Search & Read
Mind Management Slays the Fear Dragon
Dominic: Hi, Sundari and James.
It’s difficult for me to ask for it, but I need some help. Reading scripture and listening to talks are somewhat helpful at this point, but it doesn’t seem to be getting to the heart of this jiva’s particular experience right now. Can you help me cut through the crap?
The areas that are causing the most turbulence are as follows.
1. Strong limiting beliefs causing almost crippling self-doubt. The root cause lies in a painful parental relationship, but despite knowing this and working on healing this by drawing attention back to awareness, it still perseveres in the background and is often running the show.
2. This leads to an excruciating deliberation when it comes to deciding on a course of action, as there is a great deal of uncertainty about my ability to choose the right way to go. I had taken the voice that said “you can’t do it” to be mine/life’s. Now I see it’s not, but it still resonates emotionally. On some level, I still believe it.
Sundari: I call this the Voice of Diminishment, and it is not your friend. Its origin is tamas, beginningless ignorance. As long as you are still identified with the jiva and its story, these voices will condition the mind. What you need is mind management, which amounts to thought and emotion, or guna, management. See below.
3. It also manifests as near-constant low-level anxiety, a feeling that I should be doing something, becoming better. To me this is indicative of a feeling of lacking something, which is surely ignorance of my true limitless nature, but it seems an almost insurmountable task to shake the “I’m not good enough, therefore I must do _______ in order to be enough” dynamic. And can be a real obstacle to self-inquiry and to enjoying life.
4. Fear that surrendering control of the result of my actions will leave me vulnerable to bad things happening, hence a block when it comes to trying to do karma yoga.
5. This is why I am finding it difficult to ask for or accept help and ultimately why, despite following the logic of all of what I’ve read and seeing how it makes perfect sense to surrender to God, there is still a huge resistance to doing so. I want to, but I am drawing a blank on how to do it. And the doubts are creeping in as to whether there even is such a thing. The intellect and the emotions are not in harmony.
I know that this email is riddled with instances of my ignorance of my true nature. Some days it is all so clear and there are no problems in understanding. Today is not one of those days.
Can you give me some help assimilating what I’ve understood and with removing the doubts?
Sundari: The doer/ego, the person attached to action and results, resists the non-dual teachings of Vedanta, and will create many obstacles to self-inquiry because it threatens its existence. Karma yoga is the answer to the typical anxiety the doer experiences when it is identified with the body-mind. But when such deep fear samskaras arise, karma yoga does not work, and therefore Self-knowledge cannot disarm the trigger for the fear, which is always ignorance of course. Making your life and particularly Self-inquiry work for you is all about managing your primary instrument, the mind, which means managing the gunas.
Fear is a negative desire, and desire is a positive fear; it is rajas and tamas working together and comes with the territory of being human. The kind of fear you are experiencing is what we call free-floating anxiety, and it is not helpful, but it is unavoidable until the doer is negated and all binding vasanas rendered non-binding through Self-knowledge. Fear and worry are built-in for the jiva because the environment it lives in (including the body) is always changing and the jiva is not in control of the objects. Security is the primary motivation for most jivas – the futile attempt to shore up protection from the vicissitudes of life.
As an inquirer or worldly person, it might be necessary to sublimate the fear vasana/samskara until Self-knowledge removes the ignorance anchoring it in the microcosmic causal body. This kind of renunciation is advisable if moksa is the aim and fear is a powerfully binding vasana. But this kind of renunciation is not denial. It is the understanding that nothing is gained by indulging this vasana, so you make a different choice every time the fear (or desire) arises, by sublimating the fear/desire with the opposite thought, with the karma yoga attitude.
All jivas are born in fear because they are born in ignorance. The ego is a fear-thought born of the belief in separation. Without Self-knowledge, most people are at the mercy of deeply rooted fear samskaras. Fear manifests in many variations and intensities, from mild anxiety to worry, from panic attacks to free floating anxiety which causes a non-specific unnamed existential fear or worse, dread. It is the constant (but often unnoticed) fear of things going wrong, of the next shoe to fall, of terrible, unavoidable loss.
Fear is another name for primordial beginningless ignorance, or Maya. It is the king of all vasanas – and it teams up with other similar and seemingly personal vasanas to form samskaras, meaning a conglomeration or complex of vasanas, having a common source and playing out differently for individual jivas, depending on their life story and vasana load.
The more user-friendly term for the fear samskara is “free-floating anxiety.” Existential fear is the “wound of humanity,” as I sometimes call it. It is the fear that causes knots in the solar plexus. It is sometimes called the fear of “being and becoming,” what the Christians call “original sin.” All religions have used this fear to their great advantage in recruiting believers and controlling them. The world of business has tapped into and mined this unconscious fear like an endless vein of gold. This macrocosmic fear is always present, yet hidden in the causal body, and it is looking for objects to attach itself to. It is related to “others.” It is the ultimate experience of duality, or “otherness,” separation.
Not everyone experiences it directly and acutely, although many do, without even knowing it much of the time. The skyrocketing number of people experiencing anxiety/panic attacks is testament to this. In most samsaris fear works out in petty mundane and indirect ways all day long, year after year, death of a thousand cuts. You can see the accretions in the faces of samsaris as they age, the exhaustion of existential suffering, the weight of the vasanas etched in faces inured to delusion, the mask of the (mostly) failed attempts to protect ourselves from the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death.
The fear-thought is reinforced at every turn in our society, though advertising, the media (only bad news sells after all) and of course through “entertainment.” The more violence or threat of violence in a book or a movie, the more it sells. It seems jivas are addicted to fear and are drawn to it like moths to a flame.
If fear takes over the mind, discrimination is impossible and so is dispassion (indifference to results), karma yoga. In this case, the knowledge that our true nature is unborn and undying awareness is totally covered up by this paralyzing fear. In other words, the mind is not available for self-inquiry.
You will notice that this ignorance is called “beginningless” ignorance. The implied meaning of this phrase is that it is not endless, because Self-knowledge ends personal ignorance (avidya) for good. It also ends fear for good. However, the nameless fear samskara is the greatest obstacle for many inquirers and the last to go for most. Self-realization is no guarantee that it has been rooted out. For most people, it disappears for a bit, then reappears, from which we can determine without doubt that fear is not real. Unfortunately, Self-realization is often not enough to slay the fear dragon for good. There is no quick easy fix if fear is playing out in the mind. The only solution is to apply Self-knowledge when it arises by taking a stand in awareness and practising the opposite thought: see the fear for what it is, only apparently real. Go into it, face it. LOVE IT.
Even if you don’t believe it is not real, fake it till you make it, because FEAR IS NOT REAL. It stands for: false evidence appearing real. The universal fear samskara forms a kind of background disturbance in the mind which is so prevalent and pervasive most of us have normalized it. We don’t even notice it is there anymore, yet it colours and distorts our every experience. And because there are so few truly fear-free people in this world, there is nobody to model for us what it is like to live free of the jiva, free of the causal body and free of fear. We don’t believe it is possible. For many, fear is considered “normal,” even smart. Cynicism and lack of trust is admired as the mark of a worldly, experienced person. The cult of the fear is legion, and many feed on it, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, gorging on the gore of darkness, tamas. Fear is a multi-multi-billion-dollar industry, and many worldly people profit greatly from it.
Stress, the seemingly more benign form of fear, is also ever-present (but mostly unseen) and is a more common by-product of this very deeply rooted fear samskara. Usually, vasanas will exhaust themselves after a while, even though they inevitably return, but this one, this unnamed fear samskara, is constantly “on.” Everyone identified with being a person (not Self-realized) is affected by it to some degree. For those who are Self-realized but not Self-actualized, this unnamed fear will come and go, depending on the assimilation of knowledge and the level of qualification of the inquirer. As the Self, it doesn’t bother you at all of course, even if it should arise, as existential fear is over for you. A free person sees the program of fear playing out and does not identify with it, because they are trigunaatita, beyond the gunas. One needs to pounce quickly on fear-thoughts because they are very sneaky.
Observing the mind and how samskaras play out in the light of Self-knowledge is the main step towards rendering all vasanas non-binding. What this entails is tracking the mind and see what the trigger was for the disturbance/agitation, what guna was in play and what value underpinned the guna. All three gunas are very predictable. Ignorance works the same way every time, so it should not be difficult to track the origin of the thought, assuming some ability to be objective. Sometimes though, when it comes to deeply entrenched samskaras like the fear samskara, it can take repeated observation and determination to render non-binding because it is so hidden, so camouflaged by Maya. It will strike when we are least prepared for it and take over the mind, unless we are extremely vigilant and Self-knowledge is firm.
The only protection from Maya is knowledge. Then the world is truly beautiful, and the fear of death is over because you know that everything you see in this shimmering chimera called life is already dead. Only you, the Self, are alive, and because of you everything seems to shine and live. You are the Existence that gives existence to existence. You are the Light that makes light shine. You are the Life that bestows life. You are the desire that is not opposed to dharma.
What we need to realize is that there is not a single thing in our lives that deep samskaras such as fear do not affect. Like bacteria, the effect of ignorance creeps in everywhere, causing inflammation and dis-ease in the psyche; and in the body, which is an extension of the mind. The more fear you feel and feed, the more likely it is that the fear will express as illness and disease in the body-mind because the body is a print-out of the causal body, or the unconscious.
Thus samskaras will take time to go away. They will fade more quickly when they are fully understood. Applying the opposite thought works because it objectifies the fear, the anxiety or the stress, if one can remember to think the opposite thought when you are anxious, stressed and gripped by fear. Karma yoga is perfectly designed to destroy samskaras. However, the nature of rajas in expressing as the fear samskara is such that the tamas (denial, blindness) accompanying it causes us to feel that we do not have “time” to deconstruct the desire/fear on the spot, as fast as possible! Even the slightest delay or inability to deconstruct fear strengthens the samskara, quite a sobering thought.
In the heat of the moment, the doer forgets that it is now an inquirer and that it is supposed to free the mind of worry/fear through Self-knowledge, not to get the object in the world, whatever it is. The mind thinks that the results of action will heal the body and free the mind, which they will, temporarily, leaving the fear samskara carefully concealed and intact, however. The doer acts to correct the situation instead of turning around and correcting the thinking behind it.
To ameliorate the effect of a samskara, it is very effective to dismiss the present thought by taking the line of reasoning it represents to its logical conclusion, thus defusing the power of the samskara in the moment. For instance, when fear thoughts regarding your jiva story arise appear in the mind, ask yourself: What is the worst thing that could possibly happen? And why am I so afraid of that outcome?
The key to most samskaras is the word “time.” Time represents the pressure of the samskara. When it is operating, the thought/word “time” is meant to refer to something real, something substantial. But all it refers to is “I want.” We know what is behind that: “I am insecure, I am afraid, I am incomplete, etc.”
But then the doer/ego will immediately try to prevent this logical thought alternative because doing is the key to the maintenance of its identity as someone in control of his or her destiny. But renunciation of karma causes another problem for the doer. It presents the scenario it was trying to avoid in the first place: no control. What most humans fear most is not being in control, and yet they are NEVER in control to begin with! See the fear. If the doer actually analyzed the root thought, the whole problem would go away instantly.
If the fear samskara is doing the thinking, that is the worst alternative: “What if?” and off it goes worrying. Fear is sometimes smart. At some point in the life of the doer, worry is self-validating. It equals love for the doer. It means I care about myself. But it is a purely samsaric value. If one encounters a terrible fear of any kind, dismiss it immediately. Reaffirm the opposite thought: “No bad result, I am awareness.” If you cannot dismiss it, love it.
But fear is hard to love.
Samskaras are never about what they purport to be about. An unnamed fear lurks behind them all. No matter what you do or don’t do, it is there attaching itself to an action. One needs to be sick and tired of the mind it creates. Yes, one can walk away from various situations relatively easily, but walking away from the belief that worldly results are necessary for peace of mind is the real renunciation because it amounts to renunciation of the doer itself.
The best mantra is “Nothing can go wrong.” Nothing ever went “wrong,” because life is not about me getting what I think I want. It is about the me that does not want. If you don’t want anything, what is there to fear? The only cure for a bad attitude is a good attitude. There so many good thoughts available to remove the fear in any situation, but attachment to the doer make them all unpalatable. The renunciation-thought is particularly difficult for the doer because it indicates a failure to get what it wants the way it wants it when it wants it. It can’t stand that thought, because the “I am the Self” thought does not actually sustain it when it is faced with various everyday situations that involve loss or the fear of loss.
Prarabdha karma plays out the way it plays out, and Isvara gives us the karma we need to see what we need to resolve when it is time to heal. The psyche has a drive for wholeness because it knows it is the Self and suffering is not natural. But the effects of ignorance have been there for a long “time” and mostly do not dissolve overnight. Karma yoga and jnana yoga are the only solution. The final stage of self-inquiry, nididhyasana, often takes the longest. The essence of nididhyasana is resolving all our conditioning through contemplation, assimilation of the knowledge and transformation of its habitual patterns (vasanas/samskaras/pratibandikas) through Self-knowledge.
A happy life for the jiva is all about thought-and-emotion management. The mind is our primary instrument for knowing anything. It is so powerful, it has the unique capacity to convert heaven into hell and hell into heaven. A person with every convenience can feel miserable and tortured, and a person weighed down with so many problems can feel totally happy and peaceful. The quality of our life is dependent on this powerful organ, the mind. Isvara has given us an exquisite instrument with which to experience life, but it has a serious drawback inherent in its nature, which prevents most of us from experiencing the joy of our true nature as awareness.
The serious drawback of the mind is that, without our permission, the mind generates continuous involuntary thoughts we have no control over. With or without our involvement, the mind, which is supposed to be our instrument – we are the owner— acts on its own, of its own volition. The mind is supposed to, and can, produce deliberate thoughts of our own choosing, but unless we understand it and know how to manage it (meaning the gunas), its nature is to produce and churn out thoughts continuously. It is simply a machine, and this is how it is made.
If fear-thoughts dominate the mind, they will come at you in every form, from ill health to dreams, from people to situations. The mind can even externalize them into psychic entities that can appear very real indeed, and evil, malevolent. Fear will be everywhere, ever-present. All the gunas build on themselves, so the more rajas (projection) and tamas (denial), the more fear, the more fear, the more rajas and tamas, on and on. It is no wonder samsaris wear themselves out with existential exhaustion.
There is no off button for the gunas, but you are one of the lucky ones who have, by good grace that is not your doing, stumbled upon the manual: Vedanta. This manual contains not only all the operating instructions, it also explains the nature of the mind, what it is and the forces that run it, the gunas. The mind run by the gunas is a very serious problem for the jiva, with many adverse consequences. When involuntary thoughts kidnap the mind, it means the mind is not available for our use in self-inquiry or for much else. We do actions without thinking, as an absent-minded or mindless person, “living in absentia.”
Managing the mind means managing the gunas, and vice versa. There’s no magic to Vedanta. Vedanta shows us that the mind is our primary instrument for experiencing, realizing and actualizing ourselves in this world. It all boils down to owning your mind as your primary instrument, and repeatedly and consistently reconditioning it with thoughts that are true; in other words, that produce peace of mind. Any seeming failure to realize or actualize ourselves or to have a peaceful life is only due to lack of knowledge and incorrect thoughts that dominate the mind/emotions/intellect. The simple solution is re-conditioning the mind with chosen thoughts that are aligned with the truth and based in Self-knowledge. This is called volitional – deliberate – thinking.
When skilfully managed, the mind will produce peace of mind and allow us to express and enjoy the beauty that we are in our day-to-day life, no matter what life dishes out to us. When you feel bad, for any reason, you can convert your emotional distress/fear and mental agitation into gratitude and peace through managing the gunas with volitional thinking. This entails watching out with hawk’s eyes for the habitual emotional thought patterns dominating your mind and creating your negative state of mind and suffering, and transforming those thought patterns into new thoughts of your own choosing.
Seven-Step Formula to Effective Mind Management
1. Own your mind as your primary instrument.
2. Clarify your highest values by conducting a fearless moral inventory.
3. Take responsibility for every experience you have; it comes from your thoughts, not the world.
4. Your thoughts/emotions don’t come from you, they come from the three gunas. Make sure you understand what they are.
5. Monitor your every thought and the emotion it produces, see the guna behind it.
6. Discriminate the habitual emotional thought patterns that compel you to act against your highest values, creating pain and suffering.
7. Evaluate your daily actions to discover those that do not support your highest values.
8. Change those thoughts and the actions they produce by conditioning new chosen thoughts into your primary instrument. Apply karma yoga to every thought, word and deed.
7. Relax, stop worrying, as your primary instrument automatically serves your highest values in your day-to-day life, no matter what unfolds.
I know it sounds easier than it is, but if we want to be free of suffering, there is no other way. Vedanta offers you the complete knowledge of reality, along with moksa. It may not be a magic pill for the ego, because it does not inoculate the jiva from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but it does free us from identification with the suffering jiva, which makes all the difference in the world. You are on the Vedanta bus, trust it to take you where you need to go, remembering that the steps to get “there” are the qualities of being there, and there is no there to get to.
~ Love, Sundari