We have all experienced times when we feel worried, anxious, afraid. It may be about something we think may happen in a few minutes or hours or days. Or it may be about something we don’t have a timeframe for, like an earthquake or a terrorist attack. It might be something we feel there is no way to avoid, or it may be something we rationally know should never happen, but could.
Once we focus on these worries, these fearful things, it’s hard to let them go. Even when time passes and nothing bad happens, we seem to hold on to these thoughts and in time will discover new things to fear. On some occasions we can become obsessed with these thoughts, and fear and foreboding can take over our everyday lives. We may be so busy we forget about them for a time, but when we are in the quiet places, they rise again within the mind.
It almost seems as if we don’t want to let go, as if we want to hold on to these thoughts against all logic. People can tell us it’s irrational and pointless to obsess about the future, but everyone does so at some point in their lives. It seems to be innate, like something biological, something evolutionary, that is necessary for our survival. If we were without fear, how could we be prepared for the terrible things that we know could occur in the future.
So how can we free ourselves from these fears? Are we just destined to replay fearful thoughts in our minds until they seem to eventually fade away or something else fearful replaces them? Is there any way out of our obsession?
A Look at Religion
When we look at organized religion, especially in the Western world, we find that fear is an integral part of the teachings. In the Judaic-Christian-Muslim traditions, a healthy fear of God is central to the doctrine. We are given moral laws to live by and are expected to follow those laws, not because we always want to, but because there are clear punishments if we don’t.
These punishments may appear in this life, since it is expected that doing harm to others or toward God will be met by harm to us, or at least to feelings of deep guilt. And on top of this, there are punishments in the afterlife for actions we take in this life. If we do not live a strong moral life, and repent for those sins we do commit, we are promised a less than happy time after we die.
Given the integration of fear into religion, it would seem that seeking a way out of fear through religion would be futile. If we were to go to a rabbi, minister, priest, or imam and say we are feeling fearful, we’d very likely be told this is normal. There really are things to fear in this world and the world beyond. We’d also probably be given many new things we hadn’t thought of we should fear. It seems clear that Western religions, because of their focus on fear, are not a place to look for freedom from our obsession.
A Look at Psychology
So maybe we can turn to science. If these fears are biological and evolutionary, perhaps we can deal with them through a closer examination, through psychological counseling. In the world of science, including psychology, we are bodies born onto this earth where we will live out our lives until we die and are no more.
One of the fundamental fears in this thought system is the fear of death, for death is the end of the body and the brain, and therefore is the end of us. If our purpose here is survival, then we must be afraid of death, for that is the end of the game. There is nothing beyond, so everyone who accepts we are bodies and brains living out our existence here has this built-in fear. There is nothing a psychologist talking to us can do to eliminate this fear.
Other fears in this life are either from some instinctual fear built into our DNA, or from events since our birth that have caused us pain, or are simply made up in our brains for no logical reason. As examples, the first time we see an aggressive wild animal, we will be fearful based on our innate fight or flight instinct. Secondly we could be fearful of a person who has harmed us in the past. And finally we might see a terrorist attack on TV and be personally fearful, even though we might know logically it is almost impossible it will happen to us.
The psychologist has nothing to offer for instinctual fears since these are built into who we are. In the second case, you could get some help by looking more closely at why the person harmed you and by learning tools for diffusing future encounters. But for most everyone, there will be new encounters with new people and new fears engendered. Finally for the impossible events, some people could be reasoned out of the fear, but since the fear is irrational, logic may not prevail. In all these cases we are left with small partial solutions, but nothing that will ultimately release the obsession.
Turning to the Course
When we study the Course, we learn several fundamental ideas. We learn that the God of the Course is Pure Love. Nowhere in the Course does God threaten you with any kind of punishment, in this life or beyond. Nowhere are you given a set of moral laws you must adhere to, laws whose violation would bring retribution down on you. This God only wants the best for you – Peace, Love, Creation, and Eternal Life.
We learn that the reason we experience pain and guilt and fear is simply because we chose the separation instead of God, and we continue to choose it every minute of every day. Even though our Natural State is to be One with God, we choose to believe that we are separate from God. Every negative experience we have is the result of that choice.
It is the ego, the part of the mind that focuses on maintaining the illusion of separation, that is responsible for all our pain, guilt, and fear. We can choose differently for the Holy Spirit, our Communication Link with God, but most of the time we don’t. We listen to all the lies the ego tells us, that without the ego, our bodies could not survive. Without the ego, we could never experience the pleasures of this world. And without the ego, there is a wrathful God waiting to punish us.
So it turns out, our obsession is really an attraction. We choose to focus on the fear, to experience the pain, to feel the guilt. We do it because we want to, even though we may not consciously understand what is going on. One of the main purposes of the Course is to get you to see how you are creating this whole mess yourself by choosing the ego. Once you can see that, then through forgiveness, you can begin the journey back to God.
Forgiving the Fear
Fortunately we have not been abandoned in this world. We do have an alternative to the ego, and the Course tells us that through choosing the Holy Spirit we can be free of the ego and all the attendant unhappiness. If you take the time, you will find the Holy Spirit waiting, in the peaceful, loving part of your mind.
Our release from fear begins with forgiveness. In the Course, forgiveness is a process through which we release these negative thoughts and emotions through contact with the Holy Spirit. It is a basic three-step process which will allow you to free yourself from the ego’s hold.
The first step is to choose something to forgive. The things you will forgive are your thoughts, all the non-loving thoughts in your mind. Any thoughts of pain, guilt, fear, anger, depression, and more, any thoughts that are not thoughts of Love. Choose one of these thoughts and focus for a moment on the experiences around that thought, including any people involved.
Then take a moment to get in touch with the Holy Spirit. Go to the place in your mind where you feel loved and at peace. You might read the blog ‘Finding the Holy Spirit’ if you are just starting out. Then take that non-loving thought you chose and focus on all the ugly, hateful, fearful emotions surrounding it. Relive it as completely as you can as you keep your contact with the Holy Spirit.
Now hand off to the Holy Spirit all of this ugliness with all the emotions associated with it, as you say ‘I forgive …’ followed by a description of the experience and emotions, and then again ‘I forgive …’ followed by the names of any persons involved in the experience. Finally say ‘I forgive myself for having these thoughts, for I know these are illusions of the ego and have no reality.’
After you are done, sit with the Holy Spirit for a moment and think back on what you were forgiving and see if some of that intense emotion you started with has faded away. Over time it will fade further and you will be free of these non-loving thoughts.
The Peace of God
Our obsession with fear is the ego’s obsession with fear. Our attraction to fear is the ego’s attraction to fear. The ego wants to maintain the illusion of separation at all costs and if we listen to the ego, we will be caught in the spiral of non-loving thoughts and experiences.
The Course promises us that the Peace of God is ours, not because we’re special and not because we’re better than someone else and not because we act in a certain way. The Peace of God is ours because that is the only reality of who we are. All else is a meaningless illusion, and we will find our Peace simply by becoming who we already are.