Your thoughts produce emotions, your emotions produce chemicals, and those chemicals can become highly addictive when you continue to think the same thoughts. Among the most addictive, and also the most destructive, are the chemicals associated with the emotion of fear. The body experience two basic types of fear:
- The first fear is usually considered a ‘healthy fear’ since it’s the natural, self-protecting fear that’s usually referred to as “fight or flight.”
Most of us have had an experience that was frightening enough to kick start our fight or flight reactions. If the brain didn’t signal the body to start pumping out adrenalin and force us to react, the human race would not have lasted long. In this way, the human animal is no different than any other animal or plant. (In experiments conducted by Cleve Backster, plants recognized approaching danger and shrunk from it.) Several years ago we experienced just how necessary this reaction is.
Steven’s massive brain hemorrhage and the surgery that followed caused a great deal of damage to the parts of his brain that normally would have alerted him to danger. He no longer understood that getting out of a moving vehicle was a bad idea or that driving the car or working with power tools was dangerous when you cannot control your body or brain processes. Explaining the danger made no impression, so he had to be monitored 24/7 until his brain gradually repaired itself and his appropriate responses were restored.
Clearly, it would not be an advantage to eliminate the body’s natural fear of dangerous situations. But sadly, the stress of our world has caused a large percentage of the population to live in a constant state of flight or fight. This pours harmful chemicals into the body on a regular basis, which not only contributes to serious disease but also sets up a ‘feedback loop’ of addiction to the emotion of fear and the chemicals it produces.
- The second fear goes deeper; it arises from the belief that we are the body and the personality the brain constructs. Believing this makes us slaves to the fear of death.
This would be a rational fear if this physical life was all there was, but quantum research demonstrates that the material universe is a projection that originates from a formless, non-local consciousness that permeates everything in existence. You are that infinite, immortal mind, not the finite, mortal body. Although science is only now coming to this conclusion, spiritual sages through the ages have recognized the illusory nature of everything in the material universe, including the body.
The unknown sage who wrote the ancient Katha Upanishad understood that all misery is rooted in our misidentification with the body when s/he said, “There are two selves, the apparent self and real Self. Of these it is the real Self…who must be felt as truly existing…When the wise realize the Self, formless in the midst of forms…omnipresent and supreme, they go beyond sorrow.” The self, the body/personality we project in the physical world, is not safe because everything projected into the physical dies. Riffing on the Bible’s “dust to dust,” we could think of this more accurately as “from energy the body came and to energy it will return.” On the other hand, the Self is the immortal, non-local consciousness; the real you that has always been, and always will be, completely safe.
The key to living a life of imperturbable fearlessness lies not only in waking up to your true identity, but disentangling ourselves from our attachment to the physical self. Buddha gave this process an interesting spin when he said, “I have seen the builder of this house and I have shattered its ridgepole and its rafters; that house shall not be built again.” Once he understood who he actually was, he willingly dismantled his attachment to the façade of self that he had once thought he was.
This is the key to fearlessness, but lip service is not enough. Like Buddha, we must actually carry out the dismantling process. It’s easy to snafu this process if we confuse it with self-improvement. We can tinker with the body and the self for a lifetime, but we’ll likely increase our fears because all we’ve done is make the self even more precious to us and embellish the façade that hides the Self.
Rumi echoes the words of Buddha when he said, “Destroy your own house, destroy it now! Don’t wait one more minute! Pull the whole house down!” Why was he so adamant that we get to work immediately? He promises, “A treasure greater than Pharaoh’s is hidden under it,” but there is a catch, “you can only own the treasure if you destroy your house yourself. How can you get the pay if you haven’t done the work?”
There’s no way around it; if we want to live a life of fearlessness the house of virtual reality must be torn down. Tearing down is a process that can create its own form of fear, but this is a manufactured fear the self uses to try to regain control. When we see past it and persevere, the rewards become apparent. When we live as the true Self, fear associated with attachment to the body disappears. Happily, the Self also has the ability to override the natural fear response of the body. This fear is not eliminated since a reasonable level of natural fear is needed to navigate this world, however, the Self has the ability to notice this natural fear without panic and calmly respond to whatever is happening in a meaningful way.
We can continue living in this house of illusion for as long as we’d like, but once we begin our demolition work, the treasure is ours. At that point, we can use the personality to navigate in society, but we no longer feel its story is our story. Neither Buddha nor Rumi ever regretted tearing down the façade of the self since it allowed them to know the Self and live in fearlessness. Rumi assures us, “Anyone who gives anything to the Divine will find that it comes back to them turned to gold. No man has ever traveled on this way and had cause to complain.”
To him who sees the Self revealed in his own heart belongs eternal peace—Katha Upanishad