“I must not fear. Fear
is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I
will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it
has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has
gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– From Dune by Frank Herbert.
There is no benefit to anxiety. It is best to not do worry. Anxiety and worry are precursors to fear, and if given enough of our mind, anxiety and worry will turn to fear, and fear IS the mind-killer. Fear builds a prison from which truth and reality are exiled. We cannot see beyond the wall of dread that we create and so, cannot see what actually is or can be, and if circumstances are precarious enough to elicit worry, we certainly want the ability to see what actually is as clearly as we possibly can. There is no way to address our real problems unless we are able to see them accurately in their dimension and particulars and when in a state of fear, this is impossible; we can only see our wild exaggerations and imagined catastrophes.
I say not to DO worry and this is not a grammatical error, for anxiety is an action of the mind, it is something we do – projecting negative consequences and results upon the unknown, when it is best to let the unknown be the unknown. In the face of precarious circumstance what we want to do is positive action arising from discerning presence that addresses the circumstance. We certainly do not want to do worry that saps our skill for accurate perception, examination, analysis, and clear action.
In a twist on this, we may do the opposite and rather than doing blind worry, we might do blind hope, and through the ego-defense mechanisms of denial and rationalization, we may minimize the real situation and believe in hopeful, magical solutions as a way of managing our fear. Not exaggerated, not minimized, we must see our challenges as they actually are. The mind of fear makes this impossible, and to a certain degree, the mind of hope, as an irrational defense against fear, also makes effectively addressing our challenges more difficult. This is why I do not juxtapose fear with hope, as is often done, but rather, what actually sits juxtaposed to both fear and hope is clear discernment and positive action.
The ancient Stoics had a rule of discipline of mind which is to let a thing be the thing it is and not take the next mental step which is to superimpose some sort of judgment upon the thing as good or bad, certainly not dire or hopeless, to let the thing just sit as it is, no judgement, ready for close discerning examination. It is another way of stating a basic Zen principle of approaching life with “original mind,” free of any judgements. The great Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki called this “beginner’s mind,” the point being that only from a mind clear of assumptions and projections can we approach a situation free of the idea that it is impossible or that it ought to be experienced with fear. It just is what it is, and it may well deserve great caution, and if it is ascertained to be a real problem, it certainly deserves action to manage whatever may be dangerous about it, but anxiety in anticipation of its danger and fear as the response to its danger will only incapacitate us. All this is true for individuals, and in these times, it is equally important to realize this works at the level of large groups of people and whole societies.
Our world right now is too dangerous for us to be afraid and worry does us no good. We are a population which is faced with being visited by sickness and death by the Covid-19 pandemic and there is certainly very little that is more anxiety-provoking than the possibility of death. There IS, however, benefit to discerning anticipation followed with a clear plan of action, and in this we have failed, largely because we have engaged in too much of the blind hope based in denial and rationalization that we’ll be all right because, well, we want to be all right and do not want our routines and comforts disrupted. The same is true of even larger threats of environmental catastrophes looming not far in the future. We do not want it to be so, therefore, we act if it is not so. This is not Stoicism or Zen. It is just dangerous foolishness.
We also are confronted – again – with the fact that a very large segment of our population lives with the very real fear of malignant racism that erupts murderously through our law enforcement agencies and legal system. Black lives matter. What a tragic thing to have to say. Even more tragic is that from the element of our society that most harbors and excuses the continuation of racist attitudes is the smug retort “all lives matter,” when if they really believed this, the need to emphasize that black lives matter would be unnecessary. Yet this segment of white working class people DO live in fear of not counting, quite legitimately, because for our bureaucratic and capitalist system, it is true their lives, their health, their economic security, their children’s education and prospects for the future matter very little, but these real insecurities are diverted by cynical politicians into projecting their fears onto people of different racial, ethnic, political, educational and regional identity.
No discernment. Just anxieties and fears manipulated. The discerning truth that we will ALL be most secure when ALL are secure and ALL people matter is lost to minds made dead with manipulated anxieties and fears. So, within the very real threats of environmental and economic insecurity that we factually face, too many live in blind denial and hope, while very unfortunately, all too many live in irrational fears of that which does not exist. There are no hordes of rapists and murderers streaming across our southern border and ANTIFA terrorists are not behind legitimate demonstrations against very real racial discrimination and a national policing policy that has taken on aspects of military occupation.
Yes, we are in a time of fear. Our world IS being turned upside down – and this is necessary – for the old ways have clearly reached their limit. As I write this for a publication that will be distributed many weeks from the time of writing, I have no idea how upside down our lives will have been turned by the time this is read. What is true is the fact that our lives are being turned upside down, for it is already so, and it is only in its beginning stages, and we are at a crossroads with this turning. Nearly every segment of our society is feeling insecure and discounted. The police are not the bad guys – there are some bad police and the culture of policing is much too violent. And among the courageous and idealistic protesters there are people out to do bad and violent things while there are some naïve people who have overly-simplistic ideas of how to reshape policing and society. Everywhere, people are struggling because our culture is much too violent AND naive. We so need to be WITH each other rather than at each other.
We can either be lead by fear, be manipulated through fear into making exactly the wrong choices that will only lead us deeper into trouble and conflict or we can become truly present in what-is, discern what is happening and why, stay out of projected judgments so as to move step by step through what-is into what can-be. Hope will not get us where we need to be and certainly blind despair will not either. Only accurate discernment and positive action will lead us constructively through this time into the time that needs to be created. We must use this scorching and rather than be destroyed by it we must use this fire of change to give rise to a new culture and society.
Both our motivation and our obstacle to this great achievement is fear. Right now, we may feel lost. Our old world is gone, some would say, long overdue. We sit at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, completely imbedded in 20th century ideas of what is what. This is how this mess happened, and we must open our eyes to the great question of what is needed to bring humanity peacefully and prosperously into the 22nd century and beyond. Until we become fearlessly present, able to see that the consciousness of fear and ignorance is what has brought us to this crisis, we will remain mired in it. And only when the consciousness of the truth of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all people and all Life is realized and becomes the template for our social and cultural reconstruction, can we begin forging the solutions to our real problems. Both Stoicism and Zen tell us – have faith – what we need is already within us. We just must get blind fear and naïve hope out of the way to come into this historic moment as-it-is and begin building on truths that have always been, yet we were too lost in fear or blind denial and sometimes false optimism to see and act upon.