, where my fear distorted the images in my mind and thus what I thought I saw in the darkness. This is how fear works on the mind by covering up and distorting reality and what is actually there: the truth.
Truth is found in the courage to let go of the distortion and to overcome the temptation of covering up reality through fear in our mind. And like the Bible tells us the courage of this freedom is based on the trust that we find in love.
This love and trust is based on our true nature – our foundation – that we looked at in chapter six. Our foundation is our true nature because our inner being is love. As God is love, so we are love. To overcome fear all we have to do is to love and trust ourselves. This is the foundation. When we hold on to our inner essence, who we really are, there is no fear but only love: as love drives out fear.
Mark Epstein explains this from the opposite angle: “Without a method of looking into emptiness, most of us are at risk of becoming overwhelmed by fear.” Here as we saw in chapter five about embracing the night, looking into emptiness means to look into our deeper being and embrace what is there. This embrace is the love that drives of the fear. The embrace drives out fear because by looking into our emptiness we see what is actually there and thereby we overcome the fear of the unknown.
Let’s look deeper into fear in order to drive it out. What is there really to be afraid of? I mean really? We all have worries and we all fear something. When we focus on these worries or our fear, it is clear that our imagination of these grow in size. But what happens when we take our mind off the worries and our fear?
If this is not completely clear, I would ask you to go back to chapter eight and try the meditation technique again. You can also do your normal activity such as jogging, working out or walking in nature. The point is to observe what happens to your worries and fears when you are not thinking about them.
There is a saying that like a plant grows when you feed it water, so also the thoughts you feed energy in your mind will grow. The solution: stop feeding your worries and fears energy. Meditate or do an activity that takes your mind off. By cultivating a state of mind where you do not feed these thoughts energy, you are building a new foundation within your mind that is free of fear and worries.
Also I have a kind of scientific practice that I have used myself. Think back to the last ten times that you were afraid or had a major worry. Try to remember what exactly the worst outcome of your fear and worries were at the time, and then compare your fear and worries to what actually happened.
If your worst fear came through five times out of ten, then you have a 50/50 change that your next fear will come true. However, if your worst fear only came through once or twice then there is only a 10 or 20 percent change your next fear will come through.
This is a kind of scientific learning by doing or evidence by experience. When I look back the last ten times none of my worst fears have come through. Of course, now and then something unexpected happens in life but my changes of that are maybe about 1 – 2 percent. Based on this evidence, I can rest assured that in 98 – 99 percent of my life I can trust the outcome. If you try this out and accept that once in a while things go wrong, then you will see that there is much more reason (98 – 99%) to trust in life than there is to be afraid.
Ultimately, we can also look at fear from the point of view of God or our true nature. This can be helpful as the root of fear is usually the fear of death. If we can overcome our root fear of death, then there will be more room for trust in life as there is nothing really to fear.
From religion we know that we are in God’s hands and through that we can trust in life. Also from people who have near death experiences we can learn that as religion and spirituality teaches; life continues after death. In fact, one of the most common phrases that people bring back from near death experiences is not that they were near to death but rather in death where they directly experienced: “always there is life.”
What always there is life means is that; we are life. We don’t have a life and loose it at death, rather we are life and we continue to live in some other form and dimension when we leave this earth. By far the majority of the people who have near death experiences say that death is nothing to be afraid of the love and light they meet on the other side, and in fact many of them do not want to return to this world again.
One near-death experiencer testifies: “Before my experience I had wondered, like most, about death, and like most, was afraid of the unknown. I now know that there is no pain, there is nothing other than the ending of one chapter and the turning of the page.”
Now, of course, we could carry over our fear of death to a fear of hell, as many religions would have us do. So, let’s take a look at hell and see if there is any reason to fear it.
Here people who have near death experiences do have distressing experience or even hellish experiences, however, out of many thousands of experiences the research shows that this only happens to about 15 percent. From this point of view we could say that the religious hell is real but as both atheists and even people who attempt suicide do have heaven-like experiences, the actual reality and inner workings of ‘hell’ is not dogmatic or simplistic.
Not only does it not seem to happen to all of us but the near death experience also provide evidence that God is not angry and not into reward or punishment.
There is a Sufi poem that explains this point with great clarity:
“O Lord, if I worship you out of fear of hell, burn me in hell.
If I worship you in the hope of paradise, forbid it to me.
And if I worship you for your own sake, do not deprive me of your eternal beauty.”
Again this poem speaks to us about surrender and this surrender is done based on love. As the Bible tells us that, “Love knows no fear” and near death experiences testify that God, or the light is profound love, joy and peace beyond our comprehension, there is really no reason to fear.
Surrender through love is the foundation and this we can also learn from the Bible where Psalm 138 tells us that, “If I ascend into heaven, thou will be there. If I lay down in Hell, thou are there!”
What this means is that God is always there wherever we chose to lay ourselves. The same we find in near death experiences, as even the people who have distressing and painful experiences will say that their experience on a whole was positive. And if we remember, Nadia from chapter three who attempted suicide she learned the same lesson of the inner positive essence of life that is always there no matter where we are; or how far we get lost from ourselves.
This is also the conclusion from my personal research of near death experiences; a conclusion can not only find support in over 30 years of NDE research, but also mainstream Christianity. In 1999, Pope John Paul II described hell as “the state of those who freely and definitely separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”
As God is within as the essence of our true being, this again means that the key to overcome fear in life and in death is the same universal foundation of truth that I have been explaining throughout this book. At home or in heaven in life also means that you are at home and in heaven after death.