We live in a world obsessed with safety, with defending itself. The message it constantly gives out is that there is some threat or danger out there, and you better be protected if you want to survive. As a result defences seem natural. Who would not, after all, defend himself and his family if someone attacked them? Here in Ireland we’ve brought in a new law that makes it okay for a person to use whatever force necessary to defend themselves against an intruder in their home, even kill the intruder. The bill is proving quite controversial, some approving, saying people have a right to defend themselves at all costs, others disapproving, claiming it will just lead to more crime.
The point is we are obsessed with security, with safety, because we see danger everywhere.
People fear many things, such as ending up poor, being physically assaulted, getting cancer and dying before they get a chance to enjoy life or see their grandchildren grow up. Maybe a terrorist attack. Many are paranoid that paedophiles may be living in their neighbourhood and their children are not safe, or the world will be destroyed by nuclear weapons. Perhaps religious extremists will take over, or the world economy will collapse and all their savings and money will be gone. It could be they’ll get Alzheimer’s, or end their days in a home, lonely and having to be cared for.
Being done by the tax people can be a greater fear for some than getting cancer. Mental trauma, existentialist despair, anxiety attacks from no apparent source, the list is endless. Fear has become a kind of epidemic. We see threats everywhere and seek safety. We duly protect ourselves by any means we can. We exercise to keep from getting sick, we take pills when we do to make us well, we buy personal insurance, build walls, padlock ourselves into our homes, hire bodyguards, sustain large armies, build nuclear weapons that can destroy the whole world while keeping us safe at the same time.
Do people feel any safer with all this protection? Not at all. All research shows the very opposite, that people feel less safe now than ever before.
If I say I need to defend myself, I must first have decided there is some threat to me, that I may come to some harm. I cannot have the thought of defence otherwise. So long as I have the thought of attack I’ll have the thought of defence. The two are inseparable. The world around me tells me I am in danger, that I need defences, that I need protection. It evidences the reality of this for me in newspapers and on tv. It equates awareness with ‘being aware of danger’, and consequently wisdom with taking the appropriate steps to protect oneself. The world’s idea of awakening is to be aware that you are in mortal danger. Jesus tells us in the Course to ‘come without defences’. This seems like strange advice, alarming even, set against the cacophony of voices telling us we are in danger. After all, if we have no defences how are we going to protect ourselves from all these threats?
When we understand the nature of attack, or rather of attack thoughts, then we begin to see a different picture. We create these attack thoughts in our minds. It is we who put the need for defences there in the first place. This needs to be understood at a higher level of mind and not at the level of trivial things. If we see it only from the results of our fear thoughts then it will make no sense. We’re looking at the disease here, and it’s real. To paraphrase the oft-quoted Einstein, a problem is not solved at the level of mind that created it. Remember this is not about denying people’s suffering.
That’s an old saying, I think it originated in Uganda. I like it. Caught in an alley on a dark night it’s good to have a big stick, even a little one. Now as I write that I’m aware that part of my mind holds that thought, and so still entertains the idea of danger. I may think this is because it’s all around me, I’ve heard it’s not safe to walk down dark alleys at night. But really it’s because some part of me is still attracted to it. That’s work in progress. My mind is healing. I’m not going to beat myself up for having that thought. Awareness that I even have that attraction is proof that I’m not hiding it any more. The important thing to remember is we create the fear, it’s not real.
However, saying ‘all fear is an illusion’, ‘it’s all in your mind’, doesn’t really help (even though it is!) because if the fear, or threat, is there right in front of us it’s real. In that moment anyway. If it’s in our field of awareness it’s real within that field. By pretending it isn’t there is not going to make it go away. So we need to acknowledge the fear, while at the same time recognising its unreal nature, that we are creating it at some level.
If something appears to be threatening you just step back in awareness and think, ‘I’m aware there is danger here, and I’m aware that I’m aware of it. I know this thing is not real. I know I am creating this fear. Yet I’m still afraid. That’s fine. I welcome my fear’.
Then you can decide what to do about it, or if you need do anything. It all depends on the nature of the danger and your current circumstances. For example, if the danger is imminent you may need to get your person out of the way. Or, if not, you could sit with your fear for a few minutes to see if there's something beneath it that you’re not acknowledging. Or you can give your worries to God (or whatever you believe God to be) and watch them melt away.
Now, on the other hand, if a huge bear is chasing you, you run like hell!
Just because we understand the illusory nature of danger doesn’t mean we go around inviting it. For example, don’t start driving without a seat belt or throw away your blood pressure tablets. That would be an act of defiance, and I don’t think that’s what the Course intended. We’re in the world and it’s a funny old place, and there are just some things that we need while we’re here. Just remember buying into the world’s thought system is the only thing we need avoid.
I once had firsthand experience of what the Course means when it talks about the mind creating the threat. It was a time when I was in Asia. I was out on one of those little rickety boats where they cram about 500 people in and don’t bother with life jackets. The sea was very choppy, I was terrified! I’m really bad around water and boats at the best of times. This day I thought I was going to die.
Now I had only recently started reading the Course and the line ‘in my defencelessness my safety lies’ came to my mind. I said this and instantaneously the seas calmed, just like in the Bible. I don’t know whether anyone else noticed this and I don’t care. For me it was a miracle. After that I took the Course more seriously, and I really started to question my own defences. All my life I felt the need to defend myself, to cocoon myself even. That day was one of many turning points.
What thought system is creating all these dangers? If we accept the basic premise that all thought is creative then at a very deep level we are creating our world and everything in it, including all these threats that appear to assail us. What I’m saying is don’t make all those dangers that the world and the media bombard you with the central focus of your life. Many people are afraid to leave their homes now, not because of what’s out there, but because of what they think might happen to them if they go out. Safety is a big issue today.
A Course in Miracles offers a different thought system, one where everything is taking place in the Mind of God, and the idea that we are somehow separated from God is an illusion, an aberration in fact. We believe we can be that which is impossible, apart from God. It is this psychosis that creates fear in the mind which then projects it out onto all kinds of objects that it believes to be the source of the fear.
Practicing the Course, or your chosen system that leads to your awakening, will in time dissipate all these imaginary fears. But it does take time, it is a process. I still have fears and need for defences sometimes, but I work with the Course, I meditate, I breathe and my mind is healing. For me, the world is a lot less fearful that it used to be. I feel a lot safer than I used to because I know real safety has nothing to do with what appears to be going on around me.
Be patient with yourself. Be gentle.
There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!
Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.