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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fear and Fearlessness

"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral."
-- Mahatma Gandhi --
Over and over in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous the subject of fear crops up. Indeed, the original A.A. members represented in the 'Big Book' do not ask, suggest or demand that we be fearless in working the 12 Steps, they beg us "to be fearless and thorough from the very start."

Why this emphasis on fear and fearlessness? I suggest that it is because there are two visceral reactions to life that shape and sustain the ego - fear and its conjoined counterpart, desire. Indeed, we read that the alcoholic addict is "(d)riven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 62.]

In describing how to make a moral inventory, we read that: "We (review) our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper even though we had no resentment in connection with them. We asked ourselves why we had them. Wasn't it because self-reliance failed us?"
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 68.]

Looking at my own fears, it is clear that some - like fear of snakes, large barking dogs, and immense heights - are just instinctual. Recognizing that fear in such instances is just part of an instinctive "fight, flee or freeze" reaction, it is easy enough to overcome such fears, or at least to act in the face of them. Why do I have such fears? Because humans have always had such visceral reactions to imminent danger. They are hard-wired survival mechanisms.

But what about those other fears on my list - seemingly non-instinctive and secondarily-instinctive angsts such as a fear of the opposite sex, fear of speaking in public, fear of financial insecurity, fear about what others think of me, fear of the abstract concept of my own mortality? Such anxieties are not inherent, but rather are produced by the fear-based thought processes of the human ego.

Such self-centered (i.e., ego-centric) fears are symptomatic of the restless and egoic thinking of the addictive mind, and it is thus necessary to address such fears from a different mode of thought and consciousness than mere self-consciousness. Reliance on the "self" or "ego"  (i.e., "self-reliance") indeed fails me with respect to such fears. (It was Einstein who famously said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.)

What is always required when dealing with these purely egoic fears is a recurrence to the God-consciousness wherein the voice of the ego disappears.

It is, I believe, in this sense that Gandhi says the first requirement of spirituality is fearlessness. So long as the ego is active the spirit is absent. And absent the courage - i.e., the purity of heart - that is inherent in the higher state of God-consciousness, it is impossible to act sanely in the face of such fears, and experience shows that instead I react to such anxieties.

Remember: "(T)he main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind." And the only solution lies in the deeper recesses and higher consciousness of the soul. Therein is a Power greater than one's "self" that will, when found, restore one to sanity and allow one to do or say that which was unthinkable before.

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