05/03/2020 Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. There are certain recurrent themes that pass before my mind’s eye as I consider things to discuss on Sunday. I try to draw on new ideas and present new concepts. But often, I am led to speak about the most common of subjects: fear, oneness, and inclusion, are a few of them. Perhaps this is because we are constantly inundated with ideas from the media, our friends and family, which absolutely concern us, worry us, and raise our fear levels. Ever wonder why that is? Why do we share distressing things with people, transmitting adversity and hardship, and perpetuating the discomfort that accompanies these thoughts, while passing it all off as normal and accepted? Perhaps it is part of the human condition. Maybe it is because if we are afraid and we are alone in those fears, then we think there is something wrong with us; we are weak or somehow less than capable of dealing with life. There is a constant cultural and social pull toward a lower common awareness, which promises security but just enslaves us. This universal lower awareness pulls us toward a center that embraces mediocrity, the average, commonplace, and ordinary. Carl Jung called something similar the Collective Unconscious, which was made up of a collection of knowledge and images that every person is born with and is shared by all human beings due to ancestral experience. Sadly, if we want to grow past the common, that “black hole of social convention” tries to suck us back in, fights us, antagonizes us, criticizes, and impedes our efforts in every way possible. It is like a pot of crabs. If there is just one crab in a bucket, it will easily climb out to freedom. But if there are two or more in the bucket, the others will not allow any one of them to climb out. It is always pulled back into the pot. Sometimes I get caught up in those fears , and sometimes appearances can really seem troubling: The economy, Covid19, climate change, political strife, unemployment, health insurance, retirement, social security, the job market, the unrest in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Catalonia, and Iraq. It seems that there is no end to the list of things to fear. Have you ever been in a crisis where, without preparation or warning, you had to act, maybe while driving, or at some other time in life? I remember being a kid playing in the backyard with my brother when we heard a soft and muffled cry for help. Our neighbor had been working on his big eighteen-wheeler type truck when the hood fell onto his back and arms, pinning him half in and half out. We heard his cries, so ran over to help. I could see the cab was cutting into his body and blood was dripping. Now I hate blood, and even as a child I was prone to passing out. But in this moment of crisis, Lee and I worked together to lift this cab off the man. I got through the crisis, helped the man, and then walked away faint and nauseas as I started thinking about what I had just done and seen. But what I noted later, was that while I was intent on helping this man, I had no fear. There was no worrying about what might happen, what injuries the man might have sustained, or whether I was going to pass out. I was not worrying about anything … I was totally focused on the task at hand. As I have reflected on this incident over the years, I have come to realize that fear is often about the future – what may happen, what might come to pass. As Eckhart Tolle would say, I was “in the Now,” in the moment embracing all that was there. There is no fear in the moment; fear resides in the future, within the shadows of our imaginations. There have been other episodes in my life where I was in the moment and acting without thinking, and without the constraints of fear. One time on a vacation we were at a hotel with another couple; our kids were all young and Rebecca was maybe three or four. She was in the pool riding on a floatable toy when without warning she and the toy flipped over so she was totally submerged. Without fear or worry, consideration, or concern I jumped into the pool fully clothed, and righted Rebecca. I maintained a pleasant expression on my face so that she would not think the situation was abnormal. I did not want to impress fear onto her with a horrified expression. All was well after that. We have heard the acronym for FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real. There is no end to the things we can point to, consider, and even believe in, that appear real and cause us fear, but are not real. The point I guess is this: our fears, most of them, are unfounded and based upon things that might happen possibly, theoretically, hypothetically, but have not happened and probably will not ever happen. They only appear real, but in truth are just creations of our imaginations. We imagine the horrible; we imagine all the things that can go wrong, all the worst-case scenarios, and we are paralyzed. Just to take one example from the recent past: the end of days scenario that was predicted to happen at the end of 2012. According to the false interpretations of the speakers of doom, the Mayans had us all dying. Many people were preparing for apocalyptic living and fear was rampant. But what happened? Absolutely nothing. False evidence appearing real. Fear is a natural, normal, and healthy emotion. It keeps us from doing the remarkably stupid things that could harm us. Wisdom and fear walk hand in hand with us, keeping us poised. When we are missing those companions, we run the risk of imbalance and injury. Wisdom, knowledge, education, training, and experience can temper our fears. Psychologists use the term habituation, which refers to the fact that the agitation within the nervous system decreases on repeated exposure to the same stimulus. In other words, familiar things become mundane. As we subject ourselves to things, their effect on us diminishes. Habituation is an effective means of calming our fears. Anxiety, fear, dread, and similar emotions involve nervous system arousal. We cannot feel fear unless our nervous system is stirred up. Because of this agitation, most people tend to avoid things that cause anxiety. Avoidance, however, prevents our nervous system from habituating, or getting used to those ill feelings. In our avoidance of facing our fears, we perpetuate them because that feared person, situation, or object remains novel. For many, as we avoid our fears, we feel like we have failed or are weak. Each time we avoid our fear, we not only strengthen our fear, but we feel more and more like a loser. So, one solution to reducing fear is to face the it. The psychological term for this is ‘exposure’. Exposure entails feeling the fear and moving through it anyway. Exposure scares people, but scary things are not necessarily dangerous, as in horror films or turning off the lights. Exposure is scary primarily because most of us lack an understanding of the habituation principle and expect our fear to escalate indefinitely in the presence of a feared object or situation. But nothing increases indefinitely. Fear, if we face it, will soon lessen as we habituate. As we face our fears, and move toward habituating them, we can keep faith in our hearts. Joshua 1:9 teaches, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Psalm 94:19 - “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” It sounds like a Biblical primer for the habituation of fear. I think these verses were intended to strengthen us enough to face each of our anxiety-ridden situations till we are habituated, and our nervous systems calmed down. Philosopher, Ken Wilber, states that as people unfold and develop spiritually, fear begins to leave them. As we differentiate ourselves from our bodies and realize that we are not the body, we release the fears regarding the body. Yes, we can still feel the pain of injury and disease, but we release the fear because in truth, we, cannot be hurt by injury or disease. We are not our body, nor are we the thoughts going through our minds. Rather, we are the unseen “I” who is observing and witnessing our situations, our thoughts, our actions. Anything that we observe is not us; we are the watcher. Spiritually, when we get to the place where we can distinguish ourselves from what we observe, and from what we think, then what we observe and think no longer have any power over us. Now this may seem impossible at this point in our lives, but I submit that this sort of habituation is a natural part of our spiritual unfolding. This is what is happening to us at one level when we act without fear in a crisis. We no longer identify with our body or the situation. We are no longer in the situation; we are observing the situation. It just “is”, and we are present in that moment. I believe that is what Jesus was teaching when he said, “The Father and I are one.” There is no separation from Spirit when we are in the moment. The goal, in my muddled mind, is therefore to try to attain that awareness at all times – to more and more consciously, and not just in times of crisis, to know that ‘the Father, Spirit, and I are one’. And the corollary to that idea is that since God manifests though each of us, we are all one. We are all on the same team; we are all in this workshop of life together, playing our own part. Religion cannot separate us, politics cannot separate us, ethnicity cannot separate us. We cannot be separate from God or each other. The repercussions from that single thought are considerable. How do we achieve that state of Awareness? We practice, we habituate, we train our nervous systems, and open our souls. Every spiritual teacher that I have studied encourages prayer and meditation … alone time with Spirit. In the silence we sit, still and alert, trying to release any thought and just observe … observe without thought … our breathe, a repeated phrase, the clouds, the thoughts that come up and vanish. We watch until we separate ourselves from our thoughts, minds, and bodies. Call it meditation, contemplative prayer, whatever name you want, it is what Jesus did when he went away to pray. There may even come a point when we understand, accept, and deeply realize that we are expressions of God, that God is being revealed through us. We may start to see that as a Child of God we can do wonderful things and can have a vital impact on the world. We become aware that instead of imagining dreadful things that bring us fear, we can as easily imagine wonderful things that attract love, peace, joy, courage, and harmony to ourselves and others. Despite whatever comes our way that may appear negative and worrisome, it is my prayer that we know it is not real; we can release the fear and know that God is with us. Spirit is unfolding through us, drawing us upward in spiritual awareness, calling us to freedom and pulling us out of the mire of lower communal worldly thinking. Release the fear; hold God near, as Joy, and Love, and Peace appear.