Welcome to my blog!

We find ourselves in challenging times. To meet them more easily, I believe involves challenging ourselves to move beyond old, established habits and patterns.

Perhaps I am a bit late fully entering into the 21st century by starting my blog now, in 2010! In that my work and message has so much to do with slowing down and settling into a deeper knowing beyond and prior to our cultural modes, it may be appropriate to step extra slowly into the world of blogging and other cyber realities.

I suspect that, if you are drawn to my blog and the words here, you may also value this slower, deeper state we are all capable of. I invite you to read on and regularly, and hope the words below can support you in enhancing your ability to be, even in the midst of all the doing required in our modern world.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Meeting the Roots of Fear

Many years ago, I began to think about people as orienting either to love or fear. It’s not that we can’t have both; it’s just that we tend to focus on one or the other. We tend to hold them as mutually exclusive polarities. They are, however, intimately connected.

Love is inclusive. Orienting to love enables us to embrace our fears and hold them in our hearts, like little children needing a hug. Fear is a narrower state of perception. In a fear state, we experience ourselves as separate and isolated. Love is about wholeness and connection. Fear is based on separation. By definition, it excludes love. Love by definition includes fear.

Love is always present, even when we don’t see it. It is our essence. It does not go away, even when we banish it. But why would we want to banish it? Don’t we all long for love?

I believe we do. I believe we all long to know and be with our essence. We long to just be, which is love. Why is that longing then not enough?

Most of us do not identify ourselves as love! When asked who we are, we give a glorified version of name, rank and serial number. We state our occupation, nationality, ethnic background, and perhaps how many children we have. How many times have you introduced yourself as a unique and beautiful expression of love?

When you look in the mirror, what and whom do you see? Chances are, you are not looking at the love which is you. You perceive the color of your hair and eyes, the texture of your skin, your posture, your facial expression. You may see an expression in your eyes, those windows to the soul, which tell you this is you. But, who are you without these features?

There is a time in our development in the womb when we do not yet have hair, nose, eyes, or even skin. Yet, we are. Apparently, we are sentient beings long before our bodies look the way we are accustomed to seeing ourselves. Who are we prior to the eyes and face and skin?

How often do you ask yourself these questions? Who am I? What am I doing here?

Sometimes, I have the experience of feeling like I have just stepped out of my roles in life and am peeking in. I seem to get a brief glimpse of what Buddhists call “emptiness.” From the perspective of the small ego self within me, this view of myself as nothingness within nothingness can be intimidating. From a larger perspective, it is precious.

A fear aspect of me is terrified of dying, of being lost in the emptiness. The love that I am sighs with recognition.

Many of us spend years practicing meditation of various forms to learn how to step back from ourselves enough that we can perceive more of who we are. Settling into a witness state enables us to view ourselves in a more neutral, less attached way. This experience can provide relief, but why is it so challenging to find? Why do we practice for years instead of for five minutes?

Prenatally Yours
Throughout our development, we form in relationship to the environment we grow in. This is true from the very first moment of life at conception, if not before. Our environment includes not only the physical womb around us; it also includes an outer womb – the environment the mother finds herself in.

We know from the new field of epigenetics that genes are turned on or off during gestation depending on environmental influences. Cell biologist, Bruce Lipton, points out that how the mother (and to some extent father) perceives her world is a major epigenetic influence on the baby growing inside her. If she perceives her world as threatening, baby prepares to enter a dangerous world. When mom perceives her world as loving and supportive, baby prepares for that kind of life.

Fortunately, how parents and others treat the baby before, as well as after, birth, also have a profound effect. A mother who feels threatened may still be able to soothe and reassure her baby. That child learns that, even if there is potential danger, love and protection are possible.

Consider that, in meditation, or other mindfulness practices, the witness state the practitioner develops assumes a function similar to that of the pregnant woman. It is as if we take over mothering ourselves. We learn to widen our perception beyond the narrowness of fear, and to offer love and nurturance to the little one within us.

In mindfulness practices, we learn to observe what is, rather than becoming it or identifying with it. We learn to step back and witness and hold what is. As we practice, we undoubtedly encounter our thoughts, as well as various uncomfortable sensations. For example, giving my mind some free time to meditate, I may find my shopping list presenting itself. Worries may come to the surface. My knees or hips may start to complain about the position I am sitting in.

These are all expressions of my personal history - the conditions in my life. If I focus in on them, letting them seduce me, I find myself deepening into fear. I forget about the love that is always there. This is just as true outside of meditation. For many of us, this is natural, everyday activity. Our fears and old patterns rule us. When we try to meditate, we find ourselves drawn in, like Alice down the rabbit hole. If we go down the hole, it becomes more real. Our fear patterns are reinforced. Why is that hole so alluring?

Our fear patterns start long before we are born. As the body develops, it orients to potential danger or love, depending on what baby is exposed to.

The part of our brain primarily involved with emotional learning is called the limbic brain. In contrast to the neo-cortex that is involved with conscious thinking processes, the limbic brain is well-developed and functioning before birth. It is present in the little one as early as eight weeks after conception. Before the age of two, the limbic system is predominant. Memories from this time tend to be implicit or behavioral, and not associated with words. Strong imprints or patterns are established in the nervous system long before we can talk.

These are reflected in later behavior, as well as body shape, function and health . Babies born into a potentially threatening environment may develop a lower tolerance for stress. They are geared for fight or flight, expecting threat. Babies growing in love and affection tend to be more resilient, with a larger neocortex, and more ability to reason and use social and verbal skills in stressful situations.

To read more on this fascinating topic, I recommend Life in the Womb: The Origin of Health and Disease, by Peter W. Nathielsz

How we hold our bodies can be influenced by these very early experiences. For example, pregnancy is often discovered around the fourth week after conception, when the mother has missed her period (although modern technology enables discovery to happen earlier). This is the time when the heart begins beating in the embryo. When there are issues about the baby’s arrival, and the parents are worried, considering abortion or adoption, or simply not ready to celebrate the pregnancy, the baby will tend to contract in this area. In that most pregnancies are not planned, some level of ambivalence is common in the parents upon discovering the pregnancy.

How many of us have heard throughout our childhood to stop slouching and straighten up? It is natural for us to protect the heart area. When we experience rejection, criticism, or lack of love and safety, we withdraw. The tissue around the heart pulls back and in. It becomes less flexible and resilient as it hardens to guard the tenderness of the heart.

Mindfulness, Love and Change
When we practice mindfulness, we enter the possibility of something different. By stepping back and observing our thoughts, patterns, and tendencies, we create some distance from the pattern. We begin to free ourselves to create a new response. Fortunately, our brains and bodies are highly changeable. We have the ability to disengage ourselves from old patterns based on past experience. This enables us to be more present, creative and resilient in this moment.

This all sounds good, especially if our past experience established fear patterns. That little part of us that had that experience, however, is still afraid. When we start to slow down and widen our perception beyond the narrowness of fear, that little one within us may become even more terrified. As mentioned earlier, emptiness can be both attractive and scary. The same applies to love.

As we open our hearts, and attempt to love and be with ourselves, we encounter the original reasons for shutting down. Our fear emerges. It does its best to seduce us back into its limited reality. Our challenge is to stay present, and continue to observe. It is helpful to acknowledge the fear, or the fearful little one within us, and, like a good parent, continue with what we believe to be best for these aspects of ourselves.

Fear may present as an emotional response, but it may also arise in less obvious forms. Meditators are familiar with the challenges of sleepiness, distraction and boredom. These can be seen as efforts by the fearful part of ourselves to resist potential annihilation.

We have an instinct to survive. Our limbic brain is designed to help us with this task. When we begin to melt our old defenses, the limbic brain goes on alert and does its best to resurrect them.

Considering our early development, we can understand the fear and resistance as including a deeper confusion. Vulnerable little ones depend on our caregivers to protect us. If we don’t feel safe, we do our best to protect ourselves. When we sense our self structure dissolving, as it does in mindfulness practices, the little one in us may believe we are in danger of dying. We associate the dissolution of self with the  potential of actual physical death.

This fear dynamic can be one of the most seductive. It is important to continue witnessing. As we hold ourselves, including the terrified little one, with love and acceptance, the fear can begin to melt. If we have spent our entire lives trying to deny or suppress this fear, it may need to express itself. It may need to be heard and seen. We can practice being its witness, loving and embracing all that arises.

It is in the midst of this kind of practice, that we return to the wholeness and connectedness of love. This occurs in formal meditation or while having a mindful conversation over breakfast. The key is presence, being able to witness ourselves, and continuing with this intention no matter what arises.


  1. Hi Cherionna,

    I do really love your writings and the integration of so many areas of knowledge and wisdom that you bring together. If and when you ever make it back to the LA area please let me know.

    You are a beacon of love and Presence.
    Blessings to you,
    Carol Marks

  2. Thanks, Carol, for your kind words. I'm glad you are touched by my writings while we are so many miles apart. Blessings, Cherionna