Handling Our Fears

by Allen Watson

In taking down the early chapters of A Course in Miracles, Helen Schucman apparently experienced a lot of fear involving the entire process. I can only imagine how this educated woman, extensively trained in psychology and aware of many kinds of psychosis, reacted to the disconcerting experience of hearing a voice in her mind telling her, "This is a course in miracles; please take notes." Ken Wapnick, in Absence from Felicity, The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A Course in Miracles , points out that Helen was not simply frightened by the experience itself, but was also frightened by the unsuspected powers of her own mind (of which A Course in Miracles spoke), and even more frightened of her own love for Jesus, the source of the voice she heard.

In the midst of Chapter 2 of the Text, there are some passages that apparently owe at least part of their origin to these recurring fears Helen was feeling. In responding to her perceived needs, Jesus voiced some principles about fear in general, and how it should be handled, that can be extremely useful and practical for all of us.

We all experience fear to some degree. In fact, since the Course teaches us that love and fear are the only two emotions ( T-12.I.9:5 also T-13.V:), if we are not existing in a state of complete and total love, we are experiencing fear. "What is not love is always fear, and nothing else" (T-15.X.4:5). Therefore, it should come as no surprise when we become aware of fear in our hearts. Until we have become entirely right-minded—that is, until we have transcended our ego entirely—there will always be fears to deal with. When we are not aware of fear, it does not mean we have no fear; it just means we are not aware of it. In fact, we might say that a major goal of the Course is to help us become aware of our fear, so that it can be healed.

Many people have reported that, after beginning to read A Course in Miracles, they were dismayed to find that, apparently, their fears had increased in number and in intensity, rather than diminishing, as might be expected. What is really happening, I believe, is that there is no real increase in fear at all. Rather, fears which have always been there, but which have been repressed, and perhaps denied and projected onto the world, have now begun to be seen and recognized within the mind. We are being made aware of the fears we have been harboring so that those fears can be released, and our minds freed of them.

One common mistake we make was also the one evidently made by Helen when her fears flared up. We react as though we are not responsible for the fear we feel. In Helen's case, she asked Jesus to remove the fears from her mind. And, in a way that must have been quite startling to Helen, Jesus refused to do so. These passages in Chapter 2 contain his response, and his reasons for declining to take away Helen's fear.

The tough truth the Course sets forth is that we are responsible for our fear. It tells us that fear is not involuntary: "Being afraid seems to be involuntary; something beyond your own control. Yet I have said already that only constructive acts should be involuntary" (T-2.VI.1:1-2). Jesus is referring to his earlier statement that "Miracles are habits,and should be involuntary" (T-1.I.5:1). He goes on to say that, "Fear cannot be controlled by me, but it can be self-controlled" (T-2.VI.1:4).

If fear were involuntary, we would get to be its victims: "Oh, poor me! What can I do about this terrible fear that grips me?" Fear, however, only seems to be involuntary. In fact, fear is voluntary. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are choosing to be fearful. We are not victims. We may feel as though there is nothing we can do about it; in fact, only we can do anything about it.

Generally, we think our fear is caused by something in the external world, something to do with our behavior: where we locate our bodies, what we do with them, and so on. In fact, Jesus points out, being afraid is simply a sign that we have not been willing to have him guide our thinking (T-2.VI.2:10). If we allow him to guide our thinking, the real cause of fear has been dealt with, and we will no longer see anything external as a cause for fear.

So, if handling fear is our job, and only our job, what should we do when we feel afraid? The answer is fairly simple: Realize that what's really going on is that we have been unwilling to let Jesus guide us; turn to him, tell him that we have, quite foolishly, been afraid of him again; and ask him to take our hands, guide all our thoughts, and control our behavior. If we will sincerely do that, the fear will vanish, because it really is only a smoke-screen, hiding our secret desire to remain separate from God and one another. As it says a bit later in the same section: "The correction of fear is your responsibility. When you ask for release from fear, you are implying that it is not" (T-2.VI.4:1-2).

In other words, to ask Jesus, or God, to release us from fear, implies that releasing us is their responsibility rather than our own.

"You should ask, instead, for help in the conditions that have brought the fear about" (T-2.VI.4:3). There is nothing wrong with asking for help, however! Jesus or the Holy Spirit can help us, not by directly releasing us from fear, but by helping us correct the conditions that caused our fear. It's another case of the Course's wanting to deal with the cause, rather than the effect, or with the root source of fear, rather than with its surface symptoms. We experience a feeling of fear, disclaim responsibility for it, and ask God to take it away. But the feeling is the effect; what needs our attention is the cause, "the conditions that brought the fear about."

What does the Course mean by "the conditions that have brought the fear about?" That is answered in the next sentences; fear is brought about by our willingness to be separate from God! "These conditions always entail a willingness to be separate. At that level you can help it" (T-2.VI.4:4-5).

If we happily recognized our union with God and with one another all the time, there would be no fear, because there would be no separation. If we are one with all that is, what is there to be afraid of? There is no "something else" out there to cause us fear. When I see myself as separate, however, then I am alone. I become a small being at odds with a huge universe, a tiny creature standing in contrast to an infinite Creator. So fear arises.

Notice, however, the word "willingness." This is a conscious choice of my mind, at some level, and at that level, I can do something about it. At the surface level it often seems as though we cannot do anything about our fear; it just comes upon us uninvited, and try as we might, we cannot make it go away. That is the symptom level, and it is true: at that level, we often "can't help it." There is a deeper level of mind, however, and that is the level at which we are espousing willingness to be separate. That choice to be separate may be unconscious, but we can get in touch with it and take responsibility for it. Indeed, that is what we must do, if fear is to be dispelled. We can do something; we can make a different choice. We can choose to be unwilling to be separate; we can choose to recognize our oneness with God. And, at that level, God (or Jesus or the Holy Spirit) is quite willing to help us make that choice.

Rather than praying, "God, please take away my fear," we should be praying, "God, please help me to be willing to accept my oneness with You. Help me to recognize that I am not separate, and that I do not really want to be separate from You in any way." That kind of prayer will treat the root of fear and dissolve it.

"You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, and are passively condoning your mind's miscreations" (T-2.VI.4:6). When we give in to fear, we are, to that extent, expressing our willingness to be separate. Fear exists only in a mind that thinks itself separate. To accept fear's reality and on that basis to ask God to remove it is, in fact, nothing less than an expression of our mind's wish to be separate. When fears arise in our minds, we are "much too tolerant." We let those fears come and lodge in our minds without questioning their basis. We "passively condone" what our ego-driven mind is doing, simply by not taking any action, by doing nothing about it. We are called, instead, to an active role in removing fear from our minds. When fear arises, rather than passively accepting its presence, we need to assert our choice to have the fear removed, and we need to do that by asking for help in removing the root cause of those fears, our wish to be separate.

"The particular result does not matter, but the fundamental error does" (T-2.VI.4:7). It isn't the way that fear shows up in our lives that really matters. It isn't the form fear takes in our behavior, which can be anything from withdrawal to agressive attack, that matters. What matters is "the fundamental error," that is, the root cause, the condition from which fears arise: our willingness to be separate.

We are so prone to deal with things at the surface level. If I find myself feeling fearful of financial collapse (either the country's or my own, personally), I start trying to find things to prop up my confidence. I ask for more money, a better job, higher pay, or a more secure way of investing. If I become afraid of losing someone's love, I may try to take steps to hold on to them, or I may pray, asking God to make them love me more. What this passage is suggesting is that we are attempting to deal with fear at the wrong level, at the surface level of behavior rather than the root level of thought. We think the feeling of fear is the problem, and try to deal with the feeling directly. But the feeling is the effect, not the cause; the cause is our thought of separation. Or, we attribute the fear to a false cause, to something external to our minds, and we try to alleviate the fear by manipulating our external world. The Course is telling us that, when such fears arise, we need to recognize where they are coming from: not from some unfavorable external conditions, but from an error of thought. From our hidden wish to be separate from God.

And then, recognizing what the fundamental error really is, the correction is simple, and always the same, regardless of what the external circumstances may be: " The correction is always the same. Before you choose to do anything, ask me if your choice is in accord with mine. If you are sure that it is, there will be no fear" (T-2.VI.4:8-10).

In other words, put your thinking under the guidance of Jesus. This undoes your sense of separation. Before you finalize your choice in any situation, submit it to verification from the Inner Teacher. Ask, "Is what I am about to do in accord with your guidance for me?"

The root cause of fear is our decision to be separate from God. The single solution, then, is to constantly affirm our union with Him. Submitting our every decision to His guidance is simply the way we are expressing that union. Instead of keeping ourselves separate, we are constantly rejoining Him in our minds, unifying our will with His, bringing all our choices into alignment with His. This is no one-time thing! It is a habit we have to get into, and that may take a little time.

If we do get into this habit, however, "there will be no fear." If, in every choice we make, we wait until we are sure that our choice is in accord with Jesus' choice, we won't be afraid of anything. By submitting our thoughts to his guidance, we will find that he controls our behavior, and our external circumstances. We won't be afraid because we know we are in good hands.

When Jesus says, here, "ask me if your choice is in accord with mine," I think he is giving us a key to knowing how to be sure that our choice is in accord with his. Ask! I have found that if I ask him, "Is my choice in accord with yours?" I get an answer. If my choice is not in accord with his, somehow he will show me. Someone will say something that shows me; or events will occur that make it clear; or I will get a strong inner sense of "No" about my choice. I will know our choices are coming into agreement when my fear begins to dissipate. With me, guidance seems more often negative, "No, don't do that," than it is positive, such as, "Go to the corner of Main and Market at noon." It is corrective in nature. If I submit my choices to him, specifically asking, "Is this in accord with your choice for me?" I will be told if it is not. If my choice is in accord with his, often I don't hear anything at all; if I sense peace, an absence of fear, I take that as a sign to go ahead as planned.

But remember, it isn't the particular result that really matters! Whether or not I go to Main and Market or to Hollywood and Vine isn't the real issue. What matters is my state of mind. What matters is my willingness not to be separate , my willingness to live my life in close alliance with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The absence of that willingness is fear's source; the presence of that willingness is fear's end.

One correspondent, writing about his fear, said that as hard as he might try to release everything to the Holy Spirit, he only lasts a short while until his fear "comes clawing back." He asked, "How do I sustain Christ's vision for more than an instant in time? How does one transform a lifetime of living in fear?"

Well, effecting such a fundamental change is going to take some time. You aren't going to "transform a lifetime of living in fear," which you have done by choice (as have we all), overnight. Until we learn to let go of fear by total acceptance of love, some sense of conflict is inevitable (T-2.VII.4:5). Although people do have sudden and dramatic transformational experiences that lift large chunks of fear out of their lives forever, that does not remove all fear in all situations. For most of us, the process of undoing fear is a process that goes on for a long time. We let go of fear gradually, for the most part.

This is not, however, because fear is such a terribly powerful enemy. Actually our fears have only the power we, ourselves, give to them. The Course points out (in Lesson 170 in the Workbook, for instance) that we have confused fear and love, and have reversed their roles in our minds. This means that we are attracted to fear and hold on to it, while at the same time we are afraid of love, and push it away.

We value fear because we mistakenly think that fear protects us. Fear and defensiveness become things we want to preserve at all costs. To let go of fear becomes the ultimate danger. We fear being without fear more than anything else; we cling to our fear, believing that without fear, we would be destroyed. On the other hand, we are afraid of love. Because love would counsel us to lay down our defenses, it becomes dangerous. Love becomes an object of fear.

Undoing our fear can be a long process, then, not because it is so powerful, but simply because we don't really want to get rid of it. We may tell ourselves that we do. We may complain to God, asking why He does not remove our fears. We may vehemently deny that we are actually choosing to be fearful. Nevertheless, that is the truth of the matter. Somewhere, there is some part of us that thinks that a certain amount of fear is healthy, and that to be entirely without fear would be very dangerous. It takes a long time to get rid of fear because it takes a long time, first of all, to convince us that the only reason that fear remains is that we are choosing it, and second of all, to convince us that we really do not want it after all.

We don't need to be afraid of fear, though! Not even of our attraction to fear. None of this can stand against God's Love. The obvious meaning of "There is nothing to fear" (Lesson 48) is, "There is nothing to be afraid of." But it also can be understood in the sense that there's "nothing to it," that fear isn't significant. Part of the agony of being in fear, and of the anguish at the thought that it may take a long time to undo all fear, is our belief that fear is something awful. We need to counter such beliefs with the realization that fear is no big deal. We are not bad people because we are afraid. Being afraid does not mean that we are spiritually retarded! Fear is the universal condition of those who are not perfectly at one with love. Fear is the condition of this world, and this world is nothing more than a classroom in undoing fear. We should not expect to be without fear until we have left this classroom; when the last shred of fear is gone, that is graduation time.

There is a way in which we can experience our terror without being afraid of it. "The Guide Who brought you here remains with you, and when you raise your eyes you will be ready to look on terror with no fear at all" (T-19.IV(D).8:6). This long section of the Text ("The Obstacles to Peace," the longest section in the Text) points out over and over that we are kept from peace by various forms of fear, the last such obstacle being the fear of God Himself. We need to be willing to confront our fears, to look straight at them, but we don't want to do that without our Guide (the Holy Spirit). Looking with Him enables us to see the fears as having no real consequence. We are able to consider our fear and to say, quietly, "So I'm afraid again. No big deal. It doesn't change God's Love for me at all; it doesn't change who I am. It doesn't really mean anything."

Once, when I was consumed with nighttime fears that wouldn't let me sleep, the thought, "My thoughts do not mean anything," brought me immediate peace. I struggled against those fearful thoughts. I tried to think of something else. I took a sleeping pill. But they kept popping back into my mind. I found myself getting extremely upset because I had been studying the Course for years, and I "ought not" to have such fearful thoughts. Then, suddenly, the Workbook lesson just came into my mind: "My thoughts do not mean anything" (W-pI.10:). I applied that thought, and realized that all these fearful thoughts were of no consequence. I stopped trying to deny that I had them. I stopped trying to make them go away. I saw they did not mean I was a spiritual cripple. They did not mean I had not learned anything from the Course. They did not mean anything at all. In a sense, I gave myself permission to be afraid because being afraid was no big deal. Within seconds, I was sound asleep.

Speaking about "the truth," the Course makes the interesting observation that the truth is in every one of us, but we have hidden the truth in our fear. And then, we have become afraid to look at the fear! This is actually the subterfuge of the ego that keeps us from seeing the truth in ourselves.

It [the truth] is there, wherever you are, being within you. Yet it can be recognized or unrecognized, real or false to you. If you hide it, it becomes unreal to you because you hid it and surrounded it with fear. Under each cornerstone of fear on which you have erected your insane system of belief, the truth lies hidden. Yet you cannot know this, for by hiding truth in fear, you see no reason to believe that the more you look at fear the less you see it, and the clearer what it conceals becomes (T-14.VII.2:4-8).

We really need to get that! The more we look at fear the less we see it! Most of our attempts to deal with our fear are really not much more than, like the ostrich, hiding our heads in the sand. We experience fear, and then we engage in frantic attempts either to make it go away or to pretend it isn't there. We are in deep denial of the fact that the fear is there because we invited it, we wanted it, to keep us from looking at the truth about ourselves (our holiness, our inescapable oneness with God). The light has approached us, and we have run from it:

As the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror. But you will advance, because your goal is the advance from fear to truth. The goal you accepted is the goal of knowledge, for which you signified your willingness. Fear seems to live in darkness, and when you are afraid you have stepped back. Let us then join quickly in an instant of light, and it will be enough to remind you that your goal is light (T-18.III.2:1-5).

All we really need to do is to acknowledge our fear, and to acknowledge our responsibility for it. "I'm afraid. I've chosen again to be afraid, to keep God at a distance. This is only a mistake, and nothing to feel guilty about." The first major step, then, is simply recognizing fear and accepting that we are responsible for it. We fear because we have chosen not to love:

Say to yourself that you must somehow have chosen not to love, or the fear could not have arisen. Then the whole process of correction becomes nothing more than a series of pragmatic steps in the larger process of accepting the Atonement as the remedy. These steps may be summarized in this way:

Know first that this is fear.
Fear arises from lack of love.
The only remedy for lack of love is perfect love.
Perfect love is the Atonement (T-2.VI.7:2-8).

First, we recognize fear and its source, which is our choice not to love—which is the same as our willingness to be separate. Second, we must accept the remedy, which is the Atonement, or perfect love:

The need for the remedy inspired its establishment. As long as you recognize only the need for the remedy, you will remain fearful. However, as soon as you accept the remedy, you have abolished the fear. This is how true healing occurs (T-2.VI.8:6-9).

"The need for the remedy," our fear, has to be recognized and acknowledged. We have to look at our fear without fear. But recognizing the need is only the first step; we have to accept the remedy. That means that we choose once again to love; it means that we stop trying to push God away, and turn to Him; it means we accept that we are already forgiven; it means that we accept our oneness with Him. When we have once again realized that there are no barriers between us and God, no distance in our relationship, and no interruption in our mutual love, fear has been abolished.

This whole discussion implies a continual process of watching our minds, and noticing when conflict enters, or any form of fear. "This is fear!" That is the start of the process; recognizing fear thoughts when they arise. Far too often, we allow such thoughts to enter and take root unhindered.

As Jesus says, "You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, and are passively condoning your mind's miscreations" (T-2.VI.4:6). He also tells us, "…you do not guard your thoughts carefully enough" (T-2.VII.1:7). The practice taught in the Workbook, of continually reminding ourselves of who we are, continually, hourly at least, putting ourselves back into his hands, and working with that day in and day out, is the only way to remove fear from the mind. We have to learn to guard our thoughts:

You may still complain about fear, but you nevertheless persist in making yourself fearful. I have already indicated that you cannot ask me to release you from fear. I know it does not exist, but you do not. If I intervened between your thoughts and their results, I would be tampering with a basic law of cause and effect; the most fundamental law there is. I would hardly help you if I depreciated the power of your own thinking. This would be in direct opposition to the purpose of this course. It is much more helpful to remind you that you do not guard your thoughts carefully enough. You may feel that at this point it would take a miracle to enable you to do this, which is perfectly true. You are not used to miracle-minded thinking, but you can be trained to think that way. All miracle workers need that kind of training (T-2.VII.1).

Handling fear is our responsibility because its presence in our minds is our responsibility. We chose fear; only we can let it go. If Jesus, or God, were to interfere and directly remove our fear, he would be counteracting the power of our thinking, given to us by God. The Course's purpose is not to undermine our mind's power, but to teach us to acknowledge it and utilize it as God intended. That is why we must handle our own fears.

We may think that it would take a miracle for us to guard our thoughts as carefully as these passages are suggesting. We think right; it will take a miracle. This is a course in miracles; that's what it is all about. We can be trained to think this way; we can, and we will.

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