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Fearlessly Feeling Fear

A teenage boy just heard that Tommy wants to fight him in the schoolyard. He feels fear, but it’s not OK to feel fear. He’s supposed to be a man. He’s supposed to be tough. Or at least that’s what his belief system is telling him.

A woman in college was raised Christian and believes we should all love one another. But someone named Maggie just was hitting on her boyfriend. Anger starts to rise up in this woman, but it’s not OK to be angry because of her beliefs. So she feels anxious and get a second level of emotion because of the conflict of the first emotion, anger. It wasn’t OK to feel the way she felt.

Let’s take it away from a belief based idea. Let’s just say that we don’t like feeling fear, or sadness, or anger. I get scared and I don’t like the way it feels. It’s not OK to feel the way I feel. Once, for whatever reason, it’s not OK to be who I am or feel how I feel, I am in trouble.

This talk is about that second level of emotions. When we feel something and that feeling is not OK. When we feel fear and we don’t want to feel fear. The added anxiety and discomfort that we add to what we feel. This talk relates to beliefs, emotions, and surrender. All our feelings and emotions are necessary. Emotions are the language to tell us how we are relating to our situation and circumstance all the time. And yet it takes courage to feel what we feel sometimes.

Some teachings say we should try to transcend emotions. Some say we need to endlessly honor emotions. I say doing both is really important. We must investigate the self that’s feeling the feelings. It could need to adjust it’s beliefs and hence, change itself. But we also need to really feel what we are feeling.

The worst thing I see in people, and myself, is when we resist what is. When I am resisting life, I am deeply unhappy. When I accept what is, I can face anything. I can fearlessly feel fear. Whenever I choose to spend my time wanting what is not, rather than appreciating what is, I’m lost. The practice is to become aware that we are fighting this moment, and to drop that critique. We can feel fear, and not want to be anything else. We can be sad, and fully feel it without running away. When we do that we open ourselves to the joy underneath.

The Problem With Self Protection

Our self is more than partially defined by the assumptions and beliefs we hold about the world. Our emotions arise as that self rubs up against its edges. Emotions often tell us when our boundaries, or self, have been compromised. There is no doubt that we need to work on our understanding of emotions. Teachings that help us understand our emotions I label as self protection teachings. Again, those teachings are very important.

Once we understand self as the accumulation of our own beliefs, we can learn to drop it. I’ll call the experience of dropping beliefs experiencing no self. That doesn’t mean our self stops existing, it just means we learn that we are not as attached to the self, and that it can be put down for pure experience from time to time. Practicing meditation is the expression of no self.

Because many think self is the root of desire, and hence unhappiness, some spiritual teachings discuss limiting or denying self as a spiritual practice. It is important to understand that experiencing no self doesn’t make the self unimportant. It is not something that should be shunned. To the contrary, it should be learned about deeply. Much of life requires understanding of ourselves and others boundaries.

Possibly to combat the erroneous notion of suppressing self, emotional teachings often end up defending self, which is one of the reasons I call them self protection teachings. But while it is important to not deny self, those teachings often make a different error. They fail to mention that our self may not be healthy. While emotional intelligence is crucial to self knowledge, we shouldn’t blindly assume that the self we find once watching our emotions is healthy or correct. Many people in touch with their emotions act quite horribly. It’s neither the answer to deny self, nor to accept it blindly. We need to learn to work with self.

Learning to work with self takes nothing away from the importance of emotional intelligence or self protection. However, to be truly wise, we need to be able to judge ourselves and be open to change. Blindly following our present boundaries does not allow us to evolve. Suppressing or shunning self only leaves us fragmented and unhealthy. We need to learn about self, and no self, and allow both to change and evolve.