What is it that I fear, we fear so much?

Oashiss’ (Oil painting on board by Alan Rayner, 1998)

What is it that I fear so much,

We fear so much

In this life and what’s next?

That makes me lose my reason, my recall, my trust, my breadth of vision, my capability

.

Is it loss of all I cherish

My loves, my credit-worthiness

Leaving me bereft

Useless, purposeless, worthless, paralysed, alone

.

Is it causing others pain

Filling me with guilt and shame?

Awaiting some kind of painful retribution

Administered from on high

For doing something wrong

That I shouldn’t have done

Or not doing something right

That I should have done

Or not knowing

What I should have known?

Is it some great missing out

Through making the wrong decision

Making me regret what I decided

Even though it seemed right at the time

.

What’s love got to do with it?

What’s money got to do with it?

Where did this fear come from?

.

Some might say my free will

Some might say my ego

Some might say my greed

Some might say my human nature

Growing like a weed

To spoil my garden of delight

Insinuating

Like that snake-in-the-grass

With forked tongue and venomous bite

That’s so hard to see, pin down or grasp

Worming its way from then to now

In my life,

Our life

Saying we should know

What we can’t know in advance

Before it’s too late to change course

.

But in reality none of us can make free choices

Independent from our circumstances

So none of us can be free from cultural influence

Stretching from past through current to not yet

Calling us back and forth in endless iterations of the same old stories

Concocted from hindsight

Dividing

Heaven from Hell

Good from Evil

Light from Darkness

Something from Nothing

Perfection from Imperfection

Success from Failure

Blamelessness from Blameworthiness

Endlessly confusing association with causation

Outcome with mechanism

Handed down through generations

By word of mouth

And deed

Into fear’s unwitting ears

Regardless of contextual influence

.

How I long to be free from it

To cast this fear to some far place

Out of sight and mind…

And yet, my dream says

I must handle it

With tender, loving care

Forgiving its trespasses

Regardless of the discomfort

For only then will it feel at home

And coil up on my hearth

Ever watchful

Never more than fleetingly

Wishing me or others ill

But quite the contrary

Despite its alarming appearance

.

No longer a fear to be feared

When it slithers out of place

But guardian of my soul

Guardian of all our souls

To be revered

Not cast aside or bottled up

Somewhere it can’t reside

.

Having struggled with severe anxiety all my life, I am well-acquainted with fear and its paralysing, blighting influence on my work, love and trust both of myself and of others in my vicinity. I have had good reason to try to understand its source and find ways to alleviate it. In the process I have discovered just how resistive it is to being dislodged, and how readily it finds loopholes in the defences my mind sets up to block its path. I have also discovered its creative influence in imagining the unthinkable and questioning my own and others’ assumptions about the way the world is.

What has become clear to me through this struggle is that fear of pain and loss has a natural and loving place in our lives, helping us to care compassionately for our selves and others in our neighbourhood through the fulfilment of needs and avoidance and mitigation of danger. This might seem obvious, but I feel it needs to be said because the temptation can be very strong to deny the discomfort fear brings, either by means of romantic pretence that the natural world is benign, or rationalistic defence that insulates its self within a ‘thick skin’ of insensitivity. And it is these forms of denial of our vulnerability as mortal, fallible beings that in my personal experience can actually aggravate fear and render us prone to terrorise ourselves or be terrorised by others.

What I feel greatly aggravates our natural fear is the prevalent myth in modern human culture that we are personally responsible for what happens to us as a consequence of our exemplary or defective knowledge, abilities, values and choices. This myth is both sourced within and exploited by a controlling and competitive political culture that seeks power over rather than supportive natural companionship* with ‘other’. It causes us to feel it’s our own fault or seek to blame others when we perceive that things have gone wrong, and to claim sole credit for whatever we perceive has gone right. We may confuse association with causation and ask ourselves potentially endless and debilitating questions along the lines of ‘what if I, you, he, she or it had or hadn’t done this or that?’

In reality, however, whatever happens to us in life is overwhelmingly context-dependent because we cannot isolate our selves from the circumstances in which we are situated and over which we have no control whatsoever. What we may imagine to be our ‘independent choices’ may actually be inevitable commitments to pathways that open up to us in the course of our lives, in much the same way that water flows along and reinforces paths of least resistance through its surroundings. A river doesn’t use post-hoc rationalization** to explain, excuse, justify or take credit for the course it has taken, so why should we?

To realize this does not imply that we need not be considerate about how what we do affects ourselves and others. Quite the contrary — such consideration is a vital learning experience that helps us to avoid harm and be creative. But it does relieve us from the needless guilt and shame that can arise from not being able to live up to unrealistic hopes and expectations that take no account of context, and to replace those feelings with compassionate understanding and forgivingness. Moreover, it provides us with the courage, both individually and collectively, to question and change those culturally embedded myths that only serve to terrorize and stupefy us.

* See https://admrayner.medium.com/natural-companionship-why-we-need-each-other-to-be-different-genes-are-not-selfish-and-e116854f91ec

** See https://admrayner.medium.com/hook-line-sinker-35fba17292ba

For further enquiry into the meaning and significance of the contextual principle of natural inclusion, please visit my personal website at http://www.spanglefish.com/exploringnaturalinclusion.

Alan Rayner is an evolutionary ecologist, writer and artist, who is pioneering the philosophy of natural inclusion