I look forward to receiving Daily Dharma to my inbox at precisely 6:06 am from Tricycle Magazine. (If you aren’t subscribed to these emails I would highly recommend doing so here.) Today’s “morning wisdom to wake up to” was about fear.
Every negative emotion, every drama, comes down to one or more of the three most basic fears: the fear of losing safety and control, the fear of aloneness and disconnection, and the fear of unworthiness.
—Ezra Bayda, “The Three Things We Fear Most”
Ezra Bayda broke down the unpleasant fear response as a projection of three underlying sources. He believes that identifying the source of fear is a productive first step to ceasing the control fear has over our behaviors and our lives. When I’m making a big decision I often ask myself, “Are you acting out of fear or love?” Both of these emotions are powerful. This is how we can differentiate which emotion we are drawing energy from.
The Feeling of Fear
You can pay attention to the sensations that fear produces in the body. The energy of fear is distinct and categorized by the following:
- Closes down and draws in
- Runs and resists
- Hides and isolates
- Hoards and clings to
- Harms and hurts
The Feeling of Love
Love has a much different sensation and energy. The following are examples of how love manifests in the body and heart:
- Expands and opens up
- Sends out and gives
- Stays and accepts
- Reveals and shares
- Heals and makes amends
The Three Sources of Fear
Ezra Bayda offered us an entry point to explore the driving force behind our fears. Yes, even that fear of the monster in the closet can be categorized by this system, however, we know that our greatest demons are usually better at hiding deep within us.
1. Fear of Losing Safety and Control.
It’s a lot more dangerous to drive to work than fly to Europe. This is what I tell my dad as he repeatedly refused to board a plane. Look at all the car accidents and the death toll caused by vehicles, you must know someone who has been in a car crash, I would continue to push him.
Do you know anyone who has been in a plane crash? I see he’s getting agitated now. He finally retorts in an flustered manner, I don’t like being on planes, relying on the pilot, what if something did happen? I like driving okay. I’m in control.
There it was, the layers slowly peeling off and exposing his phobias for what they really were; fear of losing control. It seems that we often equate safety and control. We believe that if we control our environment we can keep ourselves safe.
People who have grown up in unstable environments like alcoholic homes, often develop characteristics of a controlling personality. People who have been left helpless or vulnerable may crave control to try to regain power in their lives.
The fear of loss of control can manifest in different forms:
- You strive for perfectionism
- You resist feeling negative emotions
- You like to have things planned so you know what to expect
- You analyze people and situations
- You feel purposeful when controlling chaos
2. Fear of Aloneness and Disconnection.
A family friend of mine died. She was diagnosed with cancer and passed away only a few weeks after receiving the news. I ran into her husband a few months later and to my surprise, he was in a relationship with a new woman. Surely he hadn’t had the time to process the death. Why was he moving on so suddenly while we were still grieving?
Human beings seek out connection in the form of relationships; friendships, family bonds, partners, or small talk with strangers. Some people have a deep fear of these connections being severed. Maybe a loved one broke our trust, a partner cheated, a mother died, a father abandoned us.
The fragility of human connection can generate a terrifying, gut wrenching fear that we may end up alone. Often people try to ease this fear through serial dating or by staying in constant contact with people. Phone addiction now points to our constant desire to feel a temporary connection, no matter how meaningless.
The fear of aloneness can manifest in many forms:
- You jump from one relationship to the next
- You don’t like to spend too much time by yourself
- You fight for relationships that don’t work
- You hold onto ex relationships
- You always have plans made
3. Fear of Unworthiness.
One day I made a habit of stripping away my judgements. I walked down the street and I looked at each person as a walking skeleton. This was a slightly morbid version of the “just pretend everyone’s in their underpants” practice.
I pretended that people’s clothes, car, hair colour, skin colour, height, expressions, jobs, genders, titles, success, failures, everything, just melted away into swaying bleached bones. I realized that people are all people. In the end no one is worse or better than anyone else, surprisingly this was a monumental realization for me.
I always thought people were better than me. People were always smarter, more responsible, better looking, more successful, more qualified, etc. I was constantly working to try to keep up. The realization that I was enough still hasn’t completely sunken in.
The fear of unworthiness stems from the thought that we are not enough. Consequently we end up seeking external worth. We chase after temporal victories like being voted “most likely” in the year book or being the best dressed person in the room. We tally likes on our pictures and prefer to be liked by strangers than ourselves.
Unworthiness is one of the deepest demons that can breed a fire-breathing ego. Some people try to protect their sense of personal disempowerment by harnessing excessive power, hate, or violence.
The fear of unworthiness can manifest in many forms:
- You seek approval from others
- You need everyone to like you
- You feel like you’re not good enough
- You feel intimidated by others
- You work extra hard to prove yourself
- You feel like an imposter when you succeed
How Do We Shine Light on Our Darkness?
Where there is light, darkness cannot coexist. What if we were able to shine our radiant rays of pure love and light onto our demons? They would burn up and be ashes in the wind. This is how we challenge our fears with our light.
The Darkness: Fear of Losing Safety and Control
The Light: The truth is, we are not in control. Our minds may try to put our environment into compartments to help us measure expectations and determine events but we are not in control. The best way to face the fear of losing safety and control is with acceptance. Flow with life instead of fighting it. This means releasing our expectations and living moment to moment, accepting it all.
The Darkness: Fear of Aloneness and Disconnection
The Light: The truth is, we are never alone. We are part of a greater system of collective consciousness and being. We are one ray shining from the same sun. The sense of self created in our human experience leads us to believe we are individuals. Even the most solitary loner cannot cut themselves off from their greater collective. Practicing a metta or loving-kindness meditation on your own can help unite you with this feeling of connectedness and vanquish the fear of disconnect.
The Darkness: Fear of Unworthiness
The Light: The truth is, you have worth and you don’t need to work for it. The part of you that feels the need to hustle is your egoic self. The true being and Buddha nature within you is divine and worthy. You must carry this part of you with love and holiness. The material titles and forms that come in and out of your life will not change this. Once you accept this sanctity you will no longer be capable of feeling unworthiness.