Sunday, February 28, 2016


Fear elicits a response from the Sympathetic component of our Autonomic Nervous System leading usually to a flight or fight response but also sometimes to freezing or feigning death. The latter two occur in animals but shame and severe condemnation of self or by others, by putting our brains in a lock down, freeze mode, can achieve the same result. 
The causes of fear are many; superstitious, religious, loss of life,  limb, organ or function, the deep, the dark, the steep and the unknown. Of all fears the social ones surrounding loss of ego are sometimes the most powerful and can lead to the kind of self-paralysis described above. 
Fear arises because of an appraisal of an impending threat. In most it leads to stress, in some it may lead to eustress or good stress which occurs in folks who thrive on stressful challenges. The defense mechanism was meant to rescue us from life or death situations and results in a pouring out of adrenalin and cortisol from the adrenal glands and a sympathetic nervous system overload (dilated pupils, dry mouth, increased heart rate and blood pressure etc.)  When we were hunter-gatherers and survived a lion attack, at the end of the ordeal our body would down regulate quickly to normal and there would be a sense of gratitude, empowerment and self mastery. In our modern era, however, stress leads to a chronic up regulation of the sympathetic nervous system leading to hypertension, an increase in pro-inflammatory factors which can cause atherosclerosis and certain autoimmune disorders and cancers. Chronic increases in cortisol can suppress the immune system and also predispose to diabetes. If we do not find a way to counteract chronic stress we will not endure good health or realize spiritual growth. Any spiritual practice will balance the scales by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, creating a relaxation response and down regulating the sympathetic overload. This is why yoga, meditation, chi gong, tai chi etc have become so popular in the West.
Overcoming fear leads to greater self-mastery, self-esteem and self-actualization. Hence the emphasis on the Hero/ine's journey recently. In all three phases of the journey (Separation, Threshold, Incorporation) described by Van Gennep and Joseph Campbell one encounters fear and overcomes it allowing one to obtain the "grail" of whatever it was that the journey offered up. 

Those that have further to go in self mastery will usually gain more from the challenge but an overload can be debilitating to the novice.  The army uses the following principles to increase the intensity of a perceived threat by; increasing the complexity of the task, the risk and consequences of failure and by decreasing the time given to complete it. Fear increases if the participant is kept ignorant of the exercise and does not know what to expect. All these principles also apply to our own lives and abilities to manage stress.
 Handling fear effectively is a vital part of our existence and self-transformation. 
As Aldo Leopold said; "it must be a poor life that obtains freedom from fear."

It is essential for us to have a spiritual practice which can help  balance the fear based polarities of our lives. The first Chakra is the energy center at the base of the spine responsible for survival but we should ensure that the challenges of just a day at work are not perceived by our bodies in the same way as if we were being chased by a bear. We have to raise the energy above the second and third chakras to the fourth or heart chakra of love above the diaphragm in order not only to live in harmony but for transpersonal growth. The diaphragm is critical for breath work which is a powerful way to get an immediate relaxation response in challenging circumstances.

We should all nurture, almost on a daily basis, a spiritual practice that is enjoyable, sustainable and done for its own sake for at least 20 minutes a day, if we are to heal and grow spiritually.

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