Fear is a distressing emotion aroused by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger and flee from it or fight, also known as the Fight or Flight response. Some psychologists such as John B. Watson, Robert Plutchik, and Paul Ekman have suggested that fear belongs to a small set of basic or innate emotions. This set also includes such emotions as joy, sadness, and anger. Fear should be distinguished from the related emotional state of anxiety, which typically occurs without any external threat. Additionally, fear is related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, whereas anxiety is the result of threats which are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable. Worth noting is that fear almost always relates to future events, such as worsening of a situation, or continuation of a situation that is unacceptable. Fear could also be an instant reaction to something presently happening. (Wikipaedia)
I have been pretty much fearless all my life. It is as if the button that triggerd fear was missing from my psyche. It was an alien emotion to me. And as long as I could keep it that way, I could achieve remarkable feats. And I did achieve success at an early age, simply because I did not fear failures.
Then, a strange incident a few years ago changed me. At a Vipassana course, in North Fork, during an intense meditational sessions, I experienced fear of old age, and death. It was in the form of chilling image that suddenly arose from the depth of my consciousness, and presented itself to me in a flash – a grey and wiry shrivelled up body, deathlike in its existence. The image was a symbol that represented death, decay, rotting, and opened the floodgates of a deep debilitating fear. These emotions completely gripped me for a moment. The whole incident must have lasted a fraction of a second, but its felt impact was profound, and I was left sobbing uncontrollably. There were no words to define the terror that I felt. I suppose it is the way the gods of death make their presence felt.
Later, when I returned from the retreat, I realized that like other emotions that define my mind, a good amount of fear – not just of old age – had become integrated into my life, It was a new feeling. My descends into the unconscious were easier. I eagerly began to observe it in an attempt to understand it at a deeper level.
Because of this incident, I was forced to contemplate on the meaning of life, aging, and death. On a mundane level, I had encountered Kal, the Hindu God of Time, and I was forced to notice my own aging body. I had always taken my body for granted, and it too seemed to be doing just fine without my conscious intervention. However, the fear induced me to take care of my health. As would later turn out, the above incident was a message, an instruction from my unconscious to my conscious mind. It was a premonition, a message about shape of things to come if I did not take better care of my health. A few months later, I suffered a mild stroke (no damage), and in the years that followed, I was diagnosed with beginnings of Oesteoarthritis, and Herniated Disk. Both these problems were age related. The fearless Madhu had been chastised by Thanatos himself ! These health related issues made me further reflect on the nature of fear.
I realized that when this debilitating emotion arose in my psyche, there was a blackness that enveloped me. The color of fear was steel grey, black. And it was eternal, stretching beyond infinity. The word ashen arose in my consciousness when I tried to define it. I also observed that I repressed the fear thru my denial about aging, and then had to maintain that repression thru several denials. I spent a significant amount of time in pretending to myself that I was not aging. I wore makeup to hide my age, I wore clothes that appeared to disguise my age, I fantasized about plastic surgery and boob jobs. I took my family and my friends for granted – behaving as if I would be with them forever. I was intensely attached to my loved one, and in every way behaved as if my time on this earth was unlimited, that there would be no end to anything. This is how I battled with the fear of aging, and death. And the more I battled against it, the more it debilitated me in the unconscious, and to compensate and control it, I was upped the ante on my defenses.
Ultimately, I realized that instead of battling with it on a moment to moment basis, and spending most of my life in behaviors that avoid the realization of aging and dying, if I sit quietly for an hour, and let the fear wash over me, it slowly spent itself, decreased in intensity, until finally it was negligible enough to be managed autonomously. In other words, if I learnt to tolerate the shower of fear without offerings my customary resistances to such seemingly unwanted, undesirable emotion, I would be almost cleansed after each washing, and ready for insights about the nature of such emotions. It did not debilitate me anymore, I was no longer afraid. The acceptance of aging, and death as legitimate, even desirable, states of existence brought its own rewards. I could welcome my golden years in ways that were more wisdom oriented and allowed for expansion of consciousness. Whereas I had previously been in denial, whereas I had mocked death and dying thru my lack of acceptance, and had clung to youthfulness, my encounter with Thanatos left me feeling that I was part of a cosmic cycle, and that age, and death too, were desirable states of existence. The human soul was divine in all its forms. I realised that Kaal, and Thanatos were elements of my own intrapsychic landscape, and they were infinitely more powerful than my conscious mind. I had been arrogant, inflated in my perception, ignorant and foolish in my beliefs. An encounter with these latent parts of myself, and a living experience of them transformed me into being more respectful of nature and the cosmic cycles. And I believe that when we respects the divine nature of all objects – even the objects of contemplation – those very objects will reciprocate in their respectfulness, and will help us into a better, wisdom oriented life. Life is harmonized and becomes a part of the cosmic symphony.
Subsequent to this incident, I was more able to live in the moment and cherished each moment because I had developed a capacity accede to the supremacy of the divine, and to be afraid of the cosmic powers. Between each sitting, my capacity to pack everything into this moment, and enjoy this very moment, increased. Life became much more vivid, colorful, intense. Every moment was palpable; I could feel it live and breathe exquisitely, pulsating like a heartbeat, with rhythm, and rhyme, vibrating to the energies of one more offering from life itself. What I had experienced as intense and palpable before, in retrospect seemed like a flatland, a desert without colors that define life more profusely.
By observing these changes in myself, I deduced that the fear of death is a necessity that promotes the love of life. It is much like a vaccine that helps boost our immune system. It leads to increased sensitivity and greater variety in the emotional repertoire. The psyche sends us fear in order to force our conscious mind out of its stupor, and inertia, forcing it to strengthen our compensatory defenses. Fear handled well, will make us strong, it makes life more vivid, more meaningful, more purposeful. The incident provided a context, a frame, to my understanding of life. I suddenly found energy to do things that I had been putting off. I was more passionate, and compassionate, in my work, in my likes and dislikes. I was more discerning. Prior to this, there had always been “later, tomorrow, next year”. I became more capable, and had greater energy to expend on things that I considered unworthy before, or too mundane. I was given the freedom to be authentic, and selfless. Meditation has somehow allowed “me” – or at least the Center of my Subjectivity – to bypass the psychic defenses and barriers. Since the repressed fear no longer needed to be repressed, the energies used up in repressing the emotions from my consciousness were freed up. I subsequently developed a superior level of concentration, passions, zest for life that had been absent before. I was blessed by Eros. By integrating fear into my life, by letting in a little bit of darkness into my conscious life, I had developed a greater awareness, sensibility, and sensitivity towards life’s offerings – I could taste and sense life at a deeper level. My capacity to experience various shades and nuances of life, to flirt with the dark and the light, good and bad, aesthetic and ugly – had dramatically increased. I could almost sense these these were not desirable or undesirable aspects of our lives, but simply shades of existence. I may prefer red color over black color for instance, or daylight over night. I may even choose to shut these off from my perception, pretending these don’t exist. But black, and night so exist, and they play a very important role in the cycles of the universe. Life, as I know it, and love it, would be impossible without the color black or the night. In fact it is the lack espoused by the night that gave daylight its meaning, the absence of color in black that shapes the significance of color red in my perception. Its the dark side that gives meaning to the bright side.
I can now tolerate, even let in, a larger range of emotional diversity, and intensity.
The above had a profound effect not only on my character, but on my vocation/career as well. Because I can experience more of my psychic life, I can also experience the same about the other. I can go to places with them which had previously been alien to me. There is a saying in the psychological arena, that an analyst/therapist can only take the patient to where he has been in his/his own psychological journeys, not beyond. By integrating my own fears into my own daily life, and tolerating the uncertainty, trauma, and other debilitating emotions that accompany fear, I am made familiar of the process, and am able to contain the fears of my clients, and would hope that I am able to help them to an increased tolerance and acceptance of such dark emotions of life, and to use these debilitating emotions as a pathway to greater awareness, and to enriching their lives.
Fear is given to us so that we may develop skills that would compensate for it. It enables the archetype of Warrior to emerge from the depth of our psyche – an archetypal energy that promotes success, and enables us to be protectors of our Selves, and those that depend on us. Handled appropriately, fear enables the protective masculine within. Feelings of fear are thus gifts from the deepest recesses of the soul, gifts that are brought from our unconscious to the conscious. In their character, and their goals, they are akin to the Planet Saturn in astrological charts. It would be very appropriate to use Saturn as a metaphor that provides an better understanding of dark emotions.
In Vedic astrology Saturn and Jupiter are considered natural neutrals, but under closer relations become enemies. Similarly, Saturn is considered cold (slow) and dry (separate) whereas Jupiter is considered warm (speedy) and moist (inclusive). Where there is light Saturn brings darkness, where there is heat Saturn brings cold, where there is joy Saturn brings sadness, where there is life Saturn brings death, where there is luck Saturn brings misfortune (and sometimes heavy consequences for bad judgment or mistakes), where there is unity Saturn brings isolation, where there is knowledge Saturn brings fear, where there is hope Saturn brings skepticism and stalling. However these effects are not always negative. Saturn’s properties of contraction and “crystallization” are said to create solidness in the world and give lasting form to everything physical and principle. . .
Death, particular in old age, has been associated with Saturn since ancient times. At times the freedoms created by the other planets are abused so that remorse follows. Saturn’s color is black. The element associated with Saturn is lead.
Saturn often stands for the father in the natal chart, as does the Sun, however with Saturn it usually indicates problems with the father. Saturn indicates a tyrannical, domineering parent who seeks to mold his children in his own image and force them to live by his standards. Children often become “swallowed up” by such domination. Saturn’s connection with agriculture suggests the nature of time. The Golden Years is a term used to describe the retirement years and Saturn rules old age.
Both, the dark emotions, and the Planet Saturn, are taskmasters that are dedicated to the goal of strengthening us. They goal is to help us become tough, and face life’s challenges with the courage of an adult rather than a whimper of a child.
The process of managing fear, and preventing it from debilitating the psyche and destroying one’s psychic life, is an art that needs training, contemplation, and constant efforts. It is only when we shirk our responsibilities as an adult, and refuse to rise to the challenges posed by these – or any other – dark emotions , that these emotions can become overwhelming and debilitating. But if you learn the dance, and can dance well in partnership, seeking neither to overpower them, nor to undermine them, then the gifts of such encounters with the dark side are numerous, and life enriching. I must go out on a limb to say that dark emotions form the essence of life. They give meaning to life, and help shape our character. They attempt to raise us to our higher potential, and bring us closer to God.
So the next time you feel threatened by a dark emotion, dance to the tune of Observer and the Observed, switching roles back and forth until you are able to extract the essence of the messages from the unconscious that they have brought for you.