The Fear of the Unknown

reflections, mirror, snowy day,
The fear of the unknown.

Buckle up. Clear your schedule. This is a big one.

The fear of the unknown is a core issue that most people have. While we don't all share the same types of fears, most people seem to find something scary about unknown experiences. For many people, unknown body sensations and experiences can trigger the fear of the unknown. Other people find the uncertainty of the future scary. Some people find creating new relationships to be a trigger for their fear of the unknown. Some of you probably came to this blog wondering what was going on with your body after having an awakening. That fear drove you to action, which ultimately is what fear is designed to do. Fear doesn't make us sit and relax. It does the opposite. It agitates us to take action.

Other fears of the unknown can be a new job, leaving a job, leaving a relationship, going to a new city/region, leaving a home, not knowing how to solve a problem, and many more. For the purposes of this spiritual blog, I'll divide things up between the heart, body, and mind. Ultimately, these divisions are illusory. However, I think it'll help us start to wrap ourselves around this powerful fear, which drives many human decisions and deeper issues like xenophobia. Because, as I like to remind everyone, intellectually understanding a fear doesn't get rid of it. We have to break through on all levels to find freedom from it, and in this case, this is an issue that can take awhile.

The Fear of the Unknown and Living in Our Safe Little Comfort Zones

Everyone's comfort zone is different. Different life experiences, cultural beliefs, family beliefs, genetics, and other influences define how much of the world feels known to us and how much feels unknown. While the correlations between safety and what is known as well as the unknown and potential threat are probably not one-to-one, they seem pretty close in my book. In short, what is familiar we tend to believe is safe. What is unfamiliar and unknown, we tend to believe is not safe.

I am sure you already see the problems with that belief. There are plenty of new and unknown situations that are perfectly safe and may bring you great joy. There are also often plenty of familiar jobs, relationships, and situations that only bring you misery. Yet many people stay in the familiar misery and avoid the former. Why? A lot of it is the fear of the unknown.

Through this fear, most people try to stay in their comfort zones. While I am sure that many of you have gotten out of your comfort zones in different ways and have been rewarded for it, many people rarely push the edges. If you have learned the rewards of stepping out of your comfort zone, you probably have diminished parts of your fear of the unknown. But you may also co-opt that inner agitation and make an inner choice to become excited about the unknown. So when you go do that new thing, you feel energized and look forward to it. That's not a bad thing, but even with that approach to the unknown, there often is an element of fear at play. Furthermore, the more you resolve the fear of the unknown and other issues, the more you can do things--any thing--from a space of peace.

The short overview is that for most people the fear of the unknown keeps people in their pre-defined comfort zones, and that's where most people will live out their lives unless life kicks 'em in the pants.

The Fear of the Unknown: Dealing With the Ego Mind's Need to Know

The Western intellectual mind thinks it needs to know everything. But we can't know everything. Heck, there's so much in our comfort zones that we don't really understand. Most of you probably don't know how your computer gets this information from my blog and makes it readable. But we don't seem to worry about this. There's no real safety trigger about how the Internet works to bring up the fear of the unknown. However, there are plenty of other things that the ego will want to know about. That makes your fear of the unknown unique to you. How you were raised and all the other influences that helped craft your ego self set all the parameters about when to raise the alarm if something is unknown.

For many intellectuals, they get intellectual jobs where they need to know how to solve different problems. They are paid to learn how to go into unknown intellectual issues and resolve them. It may seem like that fear of the mental unknown does not exist. Yet the fear of the unknown reveals itself most when the intellectual ego can't solve a problem. Suddenly the ego feels helpless and fears losing your. In this way, we see that the fear of the unknown often hides out in remission, and it is often a mask for other issues. I like to remind my students that if the "unknown" only brought cake and sex into your life, you would have no fear of it. You would deeply and embrace each "unknown" moment with open arms to enjoy the next great cake or sexual adventure life has for you. Clearly, though, that is not the orientation to the unknown.

By and large, we find the unknown threatening, and the ego mind attempts to protect us from that feeling of being threatened by creating ideas and by controlling ourselves. Many human beings have a false idea that having an idea will help them stay safe from the unknown. But having an idea about how to live and what to do or not do only creates limitations. These limitations and rules you impose on yourself show how much you are afraid of the unknown. Thus one important way to work on the fear of the unknown is to start to let go of your beliefs about life and how you think anything should work. In letting go of beliefs, you'll find a lot of hidden deeper fears start to be revealed.

Letting Go of Beliefs

The Fear of the Unknown: The Heart's Palpitations

The idea of fear is nothing. The experience and feelings associated with fear are everything. They feel awful. And I am sure that how we experience fear varies widely. Some people feel debilitated by the fear of the unknown. That emotional experience can cripple someone at important times of getting out of their comfort zone. It's like the person who has an offer to work at a dream job, but it's all brand new. They haven't done the things that they'll be doing. They'll be relocating to a new city, and they'll be interacting with new people. The fear of the unknown--and probably some other fears since fears don't like to work alone--can cause the person to turn the job down.

Here we see just how much we are controlled by a fear of the unknown. Here we also see how much discomfort we can cause ourselves, and we also can see in this example how limiting fear can be. These types of examples happen to people all the time, and the way to breaking down the emotional aspect of fear is to sit with the discomfort.

Spiritual Healing Techniques for Moments of Intense Discomfort

I have written all over this spiritual awakening blog about the importance of sitting with discomfort. Fears can come up at any time, and we have to develop the will power to be with our own discomfort. Otherwise, we are controlled by these fears. Very rarely do our fears ever have anything to do with the present moment. They have to do with the ego mind, heart, and body being out of alignment with truth and running an old unconscious program. It's all in an attempt to keep you safe. Safety really is the ego's number one issue.

The Number One Ego Issue

By and large, the ego and all these fear responses are wrong. You are probably under actual physical threat a very small amount of the time you feel fear compared to the amount of times you feel scared. Obeying your fears keeps you trapped, and it reinforces these emotional behaviors inside you. Each time you obey, that only strengthens your fears. The ego mind also likes to justify your feelings, and by building a wall of justifications of why your fear of the unknown is right, your comfort zone keeps shrinking and shrinking.

The Fear of the Unknown: Bodily Discomfort

As I said earlier, we can't really separate anything, but I do so to help you understand the complexity of the issues that you are working on. I know too many people who assume that intellectually understanding that they have an issue of any kind then think they're done. Case closed. "I get it!"

No. You don't. You don't fully get it until you learn how to mindfully engage with the heart and body. In my opinion, emotions really are labels for neurotransmitters and hormones. Those biochemicals are inherently aspects of the body. Additionally, the body has responses to when those fear juices start flowing. The breath shortens. The heart beats faster. Maybe your stomach tightens into knots. Maybe you sweat. There are all kinds of powerful responses that are attempting to force you to take action.

But what's the threat? Really? Where is it?

Once again, we have to really work on seeing clearly and letting go of beliefs. As I said, the ego mind will come running in to justify why you should be scared of things. Some situations do have ramifications for us in life like leaving a job, but being scared certainly won't help you make good decisions. Many other situations like being scared about whether people like your new shirt really have no ramifications. There's no down-side. You are not going to be physically hurt.

Ultimately, this whole fear of the unknown system is a way to stay physically safe. It's not meant to be used for mental or emotional safety. I feel like it's just part of the old reptilian brain and the fight-flight-freeze-faint instincts that are built into it. That stuff is still all working, and we have to work through these beliefs, emotions, and physical responses just to begin to re-train this basic human system. So, you see, working down these levels leaves us still with a lot of work to do, and it's why a core fear like the fear of the unknown basically goes untouched by most people.

The Animal Within: Retraining the Primal Instinctual Body

Mindfully Breathing Into the Fear of the Unknown

The breath is powerful. It speaks to every level of the human experience. If you want to have a talk with the old reptilian brain and the physiological responses that underpin the fear of the unknown, you gotta talk to it in a language it understands. It doesn't understand beliefs or affirmations. You can certainly heal the mind so that it doesn't hit the fear of the unknown button all the time. But at times, the fear of the unknown just comes up. It just does. Maybe the body is shooting some extra cortisol into your bloodstream for some reason today. Maybe some old sensory program in your body is feeling the agitation of the energy in your local community, and that's leading you to heightened levels of fear. Whatever the cause, your breathing is a way to slow down and calm your biological system. It's a way to switch out of this activated and agitated space and drop back into a more restful place inside you. In so doing, you gain a greater and greater sense of autonomy over your inner space, and that's a powerful thing.

Many people think of breathing very rarely in their daily lives, and when we are triggered by a fear of the unknown or something else, we tend to forget our breath entirely. So as you practice with it, you'll find that you may not start mindfully breathing until a day later or hours later after a triggering event. As you practice mindfully breathing into fears, that time shortens. A part of your mind remembers sooner that you need to breathe when you are stressed. As you get closer to the initial point of fear, you actually come into greater awareness of when the biological switch is about to be thrown. You can actually stop the fear before it comes. It's an interesting experience. It's almost like this little bit of body electricity starts to rise somewhere in the brain, but now you identify it. You breathe before the trigger goes. Then nothing happens.

As you get really good at remaining at peace and let go of more and more beliefs and unconscious responses, you probably will forget that you should be scared of unknown situations that used to scare you before. This is a beautiful achievement for any human being, and ironically, you probably won't notice that you've "achieved" it.

Dealing With Fundamental Human Fears

The fear of the unknown is a core issue, but it is not a fundamental issue. As I've mentioned earlier, if there was no threat from the unknown, there would be no reason to be upset. And if the unknown was always offering awesome things, we'd have a lot of joy around the unknown. So even as you face your fears of the unknown, you should be on the look out for bigger issues. A lot of issues like lack of self-worth and certainly trauma can get intertwined with the fear of the unknown. When a trauma is present in someone's energy and body, everything going on in life around you can get up-leveled as a possible threat. You get stuck in hyper-vigilance mode a lot, and the unknown can seem far more daunting. But really, there are two main human fears that lurk beneath the unknown: they're the fear of death and the fear of pain.

Being at Peace With Pain

I separate the two because sometimes life is so painful that some people prefer death, but clearly they're closely linked. To the primal body, experiencing pain is a sign that the body may be in jeopardy of dying. Through evolution, the body has developed a whole array of biochemicals to agitated the human animal to do something to preserve its life.

You really have to think in primal terms with this body stuff. This was back before any of us could see a charging bull and think, "Hey, I should get out of the way so I don't get trampled." Before we had brains that could do that, we needed another way to figure out how to stay alive. So we got this whole fear biological system to agitate us to the point of fighting or running (flight) or hiding (freeze) or playing dead and looking like we are neither a threat nor delicious (faint--think like what an opossum does).

Clearly, we can think now, but our animal heritage remains. Once again, mindful breathing and meditation are powerful tools to speak to the biological side of us. They're important to practice in times when we aren't triggered, and through that practice, we have better access to those tools when we are really upset. Sitting and breathing through fear is so crucial, and in my book, I think it's an important next step in the evolution of the human race.

The Fear of the Unknown and Spiritual Awakening

The fear of the unknown plays a particularly destructive role in a lot of people's spiritual awakenings. Because awakening and the demand of spiritual transformation are so unknown in Western Society, people can get really upset about all the upset and unknown feelings and sensations that arise. This additional upset can create over-reactions and a general downward spiral that can take someone into a dark night of the soul. Thus, at the outset of an awakening, the fear of the unknown has to be addressed.

Getting information is helpful for the purpose of engaging with awakening. That's probably what brought some of you to my blog. But when we don't address the core issue itself, that fear of the unknown will come back again. In essence, the fear goes into remission once you feel like you know what is going on. You get some relief from the issue, but not a release of it. Since the fear of the unknown hasn't gone away, the next shift that goes on in you after awakening will bring it right back. Since there are many shifts and levels of healing that arise for most people, the fear of the unknown keeps coming back again and again. In this way, you see that you can't escape yourself, and you will certainly get plenty of opportunities to face this fear.

The more you can relax into new sensations and new experiences, the more you can break down the fear of the unknown and move onto the specific issue or expansion that is arising within you after an awakening. Thus, the fear of the unknown can be both a core issue and a masking issue--hiding other issues.

Turning the Fear of the Unknown Into Peaceful Curiosity

Because we are used to being driven by fear to take action, it is a whole other way of living life to take action in the world without it. Many of you have seen how fears and deep issues have pushed you onto the spiritual path, and some of you have benefited from that push. The Divine uses all tools to get our attention; that's for sure!

For some people, they wonder how they'll act without fear to push them. But as I mentioned earlier, I think this is where we need to evolve.

Inside of us, it seems like there are intuitive nudges and natural ways that we want to grow. Sometimes that will be within your comfort zone and sometimes not. Since much of your comfort zone is defined by your ego ideas, that sense of comfort can drastically change as you grow and change. That too leads to a lessening of the power of the fear of the unknown. Without your ego mind telling you to be scared of something new or different or otherwise unknown, a lot of life is far less scary. The fear of the unknown functions a lot based on beliefs as I've mentioned before. Without those fear-based beliefs and the fear of the unknown, we find space for a peaceful curiosity.

Peaceful curiosity is simply being engaged with life. That tends to lead to a certain amount of curiosity about life and the things we can do here. Without ego distress and the fear of the unknown to get in the way, life becomes more of an exploration, and it matters less and less what the outcome is. When fear is dissolved, we can still see things that are legitimately dangerous to us and take precautions. Actually, it's much easier to accurately perceive a real threat and to address it. Being at peace is a very clear space. You see what is., and you don't have to be afraid of what you see to take care of yourself.

Increasingly at Peace With Yourself and all of Life

The fear of the unknown is a powerful fear. At some point in our evolution, it probably served an important purpose. Now, it seems to threaten people at mostly harmless times of their lives, and the more scared someone is, the more they tend to get stuck in that fear. That continues to lead human beings to more reactive and painful actions that cause suffering to oneself and to everyone else. That breeds even more fear, and it's where a lot of humanity is currently stuck.

But none of us have to remain stuck. None of have to stay tethered to this awful old inner system of self-preservation.

As you continue to breathe into your fears and to face the physiological intensity, you can change them. They do dissolve. The old beliefs that tell you when to be scared can be broken down. Sometimes that means doing what you fear; other times, it just means being present to the feeling and the belief. When you no longer believe in the belief, the feeling loses power or disappears entirely.

This leaves you increasingly at peace with yourself. When you are at peace with yourself, all of life seems more peaceful or at least far more bearable. That is the gift of facing the fear of the unknown, and with it comes the opportunity to truly explore the beautiful world you live in.
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