Letting Go of Fear
The second of the Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing outlined by Jampolsky (Jampolsky, 2000) is that health is inner peace and healing is letting go of fear. “Healing is letting go of fear, because when our mind releases fear it returns to its natural state of love and peace and naturally extends them into every aspect of our lives” (Jampolsky, p. 73). Much of Jampolsky’s practice involved working with people facing difficult, sometimes life-threatening health challenges. Some of the people he describes in Teach Only Love were facing cancer and other debilitating conditions including traumatic brain injuries. While he describes some instances of miraculous physical recoveries, he also describes people who died or who did not recover to be exactly as they had been before. The point of the stories is not the specific physical outcomes. Instead, the focus is on the mind. Jampolsky states that to “make changing the body our goal is to fail to recognize that our single goal is peace of mind” (p. 73).
While revisiting the chapter describing the second principle in Teach Only Love which includes examples of people living with traumatic brain injuries, I was reminded of a story most Americans have followed for the last year. The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona happened on January 8, 2011. Six people died. Giffords survived being shot in the head at close range. Her injury was severe but her recovery has been nothing short of amazing. After watching the 20/20 special (Gabby Giffords & Mark Kelly) documenting the process of Giffords’ recovery, I began to see how the idea that healing is letting go of fear may function. Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, chose to videotape the often painful and frustrating challenges Gabby has faced over the past year. What I found so powerful in the footage was the optimism, caring, compassion, courage, and resiliency of all those involved. As Mark put it, “Optimism is a form of healing. Hope is a form of love.” I believe that, had Gabby and the people around her given in to fear and anger as anyone in their situation would at least occasionally be tempted to do, her situation today would be very different. In his interview with Diane Sawyer, Mark recounts a conversation with Gabby in which she said, “I’m beaten.” He replied, “You haven’t been beaten. You’ve been beat up.” The word beaten implies surrender and finality. It implies giving up hope. Getting “beat up” suggests living to fight on and continue to learn. We have a choice of seeing ourselves as beaten and done or as capable of rebounding and continuing to grow and learn.
“Optimism is a form of healing.Hope is a form of love.” Mark Kelly
In her interpretation of the second principle, Patricia Robinson (n.d.) talks about our experience of emotions such as anger, hopelessness, depression, and guilt in our physical selves. I know from my own experience the physical perception of depression and hopelessness. I experience these as soul-sucking pain. She argues that these emotions are all connected to fear and that we have a choice about how we respond. “We can become helpless and be a victim, or we can actually change these feelings” (p. 8). How is that done? I, of course, want a linear, step-by-step plan. Robinson, however, suggests that “we must become both aware and willing to change” (p. 8). Emotions such as anger are not to be denied, suppressed or ignored. Acknowledging and mindfully experiencing emotions such as anger involves examining them without the ego’s fear-based concerns. Ego is fearful and judgmental. Ego allows us to feel we’ve been attacked at our center. Ego allows for the possibility of being beaten. Robinson believes we can refocus on a higher self when we permit inner peace to be our only purpose.
For the past week, I have existed in a state of virtually perpetual anger and irritation stemming from a conflict with someone in my life which has left me feeling personally attacked and vulnerable. I can see no way to resolve the situation that doesn’t involve my complete surrender. As I write, I know the anger I feel about this situation is based on fear. I don’t want anyone to think I’m mean. I want to be liked and respected. I also want lots of other people to see me and only me as the injured party in this dispute. As a result, my ego self feels like a hostage of the views of others. That makes ego angry; Jack Bauer angry. Jack Bauer with plastic explosives, several guns and a moral imperative angry. I don’t want to feel that way. Look how Jack ended up. Look how all his girlfriends ended up.
If I follow Robinson’s logic, I can persist in feeling like a victim or I can let the fear go and refocus on allowing inner peace to be my only job. I don’t yet seem to be able to hear the inner voice that will remind me that holding onto anger serves no purpose. I know what I want to feel but I can’t quite get there. When I described this state of knowing what I want but not being able to master it to a friend, his response was “LET GO.” He’s right. I can only imagine Gabby Giffords’ frustration while working with therapists day after exhausting day learning to walk and talk again. Hope or surrender. Surrender isn’t a part of my nature (I blame my father who climbed aboard a combine to harvest crops far more quickly than any rational person would after open-heart surgery). Perhaps part of the problem is that I think holding onto anger means not surrendering when it really means imprisonment. For Jampolsky, “…fear can be reinterpreted as our mind’s invitation to us to rise to a higher level of freedom” (p. 86). I would like to choose hope. Jampolsky’s advice is to “make this instant your door to freedom and you will find that it will crack open a little further each time you return to this moment in peace” (p. 86). Beat up. Not beaten.