Fear and Conflict

by Robert Perry

These two paragraphs, found in the section “Fear and Conflict” (T-2.VI), are quite difficult to follow:

5:1. Fear is always a sign of strain, arising whenever what you want conflicts with what you do. 2. This situation arises in two ways: First, you can choose to do conflicting things, either simultaneously or successively. 3. This produces conflicted behavior, which is intolerable to you because the part of the mind that wants to do something else is outraged. 4. Second, you can behave as you think you should, but without entirely wanting to do so. 5. This produces consistent behavior, but entails great strain. 6. In both cases, the mind and the behavior are out of accord, resulting in a situation in which you are doing what you do not wholly want to do. 7. This arouses a sense of coercion that usually produces rage, and projection is likely to follow. 8. Whenever there is fear, it is because you have not made up your mind. 9. Your mind is therefore split, and your behavior inevitably becomes erratic. 10. Correcting at the behavioral level can shift the error from the first to the second type, but will not obliterate the fear.

6:1. It is possible to reach a state in which you bring your mind under my guidance without conscious effort, but this implies a willingness that you have not developed as yet. 2. The Holy Spirit cannot ask more than you are willing to do. 3. The strength to do comes from your undivided decision. 4. There is no strain in doing God’s Will as soon as you recognize that it is also your own. 5. The lesson here is quite simple, but particularly apt to be overlooked. 6. I will therefore repeat it, urging you to listen. 7. Only your mind can produce fear. 8. It does so whenever it is conflicted in what it wants, producing inevitable strain because wanting and doing are discordant. 9. This can be corrected only by accepting a unified goal. (T‑2.VI.5‑6)

What on earth does this mean? I believe I have finally come to a relatively full understanding of these paragraphs. Let me share with you what I see in them.

Fear occurs when what you want conflicts with what you do. There are two types of this conflict. Both types, however, only become understandable when you recognize one crucial thing: In both types, the mind is split (5:9) between what we might call its “better” side and its “baser” side. Here are those two types:

1. You want conflicting things—you want the nobler and you want the baser—and this results in conflicting behavior. You do contradictory things either successively or simultaneously. Whenever you do one thing, the part of your mind that wants to do the other thing is outraged, because it is not getting what it wants.

2. You behave consistently; you express only the better side of your mind. But your mind is still split; the baser side is still there, wanting to do a whole other kind of behavior. This side is therefore constantly frustrated. The result is not terribly different than in the first case. The part of your mind that is not being expressed is outraged. It is not getting what it wants.

When you are experiencing the first type of the conflict, it looks as if your error is on the behavioral level: You are doing “bad” things alongside the “good.” So you try to correct it on that level. You make your behavior consistent; you make it reflect the better side of you, and you leave the baser side unexpressed. All this does, however, is move the problem from the first kind to the second kind.

But we have an unsolved question: Why does this discord between wanting and doing cause fear? I found this question impossible to solve for years, until I discovered that in the original dictation of the Course the answer comes just a few pages later. Here is the passage in which that answer comes, from Helen’s original Notes:

People prefer to believe that their thoughts cannot exert real control because they are literally afraid of them. Therapists try to help people who are afraid of their own death wishes by depreciating the power of the wish. They even attempt to “free” the patient by persuading him that he can think whatever he wants, without any real effect at all.

There is a real dilemma here, which only the truly right-minded can escape. Death wishes do not kill in the physical sense, but they do kill spiritually. All destructive thinking is dangerous. Given a death wish, a man has no choice except to act upon his thought, or behave contrary to it. He can thus choose only between homicide and fear (see previous notes on will-conflicts).

That parenthetical comment at the end is the key. Jesus mentions “fear” and then says “(see previous notes on will-conflicts).” He is saying, in other words, “The fear I’m talking about here is the same fear that I discussed earlier under the heading of ‘will-conflicts,’ where two parts of the mind will conflicting things.” So the fear discussed in the two paragraphs above is the exact same fear that is discussed in our passage.

What, then, is the fear described in these two paragraphs from the Notes? It is the fear of the destructive power of our thoughts, fear that leads us to try to keep those thoughts from expressing through our behavior. Yet even when we put a lid on them, we still fear that the lid will come off, that the pot will boil over and someone will get burned.

This, therefore, is the fear that we see in our main passage, the fear that arises “whenever what you want conflicts with what you do,” when the mind “is conflicted in what it wants.” Part of the mind wants to express baser impulses, while the other part of the mind wants to express nobler ones. The result is that we put a lid on the baser ones, trying to keep them from expressing. We do our best to express only our more loving and constructive impulses. However, there is great strain in doing this. Those lower impulses want to get out, which means we have to redouble our effort to keep the lid on them. In such a situation, how can we not be afraid that our baser impulses will get out, causing the very destruction we have been working so hard to avert? How can we not fear that the devil in us will finally escape and go on a rampage?

Let’s get back to the two types of the conflict. A great example is the scandal around Jimmy Swaggart that was in the news many years ago. He wants to preach God’s Word and he wants to hire prostitutes. One day he is in the pulpit, the next day he is in the motel room. He is doing conflicting things. Based on the Course, we can surmise that each time this occurs, the part of his mind that is not being expressed is frustrated, even outraged.

So he repents and cleans up his behavior. He forces himself to express only the “good” side of his mind. He stays away from prostitutes. This, however, simply moves his conflict from the first type to the second type. Now his baser side is totally frustrated. Indeed it is outraged. This naturally puts pressure on him to move his conflict back to the first type, which is exactly what he eventually did.

And surely all this time he is living in fear—fear that his id is going to take over again and destroy his life.

Though Jimmy Swaggart is a good example, such examples are everywhere. We need look no farther than our own lives. As we watch ourselves do conflicting things, expressing both parts of our mind, we are distressed. So we try to make our behavior consistent, expressing only our best intentions, and the unexpressed part of our mind becomes almost volcanic in its frustration. This can only last so long. We thus ping-pong back and forth between the two types of conflict, finding resolution in neither one. And all the while we live in fear, fear that we can’t keep those lower impulses at bay forever, fear that they will eventually get out and wreck everything. Thus, seen correctly, these paragraphs describe a universal human dilemma.

The problem lies in trying to find correction on the behavioral level. There is no way to solve it on that level, even though all of us try. As long as the mind is split, the problem remains. It is obvious, then, where the correction must lie. It can only lie in the healing of the mind’s split. As long as your goals continue to be divided between the “better” you and the “baser” you, you will be in either the first or the second type of the conflict, and probably bouncing back and forth between them, perpetually in a state of fear. You must unify your goal. You must realize that what you really want is not divided into two irreconcilable camps. You must realize that God is the only thing you really want. His Will and your true desires are exactly the same. Your whole mind wants only Him. When you have realized this, then your mind will place itself under His guidance without conscious effort. And then there will be no strain in doing God’s Will, for you will have realized that His Will is also your own.

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