Love or Fear

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 9.33.40 AMThere is significant reason to believe that we—individually and collectively—are living within a false paradigm. And if we were to make one change in our lives, shifting from fear to love, we would create a new world. Most of the problems we face would evaporate. And we would transform our suffering, as well as reduce the suffering of others.

Some people will say this choice is not realistic, and they may be right, or maybe they’re not. For just five minutes, which is how long it takes to read this post, I invite you to open yourself to this question, “Can I choose love instead of fear?”

The false paradigm we live in results in us:

Trying to overcome fear by being courageous.
Trying to develop communication skills to resolve conflicts.
Seeking certainty in our lives as a way to minimize our anxiety.
Using mindfulness practices in ways that are based on dissociation.
Making sense of ourselves by thinking that we are made up of different parts.

I’M NOT SAYING ANY OF THE ABOVE ARE WRONG.

I recognize that each of the above has merit. And maybe these approaches to personal growth are necessary, sort of like learning to walk before we can run. But, take a moment and consider this possibility:

Most of the ways we approach personal growth were developed in an attempt to overcome our fears. So, by adopting these approaches, we are inadvertently stepping into an orientation of that validates fear. We are buying into the idea that there is something to fear.

And ask yourself, “What would my approach to life be if it (if  I) were born out of love?”

Michael Leunig is an Australian poet, cartoonist and cultural commentator, who wrote:
There are only two feelings: love and fear.
There are only two languages: love and fear.
There are only two activities: love and fear.
There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results:
love and fear. Love and fear.

About two decades ago I heard this overly simplistic idea—that there are really only two emotions, love or fear —and I disregarded it. With my youthful zeal I insisted that life was more complicated. But I am now reconsidering this idea, maybe there are basically only two approaches to living: love or fear.

If we (unconsciously) choose fear—then we must try to muster up courage, learn conflict resolution skills, seek to create certainty in our lives, dissociate from things that are scary, and segregate ourselves into parts as a way to cope with our own lack of acceptance.

But, if we (consciously) choose love—then we don’t need to muster up courage, conflict dissipates, we become comfortable with uncertainty, we associate (move toward) whatever is happening in our lives instead of dissociating (moving away) from whatever is happening in our lives, and we fully acknowledge all of our behaviors and beliefs as “us” so there is no need to think of ourselves as being made up of parts.

If we could change our basic stance in life, from fear to love, what would this look like on a practical level?

Instead of trying to screw up our courage (which magnifies our fears) to overcome our fears, we could open ourselves to our present experience. We don’t need to brace ourselves, steel ourselves, or overcome ourselves. We can just be present with whatever is happening.

Instead of using conflict resolution skills, which are largely based on learning different ways to make our point, we could turn toward one another with the intention of understanding, and then conflict dissipates. The solution is understanding, because each of us hears only what we understand.

Instead of seeking to create certainty, or really the illusion of certainty—which leaves us holding onto an illusion—we could learn to embrace uncertainty, which results in curiosity, humility, and new beginnings.

Mindfulness—this is a subject some of you reacted to when I suggested that many mindfulness practices are designed to help us dissociate. I continue to believe this is the most common structure to mindfulness practices. They teach us to focus our attention on one thing while dissociating—distancing—from other things. The result is a coolness, and a disconnection from that which is uncomfortable. Instead of using this form of mindfulness, we could use mindfulness that is based on fully associating—experiencing our senses, embracing, and integrating. To do this requires that we take an “approach” stance, based on love, rather than an “avoidance” stance, based on fear.

And finally, my newest suggestion is that we may be limiting our personal growth by thinking of ourselves as being made up of various parts—a scared part, a sacred part, an immature part, a wounded part. Instead of thinking of these as separate parts of me, I can simply acknowledge that at times I do scare myself, experience myself as sacred, behave immaturely, and feel wounded. If I think and act and speak as if I am one whole being, taking responsibility for all my behaviors and needs, I will be more self-accepting and better integrated.

Most of our psychological models and strategies for personal growth are based on a belief in fear—that we are in some way unsafe. I’m questioning this basic foundational assumption.

As I experiment with this in my own life, I’m experiencing exponential progress—both in my most intimate relationship with my wife, Hannah, and as I move through the world. As I apply this approach to my life with Hannah, all tension has evaporated. As I apply this approach to moving through the world, I feel less resistance in myself, and I encounter less resistance in others.

But it is a radical shift. I enter this different paradigm by doing a few things:

  • I remind myself I am safe.
  • I turn toward the other person and accept that their point of view is completely valid.
  • I trust that not knowing an answer (accepting uncertainty) brings me into an array of new possibilities and expanded horizons.
  • I believe that feeling whatever is in me is the most direct path to relief, release, and revitalization.
  • I expect that everything I need to express can be maturely expressed. If I express myself maturely, I have no need to distance myself from myself (by labeling “parts” of me), because I am loving myself.

Try any one of the above and I believe you will find these are shortcuts to living gracefully and experiencing deeper connections with other people. Maybe you do have a choice, to love or fear.

I have found that to live in love I need some kind of daily meditation in which I remind myself that I have this choice. If I don’t use a daily practice to set my intention, I forget—or never even recognize—what’s possible.