‘Freedom from anxiety does not mean the absence of anxiety. Courage is having a strong, loving heart in the presence of fears, rather than avoiding your feelings.’
In one of my favourite episodes of the Here and Now podcast, Ram Dass wraps up his talk by reading a passage from Emmanuel’s Book II on the difference between love and fear. Full disclosure: he believes Emmanuel is a spiritual entity who speaks through a woman called Pat Rodegast. Personally I don’t mind much whether this is true or not, because the passage is beautifully rich whoever wrote it — does it make a difference whether Ms. Rodegast had access to a being from another realm or just possessed a particularly wise and eloquent subconscious?
If you’re interested, Emmanuel’s poem covers 46:35 to the end of episode #30 of the podcast. (If you don’t have the requisite ten minutes or don’t use Spotify, it can also be found at the end of this transcript.) Based on my limited knowledge of Rumi, it seems almost like something he might write. Just gorgeous phrasing.
These passages particularly stuck out to me:
‘When without even knowing the meaning of it, you say with every inhalation “I choose love here, I choose love”, you will see the light change and the darkness dispel. Your mind may say, “I don’t understand what happened. All I did was sit here for fifteen minutes choosing love.” Well, that’s all that’s required.’
‘And if fear seems to follow me what do I do? Hold fear in one hand, hold love in the other. Holding both, choose love and choose love again. Fear may call you back, “What about me?” You answer: “Yes fear, I hear you — I choose love.”’
When I first heard this there was something about the specificity of ’15 minutes’ that I liked. I usually meditate for about 20 minutes anyway, so I thought ‘Why not give it a go? Set the timer for 15 minutes, say “I choose love” on every breath and see what happens?’
Well…wow. Man, did that work. I know meditation technically isn’t supposed to be about achieving anything, but let’s be honest, it’s more encouraging to get an immediate reward from it than not, and I got something out of this exercise pretty much instantly. And every time I’ve done the “I choose love” mantra since it’s been the same. Sometimes it just calms me down a little, sometimes it significantly changes my mood, but it always moves the dial at least a bit. I never come away thinking ‘Well that was a waste of time.’
I like to get my mind’s chatter quiet and my breathing slow before I start, so I’ll begin by saying something simple like ‘Breathing in, breathing out’ for a few minutes before I set my 15-minute timer. So the exercise takes about 20 minutes altogether. In my experience, the time this “takes” from the day is always made up in the increased efficiency brought about by feeling more at home in my own skin. Not that spending time sitting still needs to be justified in those terms, but that’s how our minds tend to work, isn’t it?
So why does the practice work so well? Not sure, but I think the fear/love distinction has a lot to do with it. Why is fear the other side of the coin? Why not hate, or apathy, or selfishness?
The more I think about it, the more I feel like love and fear are the central yin-yang in our inner lives. The ego — in other words, the sense we have of having a separate self — is essentially a fear-based entity. It knows none of its “I, me, mine” dividing lines are real, not really, and it spends its days panicking about being found out. I reckon that all the rages and despairs it throws our way essentially boil down to fear — it’s certainly what most of my problems come down to.
I further reckon that all this fear is ultimately the fear of death: If I let that bastard away with this my status will suffer, if my status slips badly enough I’ll be kicked out of society, if I’m ostracised by society I’ll be alone in the wilderness, and if that happens I’ll die!! If I don’t wash my hands often enough I might be responsible for someone’s death, which would make me an Evil Person, which would mean everything worthwhile about me would die!! And the rest of me would deserve to die too!!!
The ego can’t imagine anything worse than death, because death is the end — for the ego. But then your ego isn’t you. But your ego doesn’t want you to know that.
If you’re not your ego, then what are you? Ram Dass again: ‘All I am is loving awareness…But if I’m an ego, I’m judging everything as it relates to my own survival…I’m always afraid of something in the world that I have to defend myself against…But if I merge with love, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Love neutralizes fear.’ “Merging” here doesn’t imply fusing with something external to us — for RD love is us, it’s our basic nature, it’s what makes every self-aware being the same as every other self-aware being, just like every physical being is the same as every other physical being on the atomic level. (I explore a similar idea here.)
The idea that we are the ego — that we are fear — is so persistent that we need to spend some time each day reminding ourselves it’s not true. This might sound a little like brainwashing, but isn’t the ridiculous amount of mental space we give over to negative stories, close-minded loops, self-limiting beliefs, obsessions, past mistakes and potential catastrophes a much more harmful form of brainwashing? It’s only “common sense” because we’ve got so used to it.
Identifying with the part of myself that exists underneath, behind, around and through my conditioning is liberating. It makes me more accepting of myself as I go through the day. It relaxes my body. I’m more likely to notice myself slipping into drivenness and perfectionism, that feeling of “whipping myself on” that subtly poisons almost everything I do. Then I have the choice to switch from being someone who has to do X or else to someone who wants to do X because it’s the natural thing to do.
The endgame is nicely summed up in 1 John 4:18: ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love.’
And until it’s no fear and all love, my job is to acknowledge fear and choose love. For 15 minutes a day.