Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

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The Dragon

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Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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Short previews
of all talks

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Fear

A talk given to the Spiritualist Centre of Dunedin in January 2005

Tonight I want to have a closer look at fear. Fear is a key emotion that signals to us that our safety could be threatened and we are in danger. It is an important emotion we use to keep ourselves safe. Unfortunately, all too often, our fear works against us instead of protecting us and keeps us from developing our full spiritual potential.
 
When we are drawn towards something we generally feel emotions like joy and happiness, and hope. When we are driven away we feel emotions like disgust, hate and fear. So where do we learn these reactions from?

When a baby experiences an event for the first time it must make a guess about what that experience means, about whether it is something good to try and repeat or something bad to be avoided. Over time it links all the decisions it has made about what is good and what is bad in the environment in which it lives to form a sort of map inside itself about what they think the world out there is like. Each new experience is then compared against the existing map as a guide to decide what to do. So, a baby sees a dog, mentally goes to the map inside itself and sees that in the past dogs have been scary, and therefore feels fear.

This map of how we see the world, must also be a map of how we see ourselves and how we fit in the world, and so forms the basis of our sense of identity. It is heavily shaped by our childhood experiences, but each and every new experience can alter the map and our sense of identity.

Traumatic events in our lives often lead to perceptions about our world that may help us survive the moment of trauma, but create difficulties when we apply our decisions of that moment to the rest of our lives. An act of violence, particularly repeated violence, can lead to beliefs like, “You can’t trust anyone” or “you are better to keep to yourself”. Such people see the world as a dangerous place to be and shut off parts of themselves in order to survive.

If the adults in our world do not teach us good values such as what is right and what is wrong, the need to love and care for each other, and to be fair in our dealings, then those values cannot be incorporated into our map. If the values they do teach us by words or by actions are beliefs like, “It’s a dog eat dog world, everyone is out to get you so you get them before they get you”, or “It’s OK to do anything so long as you don’t get caught” then those beliefs will become a part of the map and influence everything you choose to do. We can have effective positive maps or we can have dysfunctional, negative maps, but whatever our map is like our maps drive our behaviour.

Most animals are born with their brain already fully developed. But we humans are very different. Our brain continues to grow after birth. New nerve cells or neurons are still being grown particularly during the first five years of life. The environment we are brought up in affects the way our neurons grow. Some neural pathways, for example those involved in learning language, are laid down at particular times during those early years and if we are not stimulated properly by hearing good language at the time the pathways are being grown, our language ability is affected and  it becomes much harder to learn language later. It is hard to do because the neurons for it just aren’t there. Other neurons that have not been designed for language learning must do their best to pick up the task instead. It is the same for our ability to feel empathy for other people. Some people struggle to feel empathy for others because the brain cells for empathy were not laid down at the critical time. They don’t feel empathy because they just don’t have the brain cells for it. For them, it is hard to learn later and obviously such people are more likely to become violent in some way during their lives because they are not aware of the effect of their actions on other people like the rest of us are.
 
Our ego is based on our inner map and our sense of identity. Sometimes we have made accurate decisions about what we should be afraid of, and sometimes we have made incorrect decisions about what we should be afraid of. Sometimes what we experience is really dangerous and we should feel fear, but sometimes what we experience is real and true, but it is a truth we do not want to face because we do not have the courage to include that experience into our map. When we have an experience that contradicts the map we already have, the ego often sees it as a threat, as something to be afraid of. To the ego, a challenging idea can be as threatening as a vicious dog or car accident. It tends to see a change in our identity as its own death and reacts out of fear.

So, sometimes instead of alerting us to danger, we use fear to avoid situations in which we should stay strong and experience it fully and make it a part of our map. We use several mind games to avoid using our courage to overcome our fear.

Sometimes rather than feel the fear, we deny the event altogether. We say things like, “Oh, no, it can’t be, I can’t believe it”. These are all words of denial. What is happening is so distressing, that we do not have the strength to face up to it at all. We might say, “I’m not upset” when we really know we are”. We can hide it from others, but we can also hide it from ourselves. It usually means that what is being experienced is such a radical challenge to the map we have about how we think the world is, that we can not even acknowledge that it is happening.

At other times we are able to accept that something has happened, but we still have fear, so we distort the way interpret the event, so it becomes more bearable. We minimise the event. We might say, “What I didn’t wasn’t really that bad and he wasn’t really that angry with me about it” when we are afraid to face the fact that our actions have deeply upset someone or “I know I drink a lot, but I don’t have a problem with alcohol”, when we have a problem with alcohol.

Next, we can justify away the reasons for our fears. “I know what I did wasn’t right, but I didn’t have any choice, anybody would have done what I did.” This way we avoid taking responsibility for our actions and avoid the fear of facing up to our actions.

And finally, we can blame other people for things about ourselves we should have the courage to face. “You messed up. It’s your fault everything turned out the way it did” or “If I didn’t have such a bad upbringing, I wouldn’t have the problems I have now” all these beliefs cover up having to face up to our true self.

When we feel fear because of a threat, but feel unable to face up to threat, we often try to just get rid of the feelings of anxiety that arise, while ignoring the problem, We might turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping, chocolate or whatever your addiction of choice is to alleviate the feelings of anxiety and stress. The problem is of course that the original problem remains, or may have become worse, and now we have an additional problem of the addiction to deal with.

We need the courage to face up to our inadequacies; to the fact that there are errors or gaps in our map and to do something to bring our map more in line with what the world is really like. To do this will reduce our fear and free us to become who we truly are.

We seek order in our lives. We like things to be stable and predictable, because then we feel secure. Therefore we tend to fear chaos, the unknown, the unpredictable and the uncontrollable. We cannot live in a totally ordered world where everything happens exactly as we might like, Chaos is inevitable, but not only that, it where the challenges lie that provide the experiences that will teach us our true nature. It is precisely those things that are unknown, unpredictable and uncontrollable that make life interesting and worthwhile.

Fear is about risk, but is about perceived risk not real risk. If there is real lion behind that door over there I will not feel fear until I see it. If I think there is a lion behind that door, but there isn’t I will feel fear. We spend so much time fearing, or worrying about events that never actually end up happening. It is wasted fear.

Our dangers today are different. We are less likely to be attacked by a wild animal or fall off a cliff. The danger we fear may be financial, legal, or perhaps a relationship threats. We have the stress in our bodies, the flow of adrenaline, but not the running away that would use up the adrenaline. This is particularly so if the threat, say a financial one lasts over a long time and the body keeps on producing the chemicals, the body is not dealing with in the best way and can make us ill.

An interesting thing about fear is that we always fear something that might happen in the future. We fear that something will happen. We fear pain, embarrassment, loss, danger, but as that which we fear happens we cease to fear it. A person standing near the edge of a cliff fears going too close to the edge, a person at the edge fears falling over the edge, a person who is falling off the cliff fears hitting the bottom.

The absolute fear for most people is the fear of death. As a society our fear of death, of growing old, of disease and ill health is reflected in so many ways. Death and sickness is all too often hidden away so we don’t have to deal with it and pretend it doesn’t exist and won’t happen to us. So much television advertising is about staying young, beautiful, and healthy and hides a destructive fear of old age, loss of beauty and sickness.

Having beliefs about a life after death can reduce our level of fear and this is where Spiritualist beliefs can help us a great deal. If we have proof our logical brain can accept that life exists after death, we can avoid much of the fear most people carry around, leaving us free to concentrate on building up our spirit and achieving our true goals in life. Some of us, however, use religious beliefs to deny our fear of death. For them the belief in life after death is based on their inability to cope with the possibility that death is the end rather than a rational belief in life after death as a part of how the world really is.

Fear leads us to withdraw and feel more isolated and less connected to the world around us, we feel threatened, so we often fail to reach out and be compassionate and forgiving. We are more likely to respond by attacking. The courage to be compassionate is a very important ability to develop.

When fear is used correctly it alerts us to real danger we should avoid, or people we should stay away from. If our understanding is driven by our intuition we can know things our rational mind cannot tell us. We have all had those times when things just don’t feel right about people we meet, or situations we find ourselves in. Sometimes we feel like someone is watching us. By using our intuition and our courage to face our problems and situations, we become truly powerful and can face our world with compassion and become the truly wonderful spiritual beings that we really are.

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