Fear is not fearful

249In order to better understand what fear is, we have to make a distinction between instinctual fear, which is genetically coded into the human organism, and the projection of fear, when a fearful story is projected into the future about what might happen.

Examples for instinctual fear could be a fear of falling from the edge of a cliff, or being frightened by a sudden loud noise. However, humans experience instinctual fear rarely. When it happens, there is an instant adrenalin rush in the body which signals the organism to move away from the danger. Still, the adrenalin surge is not the result of thinking processes. Although, a few seconds later, thoughts may come up interpreting what happened, saying that ‘I am afraid because I almost fell off the cliff’. But the surge of adrenaline works perfectly without thinking, and by itself it does not imply fear.

The same adrenaline rush could be tagged as ‘excitement,’ if I jumped out of an airplane with a parachute fastened to my back. Or, it could be labelled as a ‘sign of love’ when I unexpectedly spot my new lover at the other side of the street. Fear, excitement, love – the sensation is the same, only the label varies.

Even though instinctual fear is rare in our everyday life, we still experience fear quite often, due to mind-made stories being projected into the future: ‘I fear growing old’, ‘I’m afraid of being ridiculed in front of all my colleagues’ or ‘what if she leaves me’; the list is endless.

When my friend tells me that their company decided outsourcing a whole department, thoughts might come up: ‘What if my company will do the same? My job is definitely not indispensable, what if they will fire me? What would I do? I am too old to get a new job. How am I going to pay the mortgage?’ And the fear is set in motion.

But this fear is not caused by an adrenalin rush; it is caused only by believing the story – the story of ‘my’ life. It has no reality, except as a string of thoughts. It is real only as an appearing thought-story, but never its content. Only believing the story creates the emotional response.

When fear arises, is it really fear that is experienced, or is fear just another cover story? When I think ‘I fear that I might lose my job’, would not it be more appropriate to say that ‘there is a resistance to this story’? Do I really feel fear or I just resist what was made up about what might happen?

And what is fear anyway? How is it experienced? When the fear as emotion arises, it is nothing more than felt sensations in the body with the added thought tag ‘fear’. In direct experience, most of the emotions that are labelled as ‘negative’ are experienced quite similarly, as felt contractions in one or more parts of the body.

What is the difference in direct experience between fear, shame, guilt or anger? Is there any apart from the labels as ‘fear’ and ‘shame’? Does the felt sensation contain by itself any innate fearness or angriness?

Is fear real at all? Or is it just a resistance…?
With or without the story, reality is the same – neutral.

Fear is just an artefact, a fabrication. It is nothing more than a sensation in the body plus an attached ‘fear’ label. This is the case with all emotions. The sensations by themselves are not negative, positive, pleasant or unpleasant. They are totally neutral. Only the attached tags differentiate between them.

When this is seen, fear evaporates. It becomes an empty word.
Because fear is NOT real.
There is just a sensation.

Memory is not ‘me’

Visual illusion - Akiyoshi Kitaoka

Visual illusion – Akiyoshi Kitaoka

We were taught since early childhood that there is a solid, separate entity, a ‘me’ in the body, looking out to the world through the eyes. But this is just an assumption that has never been questioned before.

When the curiosity arises to look closer and challenge this strongly held belief, it turns out to our surprise that the ‘me’ is nowhere to be found. It is simply not there. Similar to visual illusions, where it seems that there is an animation in the picture, but it is just a trick of the mind.

However, reading these lines and believing that there is no self, is not sufficient to see through this illusion. In this case, just another belief would be placed on top of the idea of the self. The belief of the mirage of the ‘me’ needs to be seen experientially, and not covered up with another layer of beliefs.

The ‘I’ seemingly lives in memories and beliefs. But in the present moment, where is this ‘I’? Not in a memory, not in a future image, but here and now? Is it in the body? Exactly where?

A memory is nothing else than simultaneously arising mental images, thoughts and bodily sensations, which are firmly welded together and appear as a coherent and real depiction about the assumed past. But this mental construct of a seeming past experience arises in the present moment. There are no little shelves in the mind holding small segments of the past as memories. All memory is constructed again and again in the here and now every time ‘we’ think about it.

The image of me playing in the garden as a five-year old is not ‘me’. Although, the thought label of ‘this is me, playing in the garden’ is fused with the picture of the five-year old body and the bodily sensations of the associated emotions. But thoughts, mental pictures and emotions arise in this body, here and now. The emotions and the remembrance of warmth of the sun on the skin are felt now.

There is nothing outside of the present moment. The I-thought that emerges as part of the memory is nothing more than a thought.

There is no ‘me’ looking out of the eyes, who is separate from the rest of the world. The idea of separation is created by thought. Only thoughts separate.

Between two thoughts there is no ‘me’.
The sense of me emerges when an I-thought label is put on the felt sensations in the body. But the sense of self is NOT the self.

When a memory is dismantled into its components – thoughts, images, emotions, bodily sensations and beliefs – and each piece is examined closely looking for the existence of ‘me’, the glue that hold the memory together creating the sense of self, releases and dissolves. What is left is just the pure experience of thoughts, images, sensations and emotions, without a ‘me’ who could own the experience. There is no individual person.

This is what ‘we’ are seeking.
This is peace.

I cannot make you feel happy… it’s impossible…

137Can I make you feel happy or sad? Do I have the power to have an effect on your mood or feelings?

Assume that I am on the verge of telling you that I want to end our relationship, but I am not brave enough to bring the topic up because I am afraid of hurting your feelings. But do I really have the power to hurt anybody’s feelings?

If I leave you, you may feel sad, abandoned, angry or unloved. But is it true that I am the cause of your suffering? Can I make you suffer?

If I believe that I can do all of these to you, it means I am believing a story about my omnipotence. In the current version of the story of my life, I am playing god.

I have no power whatsoever on anybody’s feelings. It is literally impossible.

If you think that I am responsible for you feeling unloved and abandoned, it means that you project your own self-image onto me and blame me for your misery.

While the belief in the deficient, unloving self is intact, each person and situation reflect back, in one way or another, some version of this core belief. You cannot see me, you cannot hear me, because you perceive me and the whole world through this lens. No matter whether I treat you lovingly or not, you will see and interpret my actions as unloving.

When I decide to leave you, you find this as a proof of your unlovingness, which in turn, fortifies the core belief of the incomplete, unloving self that is the basis of your identity. Thus, it is projected outward again and again and making others responsible for your own creation.

You cannot see me; you only see your story about me, which is your story about your-self.

Reality is neutral. In the action of leaving you there is no inherent attributes of pain, abandonment or lack of love. Only your story about ‘me leaving you’ hurts you. Your thoughts are hurting you, not me. I cannot do that.

But if I believe that I can hurt you then I create my own suffering by feeling guilty or responsible for your feelings. I do this to myself by projecting the belief of my incomplete self onto you, which will be reflected back to me, and thus the story of the deficient self keeps going.

‘You’ and ‘me’, we are not that special.
‘I have no power to do anything with you.
Only you can hurt yourself by believing your story.
By believing that there is a ‘you’ that could be hurt.

What would you be without your story?
What is left?

Why do we have a need to enhance our self-image?

It is commonplace in our culture that we try to improve our self-image in many different ways. Many people attempt to enhance their self-esteem by positive thinking, different types of therapies, or being nice and follow social norms to fit in, in order to get approval by others.

230The ‘I’ is constantly seeking appreciation in some way or another and feels it has to make an impression on others to make them like ‘me’. It is trying to push an image to imprint into others’ minds, how it wants them to see ‘me’ and think about ‘me’.

We relentlessly try to improve our self-image, because deep down most of us feel we are not OK, we are not complete; something is missing. We push our desired self-image forward to win others over. ‘This is how I want you to see me’. The irony is that this image that depicts how I want you to see me is the exact opposite of how I see myself.

So, who do I want to convince that I am better than I think I am?
You or me? Is there any division between ‘you’ and ‘me’?

Without believing that there are two solid, separate selves, ‘you’ and ‘me’, the ‘I’ could not feel better or worse than ‘you’. Without comparison there is no division.

The ‘I’ wants to improve its self-image because there is a belief in an incomplete, deficient self. This belief can take many forms: ‘unlovable me’, ‘unworthy me’, ‘ugly me’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not successful enough’, ‘something is wrong with me’, ‘I am not strong enough’, and so on. The list is endless.

The illusion of the self is constructed from millions of beliefs, but the belief in the incomplete, deficient self has the strongest and most enchanting effect of all. This core belief is the basis of ‘our’ so called self-esteem and identity. All relationships reflect back this central belief, because the mind cannot help but project all its content ‘out there’. And since the world mirrors back the incomplete self, the reflection seems as a proof for validating its deficiency. As a result, the core belief is fortified and kept in place.

No matter how hard we try to override the belief in the separate, deficient self by positive thinking, or spending hundreds of hours in meditation or in different practises, the suffering is guaranteed.

But the existence of a deficient self is just a belief.

When this core belief is seen for what it is – just an unexamined thought taken seriously – it naturally falls away. But for the ‘I’ this can be frightening, since this belief is the basis of its ‘existence’.

Without believing in the incomplete self, there is no self, there is no ‘I’ to be found.

There is no need to enhance ‘my’ self-image and imprint onto ‘your’ mind to make a desired impression. Self-image and self-esteem become empty words, not referring to anything real.

Beliefs – the building blocks of ‘our’ identities

026There is a freedom in not believing any thoughts. Attachment to beliefs is the origin of suffering. Some people are even ready to die for their beliefs. But why are beliefs so precious for us? What are beliefs anyway?

Assume that you have just arrived home after a day of work. Your mind is full of the story of the happenings of the day, how your boss treated you unfairly and how bad the traffic was on the way home. The only thing you want is to lie down on the couch and tell ‘your’ story to your husband. You want him to listen to you and comfort you. As you start outpouring the intricate details of the happenings of your day, your husband suddenly interrupts you and instead of standing on your side he defends your boss. Immediately, you feel angry and frustrated due to the thought that has just popped-up ‘in your head’, ‘my husband never listens to me’. This single thought triggers a loop of other ‘disturbing’ thoughts; a very familiar and conditioned story that you thought thousand times before. ‘He doesn’t care about me, because if he cared about me he would have listened to me and stood by my side instead of making me wrong.’

‘He never listens to me’ or ‘He doesn’t care about me’ are just conditioned beliefs. Beliefs are nothing more than unexamined thoughts which are believed to be true, to be the accurate description of what IS.

Beliefs are very important for the ‘I’, because beliefs are the building blocks of ‘me’.

The ‘I’ never sees what is, because it always tries to interpret what IS according to what it learned previously, what this or that means to ‘me’. Everything is filtered through a huge web of beliefs before the interpretations and assumptions about what IS arise.

When we are talking and I believe the thought that ‘you never listen to me’, then I stop listening to you. I stop hearing what you are saying, because the thought in my head overrides what you are saying. I cannot hear you, I cannot see you, I can only hear my thoughts I believe about you, and see the constructed image in my head of you. So the belief that ‘you never listen to me’ overrides what is presently here, in the now.

When you say something that contradicts my belief systems, the ‘I’ hears them as a criticism not as a help, because it feels threatened. In defence of my beliefs – which are the building blocks of ‘my’ identity – the mind wants to gather ‘proofs’ to support its existing belief systems, and not to take part in uncovering or destroying them.

And when you interrupt and override me is not just simply a conditioned habit, but a defence. You try to defend your point of view what you believe is ‘your’ self. You are not simply interrupting me; you are literally fighting for your life in that moment, fighting for ‘your’ identity.

Observing, examining and questioning beliefs cut through the attachment to them.

The separate self is ‘made of’ beliefs.
Without believing the content of beliefs, there is no inherent self with volition to be found.

Nature of thoughts

149One of the biggest calamities of the human race is that we take our thoughts too seriously and we suffer as a consequence. When there is a tendency to being lost in the content of thoughts, which is the habitual state of humanity, we are at mercy of whatever thoughts might pop-up in our heads. An almost constant flux of thoughts appears on the horizon which can trigger a wide range of conditioned emotional responses.

Let’s say you are working on a home improvement project and try to assemble some furniture what you never did before. At first, some enthusiastic thoughts may come up with images about your beautiful new table and the approving smile on the face of your spouse. This fantasy may trigger some pleasurable emotions with a feeling of contentment which enhances your self-image. Later, when you start working on your project, some disturbing thoughts might arise: ‘This is much harder than I thought. I don’t know how to do it. What if I screw it up?’ – accompanied with images of a badly-built, wobbly table and the face of your wife frowning at you. Feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction go along with this story and your previously inflated self-esteem is now plummeting. What’s going on here?

Thoughts come and go as clouds on the sky but when they are believed they seem to become real for us. There is an emphasis on the word ‘seem’ because in reality – meaning in direct experience – a thought is real, but never its content. Its content is just a dream, a fantasy. When this is seen, the grip of the heaviness of thoughts is gone.

The function of thoughts is to make a mental description or concept about what IS for a later storage in memory, but this doesn’t mean automatically that this concept is accurate or real.

When thoughts are seen for what they are – mere thoughts passing by – their emptiness and powerlessness become apparent. They don’t point to any real thing.

The mind is a labelling machine.
Thoughts pop-up out of the blue, and ‘you’ have no control over them.
‘You’, who think you have control over ‘your’ thoughts, is just another thought.
There is no separate you to have thoughts.
Thoughts are real, but you, as an autonomous self-governed agency, are NOT.

When this is seen, there is freedom.
Freedom from the grasp of thoughts.
Freedom from the constant need to become or to appear as somebody in the eyes of the ‘other’.

Who are you protecting when you protect your friend?

161Imagine that you are in a garden party held by one of your friends. As you are walking along by a group of people, you cannot help but overhear their conversation as they are making fun of somebody else who is not there. You walk on, but suddenly you realise that the person they are talking about is your best friend, Pete. Thoughts come up: ‘Wait a minute. They are making fun of Pete. They shouldn’t talk like this. Pete is a very good guy. I have to do something. I have to protect him.’ The body becomes tense, and you feel frustrated. You turn around, hasten your steps back to them to pick up a fight to protect your best friend.

What do you think who are you protecting? Are you really protecting Pete or just protecting the concept of Pete in ‘your head’?

During the ten-year friendship, an intricately detailed mental concept of Pete has been built up in your brain. This concept is compounded of a mental image of his body, his name Pete, the sound of his voice, his habitual reactions to certain circumstances, his likes and dislikes, the stories he frequently tells, and all the good and bad memories of times you spent together.

But this mental image is not him. This construct ‘lives’ only in your mind. Actually, there is a huge web of conditioned neuronal networks in the brain that creates and re-creates this image of Pete every time you have a thought of him.

This mental image of Pete serves a seemingly quite important job; to be a building block of ‘you’. This concept of Pete is a small segment of ‘your self’. The illusion of ‘I’ lives in almost every concept and all beliefs. The ‘I’ is assembled from these small fragments. When a part of it is seen through, then the identification with that part is no longer total. A segment of ‘you’ is dissolved.

So, who do ‘you’ protect when protecting ‘your’ friend?

‘You’ are protecting ‘your-self.
The separate self that does not exist other than an idea.
You protect an illusion of you being an independent autonomous entity.
You protect an idea of who you think you are.

Being lost in the story of my life

043.1How many hours a day do you spend in storyland? Can you notice thoughts coming and going, or you are just tossed around in the endless ocean of thoughts from one story to the other? In our everyday lives most of us do not recognize thoughts for what they are, just thoughts floating by, but rather spend most of our lives being zoomed into the contents of thoughts, taking them for granted.

Let’s have a look at an everyday scenario. On a sunny afternoon, after work, driving home on the motorway, the focus is mainly on the internal movie about what happened in the meeting earlier that day, instead of noticing what is happening here now. ‘My boss was so unfair with me. He shouldn’t have said that. I’m so pissed off…’ – and the story goes on. Tension and contraction arise in the body due to anger and resentment. Suddenly, a sense of hunger shows up, which triggers another story, a story about being at home eating my favourite pizza. Then, unexpectedly, a driver cuts me off, almost causing an accident, which sets off a new stream of story with images of being in hospital due to severe injuries.

In the meantime, I arrive home, unharmed, but the I hardly remember how I got there because I was mesmerized by the endless dream of thoughts.

And this is how most of us live, almost constantly falling in and out from one story to another hundred or thousand times a day; hardly noticing the blooming trees on the side of the road, the warmth of the sun on the skin, the whispering of the wind and the pleasant tingling sensations in the hands. All this is missed for only one reason: to keep the illusion of the self alive.

But the ‘I’ lives only in stories.
Without story there is no ‘me’.
If the stream of stories stops just for a second, the ‘me’ vanishes.
When there is no ‘me’ then there is peace.

Driving happens, seeing happens, steering the wheel happens but nobody is doing it.

It is not even necessary for the story to stop; it is enough to see the story for what it is, a stream of thoughts passing by.

‘Me’ is just another thought.
‘Me’ is nothing, an empty word.
‘Me’ does not refer to anything.

Thoughts are not facts

051The human brain produces more than 70,000 thoughts a day. Most of these thoughts are repetitive, meaning that most of them are the same thoughts that ‘we’ have had for decades.

There is a tendency to believe that thoughts are accurate descriptions of reality; however, this could not be further from the truth. A thought is just a label on what IS, never the thing itself. The experience is gone in the moment when thoughts come in interpreting the experience. Thought construct has replaced (seemingly) what IS, and the experience has been reduced to a fleeting, elusive thought.

Thoughts can be artificially divided into two categories: practical or problem solving thoughts and self referencing thoughts. Not surprisingly, most of our thoughts are self referencing thoughts where all our apparent troubles originate from, and all these selfing thoughts revolve around one single thought of ‘I’.

After seeing that there is no separate self in reality, Descartes’ most famous existential statement ‘I think, therefore I am’ can be viewed from a different angle.

The ‘me’ exists only in story-land, as part of appearing and disappearing stream of thoughts. The ‘I’ exist only as a concept in thought. If this thought is taken to be real, the illusion of a ‘separate I’ emerges with the belief of it being the thinker of thoughts, with the conclusion that ‘I think, therefore I am’.

But can a thought think?
Can a thought exist as a solid entity in space and time?
Is thinking a proof of the existence of ‘me’?

Thinking happens, just as raining happens.
‘I am thinking’ is just another thought appearing on its own, without a thinker.

You are not who you think you are.

Because the ‘I’, as a separate independent autonomous entity is nothing else than the figment of imagination.