Article By Eric Paskel, Rina Jakubowicz
~ November 2021 ~ Psychologically, you probably think of fears as situations, emotions, or things you want to avoid, like betrayal, death, heights, disease, spiders, or tight spaces. But Vedanta teachings and yoga scriptures explain that, philosophically, fear is an effect. The true cause of your fear stems from one of four distinct states—ignorance, sense of otherness, selfishness, and attachment.
Rina and I maintain harmony in our relationship by identifying the true causes of our fears, then finding solutions to solve them together. Looking at each of these philosophical causes of fear can help you understand them better.
Causes of fear and how to get past them
For a long time, I was terrified of computers, iPads, tablets—anything technological. I believed that with one touch of a button, my fat thumbs could destroy my life or somebody else’s. So for years I avoided using any technology. Then I met Rina, a cool techie person who taught me enough about these digital devices that I was no longer afraid of them. I realized that I wasn’t afraid of these gizmos, I was just ignorant about them.
As long as you are ignorant about something, fear can exist. For example, if you are afraid of the dark, it is because you are ignorant about your surroundings. After talking about our trip to visit family, Rina and I recognized that we aren’t afraid of COVID-19. Our fear came from our ignorance about it (we read the news but aren’t virologists!).
Knowledge takes away all fear. The light of wisdom always dispels the darkness of ignorance. This wisdom doesn’t come from external resources; it comes from not allowing emotions to create beliefs or beliefs to create emotion.
If you can be objective, discerning, and contemplative when you go into information-gathering mode (or asking your wife to explain web cookies to you again!), you will be able to contact that information from your highest place of reception and instinctively know how or if you should use it.
2. Sense of Otherness
I see everyone as separate from me (and if you are being honest, so do you!). But the moment there is a “me” and “you” or “us” and “them,” fear is born. History has shown us this many times over—seeing ourselves as separate or different from others is how all wars are started.
Conversely, connection, unity or oneness breeds peace, happiness, and trust. The moment there is oneness, fear evaporates. When Rina and I started blending our family, she shared how scared she was because she didn’t feel like she was “part” of the family. She had also moved away from her hometown of Miami and felt an additional disconnection. Through Vedantic teachings, daily practice, and looking for commonalities instead of differences, she found her place in the family, which helped her feel connected and safe.
This past summer, Rina and I traveled to visit our families for the first time since the start of the pandemic. We were excited to share love with family members we hadn’t seen in awhile. Just before our visit, Rina’s right eye got red and swollen. She was scared she might have pink eye and pass it on to someone else in the family. Even worse, emotions took over. While Rina had no symptoms of COVID, some family members worried about spending time with us. Fear created an environment for judgment and alienation. Rina saw an eye doctor who suggested an over-the-counter medicine. The next day, all was clear. No pink eye. No COVID.
When people are selfish, they are destructive. They help themselves at the cost of others—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. Everyone is selfish in some way; it’s part of being human. And it’s hard to know if selfishness is behind fears in your relationship. One clue: You find yourself regularly using the words “I,” “me,” or “my.” It’s my turn to choose where we go to dinner. You never listen to me.
When you catch yourself using these “I” phrases about a situation, ask, “Do I know all the answers?” “Is my truth someone else’s truth?” (The right answer to these questions is always “no.”) Consider if there’s another perspective to this topic that you may not be seeing. No two minds are alike, so there always is.
Lastly, ask, “Could I feel compassion for this person because they are doing the best they can on their journey just as I am?” This one is up to you. If you feel compassion, then you won’t impose your beliefs and lifestyle on someone else out of fear, instead you will accept and embrace them for their beliefs and lifestyle.
The great Swami Rama Tirtha said to a student who asked when his fear would be no more, “when shall I be free when the ‘I’ ceases to be.” Try to become less selfish one action at a time and that will lead to becoming less fearful. This is done by growing. The more we grow the less we need things our way, the less demands we place on people, places and things. So yes, you can push yourself a little each day to try to be less self consumed and concerned, but the real way to become selfless is to annihilate your ego and that can only be done by evolving.
Attachment is a selfish, preferential, unilateral, binding, and consuming emotion that can often lead to fear. Attachment to a person can lead to the fear of losing them. Attachment to wealth leads to the fear of being impoverished. Attachment to social privilege leads to infamy. Attachment to the body leads to fear of discomfort, death, aging, viruses, and disease. Fun, right?
The pandemic has caused us all to experience more attachment. We have huge levels of attachment to our bodies, our wealth, and our beliefs.
Love is the antidote to attachment. Love is a sense of identification with another, a sense of oneness and a feeling of connecting universally, not preferentially. Love and fear never exist together.
Here’s the question to silence all questions to know if you are on your way toward love or fear in your life… “Are your choices and beliefs making you more connected and compassionate to others or are they making you feel more judgmental and disconnected from others?” If you are feeling more connected and understanding, then your path is the right one for you. If it is making you feel more judgmental, arrogant, and disconnected to others, then you might want to rethink what you’re adopting and applying into your life.
A version of this article originally appeared here on yogajournal.com