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When you’re up against something you’re afraid of, you have 3 unconscious reactions: fight, flight or let it paralyze you.  These reactions were meant to get us out of dangerous situations and then return the body to homeostasis.  Unfortunately many of us grew up in environments where alcohol, abuse or violence meant these reactions were frequently and then permanently activated.  Then as adults we entered a world characterized by stress, further reinforcing reactions that were never meant to be a permanent part of our lives.

What happens in the body?  We know that our hypothalamus reacts to fear, anxiety, stress and phobias as well as to rage, anger and hostility. All of these negative emotions send the body into a “fight or flight” response, which puts cortisol into the blood. The cortisol is supposed to shut off when the danger is over, but this doesn’t happen when we have long-term phobias and fears.  We no longer have the homeostasis needed to maintain our health, which causes dis-ease in the body.

When you flee, you are programming yourself to flee every time you are afraid.  If you fight, you program yourself to fight every time you are afraid.  If you freeze, you set yourself up for a lifetime of apathy and lethargy, putting your life on hold and not accomplishing everything God wanted for you.  All of these reactions take you further from God, leaving you alone with your idle fancies and vain imaginings (I’m not safe, he had it coming, she caused it, I’d better not go out of my comfort zone).  All of them cause you to flee back into the prison you just escaped from; not something any of us want to do.

The House of Justice shows what this looks like on a global scale:

This projection of portentous happenings cuts across the divide in time between the twentieth century and the new millennium, according to the reckoning of the common era. It is a projection that underscores the contrast between the confident vision that propels the constructive endeavours of an illumined community and the tangled fears seizing the millions upon millions who are as yet unaware of the Day in which they are living. Bereft of authentic guidance, they dwell on the horrors of the century, despairing over what these could imply for the future, hardly appreciating that this very century contains a light that will be shed on centuries to come. Ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet, they listen to the pundits of error and sink deeper into a slough of despond. Troubled by forecasts of doom, they do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination. Knowing nothing of the transformative vision vouchsafed by the Lord of the Age, they stumble ahead, blind to the peerlessness of the new Day of God.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 156, 1999, p. 4)

Fortunately Baha’u’llah understood all too well our frailties and reactions and has given us a lot of ways to get ourselves out of this trap.  We’ll get to those in a little bit but first it’s important to understand how fear affects us so that we have the motivation we need to implement the solutions.

Fear Starts with Thoughts:

Fear starts with thoughts.  If we could interview fear, it might tell us something like:

I’m a spiritual parasite and I need you.  I will work you over slowly, engineer circumstances in your life to get you to think about what can go wrong.  I’m going to give you pictures because fear always projects something that hasn’t happened yet.  I’m going to make you speculate through dread and morbidity and I’m going to project into the future all the things that might go wrong so that I can get you thinking about that and get you to forget to say your prayers or turn to the Writings.  You’re listening to me but over here you’re picking up messages at the soul level also.  And if I can get you to keep thinking about this, I know that the thoughts I’m giving you through temptation will become part of your personality.  You’re going to be so easy because I don’t even have to tempt you any longer.  I can just give you stimuli and your long term memory will kick in.  You’re in torment while fear is at peace, happy that it won.

What you are meditating on or thinking about every day occupies your mind.  You may be meditating on the good things or you may be thinking about all the things that will go wrong in your life today and tomorrow.

Fear projects into the future.  For example, you might think that because today was a bad day, tomorrow will be too; or “nothing good has ever happened to me and nothing ever will”.  The object of your fear is not only being projected into tomorrow, but also yesterday’s projected fear is here today, and you find yourself back on the hamster wheel of fear.  Fear trains you how to think – then your thoughts become a part of who you are.

God has a perfect will for you and He wants only the best for you.  He wants you to overcome your fear, but fear might tell you:

  • I don’t know who I’m going to be without my fear.
  • I’m afraid of who I will be if I don’t’ have my fear anymore.
  • I don’t want to get well because fear has become my identity (better the devil you know than the devil you don’t)
  • My finances depend on my being sick
  • Being afraid gives me something to talk about.  If I don’t have that, what will I talk about?
  • What if I don’t need to take care of me anymore?  Who will I be without my fear?

We don’t think these things consciously, but they do exist at a subconscious level.

Fear affects our health:

Fear, anger, worry, et cetera, are very prejudicial to health, while hope, love, joy, et cetera, are correspondingly beneficial.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 107)

Fear can paralyze us neurologically:

Sometimes if the nervous system is paralyzed through fear, a spiritual remedy is necessary.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 65)

Henry Wright, a Christian Minister who has done extensive studies on the spiritual roots of disease suggests that as much as 80% of all diseases have a spiritual root of fear, stress and anxiety. His book “A More Excellent Way” combines science with religion and I recommend it highly.

Fear becomes a self-fulfilling Prophecy:

Fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fruit of fear becomes what you fear the most comes out on you. Fear will try to help you get healed, help God out. It demands action right now. It says that you know enough right now.  If you think about something long enough or often enough, it becomes your reality.

The reality of man is his thought, not his material body.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 17)

Fear causes us to act out:

The sorrows, fears and perplexities evoked by this latest conflict in the unfoldment of the Lesser Peace have intensified the feelings of grievance and outrage at the recurrent crises agitating the planet. The anxieties of people across the globe are even now being played out publicly in angry demonstrations too overwhelming to be ignored. The issues they protest and the emotions they arouse often add to the chaos and confusion they hope by such public displays to resolve. For the friends of God, there is an unambiguous explanation for what is occurring; they have only to recall the vision and principles offered by the Faith if they are to respond effectively to the challenges posed by the spread of distress and dismay. Let them strive to understand more deeply the Teachings that are relevant by reviewing letters of Shoghi Effendi which have been published in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, particularly those entitled “The Goal of a New World Order”, “America and the Most Great Peace”, and “The Unfoldment of World Civilization”.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 160, 2003)

Fear causes us to compare ourselves to others:

If you listen to those lies you’ll start looking around the room and seeing those who have been healed when you haven’t. Comparison will lead you into envy and jealousy, which will lead into bitterness, separation from God, and further and further into the prison of self.

Know, verily, the heart wherein the least remnant of envy yet lingers, shall never attain My everlasting dominion, nor inhale the sweet savors of holiness breathing from My kingdom of sanctity.(Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 6)

. . . greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 546)

Fear disperses and weakens our ability to think:

It has been conducive to the dispersion and weakening of human thought.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 265)

Have you ever met someone who was so afraid they can’t even think? The ability to think properly can be shut down by fear. That’s what phobias and panic attacks are all about.

Our lower nature use uses things in our environment to program us for fear. For example, I was at a friend’s house one time and we were watching the Weather Channel and saw a winter storm coming. My friend needed to stop everything every 10 min. for an update. Although she was at home with lots of food, and didn’t need to go anywhere, I watched her get progressively anxious with every update.  No amount of reassurance helped. Her fear eventually turned into a full-blown panic attack and she was unable to enjoy our visit. It was just a storm with some snow coming and based on what I was hearing, the roads were still open and plowed, and I had every intention of driving home in it. Her fear was so high that she wouldn’t let me leave.  Because I didn’t want to give her anything more to fear, I agreed to spend the night and leave the next day, when the storm had passed.  The storm wasn’t the problem.  Her thoughts about the storm were the problem.

Another example is that my ex-husband used to watch the Weather Channel too, and while he had custody of our 10-year-old son, he saw another storm coming. Afraid that the roads would be closed, he brought our son home a day early and even thought I wasn’t home, he left him there. I was away for the weekend on a retreat with friends, not watching television and consequently I didn’t know about the storm. Sure enough, the storm hit, and the roads were closed all around my friend’s house, and I couldn’t get home for two days, leaving my son “home alone” for three days.

Your fear is not about the thing itself, but about the thoughts and lies emanating from your lower nature which torment you.

A friend of mine told me:  One time I went into Home Depot. There were fluorescent fixtures there and I started feeling faint and sick and couldn’t see well. From then on, any time I went anywhere where there were fluorescent lights, I started feeling miserable. Over time I became programmed so that every time I went anywhere, I felt fear so I stopped leaving the house. It wasn’t the fluorescent lights that were bothering me, it was fear.  It was what I was telling myself about the fluorescent lights.

Here’s another example. Perhaps you read somewhere about toxic fumes emanating from paint, so you don’t paint a room that badly needs it. Then you won’t go anywhere where there is fresh paint. It’s not about the paint itself, but that you’ve been taught to fear the paint.

We do the same thing with food.  Between GMO, pesticides and additives, there’s very little food that’s safe anymore.  Obviously this has to change!  There are ways of asking God to protect us from the negative effects of the food, though, so we don’t all have to grow our own and become raw foodists because of our fear.

Because I lived in fear my whole life, and suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with its concomitant anxiety disorder, my therapist suggested I had adrenal exhaustion. This made sense to me, so instead of turning to God and asking Him to help heal my adrenals, I started researching adrenal exhaustion on the Internet and at the library. One of the things I read told me that food intolerances fed adrenal exhaustion, so spending money that should’ve gone for groceries, I went for allergy testing, and sure enough I discovered that I had severe intolerances to just about everything I ate:  wheat, gluten, dairy, yeast, sugar, caffeine, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, soy, peanuts and chocolate. On and on the list of things I couldn’t eat went!  Although I wasn’t aware of any symptoms in my body, I believed the fear generated from the book and proven by the tests. I came home and immediately got rid of everything in the house that had any of the ingredients on my “no” list and spent money I somehow found, buying replacements.  Because the money appeared as if by magic, I took this as a sign that God supported this direction by showering His confirmations on me. The testing also revealed a severe dust allergy and since I had three bookcases full of books (read dust and mold collectors) I was obsessing over how I could find and afford bookcases with doors to reduce the dust in my bedroom!  Fortunately God introduced me to these teachings before I went off and spent more money that I couldn’t afford!  Not only were my adrenals restored, but I was also healed of PTSD, anxiety, depression and no longer have to wear a night guard to protect against grinding teeth!  I’m a believer!

The moral of these stories is that when fear becomes one with the thing, our bodies respond and give us a reaction, so we need to be discerning in what we watch or read or listen to, and make sure we feed ourselves with a steady diet of Baha’i Writings, so we understand the spiritual reality of the world as well as we understand the physical reality.

Fear blinds you to the truth:

If you see with the eyes of fear instead of the eyes of faith, that is a form of blindness. All you can see is what’s going on. You aren’t seeing God in the picture.

Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

Fear drives you to find a quick fix:

We think:  We know that God is not going to worry, so somebody better and it might as well be me, so we take over from God.

Fear can drive you into being driven and God won’t be able to meet you. Fear will tell you you’re supposed to be healed today, right now. In fact you should have been healed yesterday.

God often waits for the last possible minute before He answers prayers:

He, as well as some of the other friends who are motivated by a great force of faith, believe firmly that God’s miracles will not fail to perform their wonders and at the very eleventh hour the full sum will be collected.  (Shoghi Effendi, Extracts from the USBN)

Fear drives you to perfectionism:

If we have been driven to do things, then fear was at the root of what drives us. Being driven comes from our lower nature. Leadership comes from God.

Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul.  It may be that a man who has every material benefit, and who lives surrounded by all the greatest comfort modern civilization can give him, is denied the all important gift of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed a good and praiseworthy thing to progress materially, but in so doing, let us not neglect the more important spiritual progress, and close our eyes to the Divine light shining in our midst.  Only by improving spiritually as well as materially can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

 Fear is an obstacle to Service:

. . . the fear and anxieties that distract their minds . . . are among the formidable obstacles that stand in the path of every world-be warrior in the service of Bahá’u’lláh, obstacles which he must battle against the surmount in his crusade for the redemption of his own countrymen.  (Shoghi Effendi: Citadel of Faith, p. 149)

Fear leads us to sin:

Look at most sin and underneath it you will find fear.

  • We lie because we’re afraid we will be punished if we tell the truth.
  • We gossip because we’re afraid people will judge us, and we think if we divert attention to someone else, we’ll be safe.
  • We steal because we’re afraid we can’t afford the things we want or need without it.
  • We have sex with people we aren’t married to, in order to find relief from our fears.

On and on the list goes.

Fear makes us bury the treasure God has given us:

I still get panic attacks occasionally, which are related to being exposed or seen.  For example, this weekend we were meeting with our Auxiliary Board member, and after the meeting I asked to meet with him to talk privately about some issues I was having with tutoring study circles.  I was taking a LOT of risks in speaking very frankly about my limitations, and after he was gone, I had a real panic attack from being so vulnerable.  But again, I knew what it was, where it was coming from, and how to get through it.  In the past, being seen meant the possibility of being killed, so coming out of hiding hasn’t been easy!  I want to put more of myself into my blog postings, but this too, is pushing me to put this quote into practice:

Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 72)

It’s a lot easier for me to stay “concealed with my value hidden”!  I don’t think this is what God wants or the world needs from any of us, though.  So I push through, panic attacks or not! 

Fear makes a slave of us

Fear is an attachment to the world, which brings on bondage. We don’t want to be in bondage. Whatever rules us is going to make a slave of us.

For attachment to the world has become the cause of the bondage of spirits, and this bondage is identical with sin, which has been transmitted from Adam to His posterity. It is because of this attachment that men have been deprived of essential spirituality and exalted position.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 123-124)

One fear brings on another: 

Fear will control you and bring on other fears such as fear of others, fear of failure, fear of being ourselves etc.  For example: “I can’t be myself because you might not like me. I might fail you in your expectations of me, and then you’re not going to want me around, and then you’ll break my heart and then I’m surely going to die. So now I’m afraid if you.”  Do you see how this works?  Then we’re on the hamster wheel, going round and round with our thoughts and spiraling down into self-pity (depression).

We might even be afraid of trusting our whole selves to our Father, God. What would we be afraid of? He may ask too much of us.

Aside from the obvious problem of the gods of our parents having failed us, once we get past that fear, we might still be afraid of something else. You can see how fear builds on more fear until we truly lose all sense of faith.  These negative thoughts have no fruit and serve no useful purpose.

But many things come to the mind of man which are like the waves of the sea of imaginations; they have no fruit, and no result comes from them.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 252)

 Fear prevents us from mourning:

How many mothers have not dared, through fear and dread, to mourn over their slaughtered children!   (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 66)

Fear prevents us from giving or receiving love:

When you have Fear, you are not made perfect in love.  You are unable to give and receive love without Fear.

Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.  (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58)

In the hearts of men no real love is found, and the condition is such that, unless their susceptibilities are quickened by some power so that unity, love and accord may develop within them, there can be no healing   (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 171)

Fear removes all faith.  Fear and faith both project into the future and both demand to be fulfilled.  Without faith, it’s impossible to please God

Isn’t it amazing that you will listen to an invisible voice of fear and not listen to the invisible voice of God?  You need a new set of ears.  You need to ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear.

If thy faith be fearful, seize thou My Tablet, and preserve it in the bosom of trust.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 103)

Fear slackens our ardor and quenches hope:

Take ye good heed lest this calamitous day slacken the flames of your ardor, and quench your tender hopes.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 349)

 Fear slows down progress:

The fears and anxieties engendered by a steadily deteriorating international situation which cannot but dismay the stoutest hearts, have no doubt contributed, in varying degrees, and in no small measure, to a slowing down of the progress of the collective enterprise, so nobly, so enthusiastically and so energetically initiated by the upholders of the Faith . . . (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, p. 298)

Fear takes us out of the present moment:

Worry robs us of the present moment.  If we’re always worried about what might happen, and focus our attention on some imaginary future, we can’t be living in the present moment at the same time.

We want God to create our future and when we succumb to fear, fear creates your future.

Of course, has worrying or being anxious or stressed ever changed anything? Has it ever helped in any situation?  Of course not!  It just makes everything worse, and takes us further away from God!

‘Abdu’l-Bahá asks us to consider our thoughts and motives and to be ever mindful and on our guard, so this doesn’t happen.  When we are able to do this, we will find it easier to live in the moment:

Consider the motive of every soul, and ponder the thought he cherisheth. Be ye straightway mindful and on your guard. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 315)

We become one with Fear:

You can become one psychologically and spiritually with fear.  Fear can become part of you biologically.

Biologically through the mind-body connection you now have a disease called high blood pressure, angina, heart arrhythmias all are fear-based.  These diseases are all a response to thoughts.  How many times have you heard of someone going to the hospital, thinking they were having a heart attack, to find out it was “only” a panic attack.  There was nothing wrong with the heart or cardio-vascular system.  It was fear triggering these imbalances.

If a man thinks too much of his health, he will become afflicted.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Throne of the Inner Temple, p 22)

At the extreme end, it can even lead to covenant-breaking:

Mírzá Yahyá, for example, had no faith; only fear.  He had access to the presence of God and through fear, and envy, he lost it all.

In a Tablet addressed to the Bahá’ís of Shiraz, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gives a detailed account of the life of Mirza Yahya: his craven fears, his incompetence, his uxoriousness, his constant flights from danger, real or imaginary.  (H.M. Balyuzi, Baha’u’llah – The King of Glory, p. 183)

During Bahá’u’lláh’s absence, news reached Baghdad of the martyrdom of a certain believer of Najaf-Abad, near Isfahan. Mirza Yahya was highly alarmed, fearing that an outbreak of persecution could lead the enemies of the Faith to him, the nominee of the Báb, and cost him his life. With these thoughts in mind, he decided to change his residence. With the help of a certain Mirza ‘Aliy-i-Tabrizi, he bought a consignment of shoes, disguised himself as a Jew and went to Basra where he remained for some time and occupied himself in his newfound profession of shoe merchant . . . It was during this period under the leadership of Mirza Yahya, inspired by his wicked advisor Siyyid Muhammad, that some of the most heinous atrocities were committed.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 110)

Fear can creep in without you noticing:

Fear can come in quickly without you noticing.  For example, here are a couple of stories from friends of mine:

One day my husband’s heart was skipping a beat and I noticed he wasn’t well.  He’d turned white as a sheet.  I said a quick prayer and went the phone to call a Doctor.  He was put in the hospital right away and went through some tests.  About six months later, a friend called to tell me her brother-in-law had just died of a heart attack at age 78.  My husband knew he’d had troubles with his heart and he too was 78, so now he started to think he could be next.  We prayed and that night, his heart started skipping beats again.  Instead of panicking, I told him to ask God to forgive him for falling back into fear.  He said he didn’t have any fear.  I insisted and reluctantly he did, and then he turned over and went back to sleep and so did I.  The next morning we were getting ready for work and he woke up to say that I was right.  When he’d talked with God, God had showed him how he responded when he heard that 78-year-old had just died of a heart attack.  He said a quick thought went through his mind:  “That could’ve been me”.  That taught placed fear in his heart, and created the symptoms of a heart attack.  That’s how quickly it can come in.  Unless you’re paying attention to your thoughts, you won’t be able to recognize what’s happening.

Here’s another example:

A few years ago, I had chronic hives for seven weeks.  When they told me that the root cause of hives was fear, I didn’t worry about it, because I had taken care of my fear.  I’d done my homework and didn’t have any fear anymore.  Finally after seven weeks of putting up with the hives, I decided to ask God “if I have any fear at all, please tell me about it.”  I heard my head say: “I sure dread XXX.”  Maybe I only said it once, but dread equals fear.  I thanked God for showing me; took responsibility for bringing on the fear and the hives; asked for forgiveness; cast fear aside and the next morning I was free from my hives.  That’s how simple it can be!

Conclusion:

How wonderful it is to see God’s love at work and what He’s given us to work with.

Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.  (Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58)

Even so, it’s normal to have mixed emotions about fear:

As we witness on all sides the growing restlessness of a restless age, we are filled with mixed feelings of fear and hope — fear, at the prospect of yet another deadly encounter, the inevitability of which is alas! becoming increasingly manifest; hope, in the serene assurance that whatever cataclysm may yet visit humanity, it cannot but hasten the approaching era of universal and lasting peace so emphatically proclaimed by the Pen of Bahá’u’lláh. (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 145)

Now let’s look at what we can do about them.

For More in this Series:

What is Fear? 

What are we Afraid Of?

Fight, Flight or Freeze

Doubt and Fear  

What is the Purpose of Fear?

What about the Fear of God? 

What Makes us Susceptible to Fear?

Understanding the Link Between Fear and Sin 

Overcoming Fear – Introduction 

Overcoming Fear By Turning to God

Overcoming Fear with Prayer

Overcoming Fear By Reading the Writings

Overcoming Fear By Focusing on the Virtues 

Overcoming Fear Through Love

Overcoming Fear with Faith

Overcoming Fear with Patience

Overcoming Fear through Courage

Overcoming Fear through Teaching and Service

Overcoming Fear By Changing your Thoughts

Overcoming Fear through Forgiveness

Overcoming Fear through Using Role Models

Overcoming Fear through Tests and Difficulties

What Can Others Do, To Help Those Who Are Afraid?

 Prayers to Eliminate Fear

What stood out as you read this?  Post your comments here: