FEAR AS A VEHICLE FOR TRANSFORMATION
By Sydney Solis

Years ago, when I was living in San Francisco, I took the BART rail system to and from work each day. Terror struck me every time I descended the steps at a station. I was afraid of earthquakes and I was always filled with visions of being trapped there underground when "the big one" struck, with rubble raining down on me and entombing me. Worse, I imagined being electrocuted because the earthquake would hit at the exact moment that the train would be traveling under the bay. Each time I emerged from the tunnel on the other side of the bay, I was flooded with relief that I missed death again.

A friend told me, "Sounds like an earthquake is exactly what you need."

I thought she was crazy. But one day at the office I was on the phone and the floor began to rumble. The lights in the rafters swayed and sure enough it was an earthquake. It was such a strange sensation, so sudden and I was caught in the moment. I wasn't sure what to do. In fact, it took me a moment or two to figure out that this was an earthquake, having never experienced one before. Fear crept up, but really I just sat there with surprise and waited to see what was going to happen next. Fortunately, it was a small earthquake and quickly over. I found that I was still alive, still breathing in and out and somehow the experience lessened my fear of earthquakes. I now knew what to expect. Fear was a vehicle for transformation.

The Sanskrit word, per, to go through, is the root word of fear and became the English word fare as in the payment for passage. It was meant as the emotion experienced from a cause, as in the Old Norse word far, ambush. This first usage was to describe the disaster, the thing undergone. Over time the word shifted its meaning to the dread of the event, creating a more psychological rather than an emotional response. This shift from the heart to the head, from the internal to the external, has gripped our modern world.

In these troubled times, as our country marches toward war and the country is on high alert, fear is epidemic in our communities. The story The Three Companions, however, illustrates that the true enemy is this psychological fear and dread lurking unaware in our lives. Fear is constantly lurking in the fantasy of our mind, rather than presenting itself as reality for us to confront and pass through to transform our lives. "To hate and to fear is to be psychologically ill … it is, in fact, the consuming illness of our time," says H.A. Overstreet. Today, nearly 19 million Americans suffer from a fear-related disorder and it is taking a huge toll on mental and physical health.

Osama Bin Ladin understands this weapon well. He ignites terror by using the media to announce his call for terrorist actions against Americans. The media create a perception of fear, flooding our minds with news stories of every possible, I repeat, possible angle. The media were there to record people purchasing plastic and duct tape to seal off their doors and window in the event of a biological attack. There were pictures of empty hardware racks sending a perception of chaos and lack. However, in reality, the picture may be different. A woman interviewed on National Public Radio said that things around her seemed relatively calm and normal. She became anxious only after watching news stories on television of people hoarding food and supplies. No missiles were fired, no biological weapons released. Yet anxiety is high. Earlier this week 21 people died in a stampede of panicked people as they fled a Chicago nightclub after someone sprayed mace and pepper spray. We ourselves did a better job of one suicide bomber. During the1991 Gulf war Israeli casualties from Iraqi scud missiles were few. However there were reports of more than 100 heart attacks, and that number could have been as high as 1,000.

The media via our television sets can distort reality and manufacture delusion by creating a mind-made monster lurking in the recesses of our dread rather than allowing us to confront a problem when it is a reality in the present moment. Death and Fear are working hand in hand to reach into people's minds as the ultimate weapon.

The root word of machine, which our television is as well as our society these days, is the Greek word Mechane, which means, "to trick." In the Greek theater, the Mechane, the deus ex machina, the god in the machine, was used as special effects as a contrived ending. However, in theater, the audience suspends its disbelief for a short time. Today, the contrived fantasies of media are overtaking our senses and we are having trouble discriminating between reality and fantasy.

Our enemies are applying this trick very well and creating the illusion of fear in our minds. If we can recognize that fear is only a manufactured event of our minds, we will be able to calmly pass through anything the reality of life can deal us. A man on his deathbed said, "90 percent of the things I thought would happen to me in my life didn't." In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the dying is guided through the Bardo to realize that the terrible demons he sees are merely the creations of his own mind.

In essence, we are the creators of our own terror. Our minds believe in the pictures of panic on television, partly because we create it ourselves. Nihls Bohr's' Wave Particle Duality of Light explains that light is only a reality when it is created by an observer. Our whole universe is created because we selectively choose what to focus on. We are the center of our universe, as in Black Elk's hoop vision and Krishna being the lover to each of a thousand Gopi girls. Even advertising and marketing is all about selective perception. The reality is that it's a bar of soap they're selling. Companies want your mind to perceive that this bar of soap will fight evil germs throughout the house and make your life happier. Even what we select to on television creates our reality. And what is on the majority of television? Images of death and terror. It's amazing to find out how many terrorist movies and images of the World Trade Center being blown up were out there before it became a reality. Is fear and terror thus something in our lives that we really want to experience? Is this something we need to understand and pass through?

Physiologically speaking, awareness of fear resides in an almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala's job is to tell the brain to trigger a body-wide emergency response to fight or flight as well as to make a strong memory of what happened, so that it can help the human organism survive and adapt to its environment. This learning from the experience is used with patients of phobias. The phobia is conquered by taking the patient to the source of the phobia, such as a fear of high places, and having the patient experience the fear. By surviving the experience they are able to form new memories to deal with the oppressive ones. So again, we must go through our fear. But what exactly is it that we fear?
All fear is really the fear of change, the desire for permanence and security, a fear of death. But this is non-existent. Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle shows that everything is always changing and that one cannot observe something without changing it. Even science is changing, as Einstein's theories are being challenged. He said the speed of light is constant. Now we are finding that that is not true.
How do we find courage to face our fears and pass through them to transform our lives? The word courage comes from the Latin cor, meaning heart. In French, coeur and Spanish corage. Society is becoming more and more heartless and less courageous in our technological world where intelligence and rationality rule, as noted in the high heart attack deaths in our country and at times of crisis. Everything is focused on intellect and it is making us robotic.

In yesterday's paper there was a photograph of a woman robot's head. It was eerily human, as a man tweaked her computer brain. The cutline read, "Is it a smirk or is it a smile?" Without heart we are truly robots, incapable of feeling, using only the intellect which creates an "It" instead of a "Thou," as Joseph Campbell puts it, ready to launch war. We are the tin man and the lion in The Wizard of Oz, in the quest for heart. And Dorothy, (Greek Theodora meaning "Gift of God") the young feminine, is leading the search.
An overly outward intellectual focus and a lack of heart and a balance of the inner world of non-absolute is a problem in the world which psychologist Erich Fromm recognized, saying that we now have the greatest material power without the wisdom to use it. He said, "In the 19th century it was God is Dead. In the 20th Century, it is Man is dead. In the 19th century inhumanity meant cruelty; in the 20th century it means schizoid self-alienation. The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots. True enough, robots do not rebel. But given man's nature, robots cannot live and remain sane; they become "Golems," they will destroy their world and themselves because they will be no longer able to stand the boredom of a meaningless life."

Fromm said modern industrialism has produced the alienated man, in the sense "that his actions and his own forces have become estranged from him; they stand above him and against him and rule him rather than being ruled by him. Man experiences himself not as the active bearer of his own forces and riches but as an impoverished "thing." Dependent on other things outside of himself, into which he has projected his living substance."
Meaningless and alienation in people's lives creates "an ideal of laziness, in where he does not have to make a move, where everything proceeds according to the Kodak slogan, "You press the button; we do the rest." This tendency is reinforced by the type of consumption necessary for the expansion of the inner market, leading to a principle which Aldous Huxley has very succinctly expressed in his Brave New World. One of the slogans which everyone is conditioned with from childhood is: "Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today." If I do not postpone the satisfaction of my wish (and I am conditioned only to wish for what I can get), I have no conflicts, no doubts; no decision has to be made; I am never alone with myself because I am always busy either working or having fun. I have no need to be aware of myself as myself because I am constantly absorbed with consuming. I am a system of desires and satisfactions; I have to work in order to fulfill my desires - and these very desires are constantly stimulated and directed by the economic machine."

Fromm wrote this in 1966, and indeed today it rings louder than ever with such reality television of "Joe Millionaire" and "The Bachelorette." Instructing us that our own hearts have become an object to be consumed. TV is telling us that love is something to be competitively consumed -- not a state of being and unity. Unconsciously we really want to deal with reality, yet we still project it outward on celebrities and "reality" television.
Because of fear and our lack of courage our world is drastically out of balance and our world is at a crossroads. It's as if this crossroads is about reaching limits. Such as the limits of language and the intellect to explain the great unknown that our society constantly struggles against to control and conquer. Our environment is reaching its limits from pollution and suburban sprawl and human consumption of natural resources. The explosion of the space shuttle Columbia is symbolic of our current limitations to outer space, which is really our limited view of ourselves. Outer space is inner space, Joseph Campbell says. Critics say it was NASA's unwillingness to look at new space travel options, but just sticking with the old space shuttle design, that may have caused the disaster. The Catholic Church is basically petrified and in deep need of renewal, as symbolized by Pope Paul's extreme age. Quantum physics tell us that science is unable to progress bound within the mind's limits of language and rational thinking and conceptualizing. There are feelings and images inside us that cannot be spoken with human language or heard with human ears that we need to discover in order to progress.
What is needed is a great break. Humanity needs a great confrontation and a leap into the unknown, the ineffable, the deep abyss, really into death. Scary stuff. This crossroads, as any change and uncertainty reveals, is a frightening matter. But the way through this fear is by way of the heart, courage. The heart is the crossroads of humanity the center of the human body, and chakra four, where the feelings of intuition and compassion for humanity resides. It's the center of the Christian Cross. It's the sacred heart of Mary the mother.
If we have the courage to confront our fears, to transform through death, however, we are greeted by life. This signals a return to the feminine in our lives. The mother. That dark, wild, unlimited space. The other side of ourselves. Humanity is starving for the mother, as they consume "matter" which comes from the root word "Ma." We stuff ourselves with food, consume material possessions at a great clip. The mother is returning in this challenging time by forcing us to face death and transform our lives and world by realizing that there is always life, and that death is not finite, but a necessary part of nature. Too long it's been denied. It's a remembering of rebirth myths and images such as the serpent swallowing its own tail, and Kali, the Hindu dark goddess who is the giver of birth, the preserver and the eater of her children. It was Kali who was called upon to help save the world and end the evil and war that the patriarchs created. Kali restored peace. Note that currently war is threatened between patriarchal western society and the patriarchal, women-cloaking Islamic societies.

There are many other legends of rebirth, such as the Sumerian Innana and the Celtic Ceridwen. Mara Freeman writes "…Ceridwen, keeper of the cauldron of changes, is at work in our own lives when the soul demands to be attended to. She hunts us down, forcing us to be fluid, to adapt, to shape-shift into new roles that challenge us."
We are afraid of change and change is death. Our world is always confronted with death at every moment. Be it a physical death, the death of the calendar year, the death of the day, the death of our economy and way of life. We are always in cycles -- boom and bust economies, menstruation, sleep and waking, winter and summer. Death is even in our bodies as apoptosis as cells die every day, giving a balance and harmony between living and dying cells. Apoptosis, "falling leaves" in Greek, refers to the continuous process of death within life, as natural and necessary as leaves falling from the trees in autumn. Paul said, "I die daily." And new stars are dying and being born every second. The beginning is the end. What's really amazing is that last week we have been shown a picture of the universe's beginning. The Big Bang itself. Astronomers are focusing telescopes on the distant past to see the beginning. We are looking at the beginning through ancient microwaves. "The night sky is a time machine," this week's Newsweek reads.
The Gospel According to Thomas has this to say.

Jesus said: I will give you what
Eye has not seen and what ear
Has not heard and what hand has not touched
And (What) has not arisen in the heart
Of man. The disciples said to Jesus: Tell
Us how our end will be.
Jesus said: Have you then discovered
the beginning so that you inquire about
the end? For where the beginning is,
there shall be the end. Blessed is
he who shall stand at the beginning, and
he shall know the end and he shall not taste
death. Jesus said: Blessed is
he who was before he came into being.

We are at a time to really recognize the immediacy of death and impermanence in our lives, to confront this fearful dark side of death that we are so terrified by, yet we so desperately want to be transformed by. Perhaps what's missing is the myth that we are reborn through the process of death, and that there is really no death and no separateness.
It is interesting how we are urged to hole ourselves up in our homes, seal ourselves off from the world with plastic sheeting and duct tape. We would be isolating ourselves, hopefully unplugging ourselves from the dream machine of western culture and returning to the womb to the heartbeat of the mother. We would face a terrible fear. We would confront the truth about ourselves, the truth of our actions, the truth of our body's impermanence evident in gray hairs and sagging skin. In the womb we would be alone with silence and to look at ourselves. Maybe we will then find the answers.
Fromm says, "Humans must overcome the market-oriented and passive attitudes which dominate him now, and choose a mature and productive path. He must acquire again a sense of 'self' he must be capable of loving and of making his work a meaningful and concrete activity. He must emerge from a materialistic orientation and arrive at a level where spiritual values - love, truth and justice - truly become of ultimate concern to him."
In order to continue as a human race we must confront our fears as we experience a "death" of the old world and way of living and thinking. Instead of creating a mental terror that exists only in our minds, we must pass through our fear of death and impermanence to reach transformation. How do we do that? Through the present moment. By showing up and confronting our fears and difficulties as they arise, instead of avoiding pain and change or dreading a mental illusion, we are able to become flexible, unlimited and whole.

We are always trying to avoid the difficult, to cut off a certain "bad" half of life. Chaung Tzu says, "He who wants to have right without wrong, order without disorder, does not understand the principles of heaven and earth. He does not know how things hang together." But if we embrace life in the present moment, we can deal with an pass through anything life presents us, releasing us from fear. Jesus is typically shown with his hands turned outward, as if receiving grace in the moment to deal with whatever comes to him. Lakshmi, the young feminine aspect of Kali, has two mudras. One hand dispels fear and the other bears gifts. A gift from fearlessness of death is power.

The Native American Geronimo got his name because he charged fearlessly through the bullets of the Mexican soldiers. A vision told him that he would not die by a bullet so he charged toward the hated Mexican soldiers who murdered his mother and wife. The Mexicans could not believe his incredible courage so they thought he was a spirit, St. Jerome (San Geronimo) and fled. Another story from the Zen tradition is a young messenger runs across a bridge to deliver his master a message. He bumps into a samurai. The samurai is furious. "How dare you bump into me. I am a great samurai. I wish to fight you." The messenger is terrified. "Oh, please," the messenger says, "Please let me deliver this message to my master, and then I will return to fight you." The Samurai agrees. When the messenger sees the master he tells him the problem and asks what he should do. The master instructs, "There is nothing to do. He is much, much stronger than you. You will surely die. The best thing you can do is prepare for your death. When he is ready to fight, stand still, close your eyes, and wait for something cold to come across your head." The messenger returns to the samurai. As the samurai raises his sword to fight, the messenger does as he is told. He stands still, closes his eyes, and waits for the cold to come over his head. But the samurai is amazed by this action. He drops his sword and falls trembling. He says, "Oh, you must be such a great and powerful master to just stand there courageously. Surely your power will defeat anything I can do. Please spare my life."

The present moment is a great guide when confronted with fear and death. I met a man in my travels who helped a woman escape an abusive husband. The powerful husband, a member of the Guatemalan army, placed the man in prison and swore every day that he would kill him. Days passed, and each day the man lived with the inevitability of death. What could he do? He just waited. He breathed in and out. He showed up for his life that was there. And eventually he was freed. He was also able to connect with every other human being that ever went through terror. His fear lead him to compassion.
Many stories help us understand the value of the present moment in our lives. There is Tolstoy's Three Questions. A king asks his wise men, "What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?" Dissatisfied with their intellectual responses, he consults a hermit. Through his own actions he is made aware that when focused on the present moment, every time, everything and everyone in the task at hand is the most important. Another story, (Jewish?) The Wooden Sword, illustrates how trusting the present moment always leads one to safety. A jealous king tries to take away the happiness of a poor man by destroying his livelihood. Each time the man shows up in the moment and trusts that something will be revealed to him. Sure enough, though it may be shoveling manure or chopping wood, he is able to buy his dinner at night and be content. Even when he has to sacrifice material possessions, his gold sword, for lesser ones, a wooden one, that too plays a part in the peace in his life. Trusting the present moment and its ability to reveal greatness is evident in the Three Trees in which three trees have grand ideas of their destiny. When they are cut down and their dreams are unrealized, they are unhappy, until they find that the use that comes to them is to serve Jesus as his trough, his boat on the water, and his cross. Even in modern day mythology there is evidence of the present moment. I saw on television Stephen King's version of The Stand. An old black woman (the dark goddess, she is also the Oracle in The Matrix, and just look at Oprah!) tells the hero to go to Las Vegas after a plague whipped out 99 ercent of the population. He just wants to rebuilt civilization like it was. She says sometime to the like of "God doesn't want you to rebuild shopping malls and dental offices. He wants you to take a Stand.) And off he goes, but his leg is injured and he is left to die. He waits in the desert all alone, waiting for death. He's just there, just breathing in and out. In his surrender is when he is eventually found and saved.

It is interesting to note that when terrified people try and save themselves by using an intellectualizing rather than surrendering to the present moment of the heart it doesn't turn out as they wish. Such is case in the Huai Nan Tzu story of trying to control the future by thinking that you know what is good or bad, what is advantageous or harmful. An old farmer thinks that the worst possible thing has happened when his horse runs off, but it brings back another horse. He thinks that's the greatest thing to happen, but then his son breaks his leg riding the horse, it's the worst thing that could happen! But then invaders impress all men into the army the next day, and they don't take his son because his leg is broken. Vicktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning tells a story of when the war was over people were being taken out of the concentration camp. The Germans loaded survivors up into a truck. Desperate to save themselves, everybody was fighting over each other to get into the truck and to get out of the camp. Frankl was not able to get into the truck. He and others were destitute at being left behind. However, later he learned that all of the people on board that truck had later been killed by the Germans. During the World Trade Center attacks, firemen stayed with a woman who was slowing them down. They did not think of their self-preservation to run ahead and leave her. They stayed with her even though she was slow. Incredibly, the spot on the staircase they were in did not collapse and kill them like the rest of the building had. Had they been rushing ahead, they would have perished. So how do we know that holing ourselves up in our homes in fear of biological terror is not that which will destroy us?

This fear of separateness that drives people to try and save themselves is in itself a cause of fear. The belief that we are separate from all else. Again, the ego mind and its false perception of separateness causes this fear. There is no death is because there is no separateness, and so much fear comes from this illusion of separateness. Quantum physics says there is no distinction between observer and object. The Buddha was enlightened because he was so deeply involved in the awareness of the oneness of everything. He knew that nothing outside himself was not that of his inner self. When Kama-Mara, representing the two things that elude the seeker of Nirvana, Desire and Fear, or fear of death, showed her face, the Buddha was unmoved and he reached to the earth (reality?) for protection. He knew there was no separateness, no death. Mara is actually the Hebrew origin for the word Mary. So death is the life bringer again.

The day after people were panicking and buying duct tape and plastic, I felt a pall over everyone. Driving, I came behind an ambulance. It's letters were faded and a small rubber skeleton was posed and stuck to the inside window. Death was staring me in the face. I wondered, what was going to happen in our world? As I passed the ambulance, I saw the words "New Life Painting and Refinishing Service" on the side of the ambulance.
Truly by being present, having courage and confronting the darkness and terror, it has the power to transform our lives into something new. Normandi Ellis writes that even the Egyptians have a dung beetle as a god of creation, "because it hints that transformation begins at the bottom level and attains the highest. The emergence of life from something as vulgar as a ball of dung speaks worlds about our notions of what is sacred and what is profane. Yet to the universal mind of God, all matter is holy. The difficulties bless us in that our trials keep showing us our shadow sides, showing us the pungent yet potent dung in which lies the seed of our future selves awaiting rebirth in the dark. Though I may feel deep within me that changes are taking place, I may be unable to name them. All seems chaos, the outer world in an uproar, and the inner world seized by fear, panic, and doubt."
Crisis brings death to our doors, to our very moment of existence. It helps us transform and realize that death has been with us from the beginning. And overcoming our fear of death brings about a new reality in which ultimately a long denial of the feminine perspective is uncovered.

Ellis continues, "To gain the world, it is necessary for each of us to lose ourselves. In the transformational process one gains a sense of greater human potential and contact with one's own creative destiny. When we lose that identity gracefully and without struggle - that is, when we experience what the poet John Keats called "negative capability," meaning the ability to exist "in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.

The possibility of war is certainly is something I must be aware of and take practical caution about. My father was a child survivor of a Japanese concentration camp during World War II on Java in Indonesia. He told me terrible stories of the camp, and especially how his mother suffered with he and his two sisters. He was separated from his mother for more than two years. As a mother of two very young children, this has always been my worst fear. To suffer the terror of war all over again just like my grandmother. Am I calling this to me? My own worst fear? Surprisingly I am not alarmed or at the least upset. I am maintaining calm. Trying to hold to the center. Trying to maintain the peace when flames are all around me, such as the Vietnamese monk who self-immolated himself during the Viet-Nam war. I will try to deal with whatever comes to me and I know I will find stories and tools of the present moment to guide me. I came across this today: It's from Pema Chodron's book. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.
Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, let it go.
Go to places that scare you.

Our world is at a crossroads. We are in winter and spring is a month away. We are crossing over from the rational, limited masculine mind into an opening of the heart and the unknown, wildness but ever-connected feminine that promises new horizons, greater things, and even peace on earth. Be with fear. Have courage. Because when you pass through, there is a new life waiting for you.

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