Fear is the result of getting caught in the middle. Buddha says that it is the result of ignorance. And the ignorance is that when you start out as an infant with an undifferentiated awareness, and then you are taught who you are, that component, that structure which we call ego, is a very fragile structure. It seems tough, but it is actually a fragile structure. It is a structure that is created of mind, of learned neural patterns.
On one side of it, it has what Freud referred to as the Id, or the impulse life. And the structure is designed to interface between the impulse life and the society, to protect the society from the impulse life. Then on the other hand, it is this fragile structure in the face of tremendous external forces, which are parents, and then social institutions and chaos and storms and nature. All of it. So, when you didn’t have a framework – when you didn’t have somebodiness, you are just part of the Universe, and there is no fear.
I mean a tree isn’t frightened, and it is not even clear. Like, in one of the discussions that Emmanuel had about what a mouse feels like when it is being eaten by a cat. The question is, is the mouse saying “Oh my God. I am being eaten by a cat,” or is it feeling warmth and moisture and shifts in energy? And the squealing … do we project? We anthropomorphize and we say that it is squealing because it is afraid. But to be afraid, one has to have a self-concept. And when an organism is functioning instinctually in a scene, each change in the balance of the situation is just a new moment. It is just a new moment to which it responds. It’s very delicate to interpret things, because we tend to interpret in terms of where we are sitting. We’ve developed these structures, and if you can sense the way that works, you just see on one side of you these extremely powerful impulses in you that you are afraid of.
And on the other side, there are the tremendous forces outside that you are afraid of. And you are feeling yourself as a very fragile entity within that structure. So the root of the fear is the separateness. The root of the fear is the model one has of oneself. That’s where the fear starts.
Once that exists, then you process everything from inside or outside in terms of that model, and it keeps reinforcing the feeling of vulnerability, because, in fact, there are incredibly powerful forces outside and inside. The transformative process of spiritual work is re-awakening to the innocence of going behind that model that one had, that cut oneself off, that made oneself a tiny little fragile somebody. And a lot of the power preoccupations that we end up having – and especially the power of trying to leave something behind in the face of death – is the feeling of our own fragility. If you look at social structures, you see how much social institution is based upon the feeling of fragility of the human condition.
So, how you deal with fear is by saying, “I’m afraid of that person.” You say, “I’m afraid of being socially shamed.” But when you are socially shamed, it hurts, and then here we still are. You are afraid of violence. And then if violence happens… Sure, it’s scary and painful, and then behind it, here we are.
I think that often the fear feeds upon itself, and we’re almost afraid of the fear. Or the fear is the thing, rather than what we are afraid of. We are just afraid. We’re just afraid. We just feel very vulnerable.