Fear and the Search for Love and Happiness

According to psychologists and spiritual masters, the push towards the opposing poles of joy and fear is basic to all humans. This fits in, also, with evolutionary theories of fight and flight responses. All strongly felt emotions (anger, jealousy, desire, envy, excitement, compassion) are basically a response or movement towards one or other of these two polarities. It seems very simple, but the knowledge of this fact can assist those in the grip of powerful emotions to achieve inner peace.

My grandfather, whom I realise now was a wise man, used to say: “All things in moderation,” as he ate one of his three sweets allowed for the day. But it used to annoy me (anger response!). Like a lot of young people, I was wedded to the idea of excess rather than moderation. He was right, but it is difficult for a young person to follow this code, and Grandpa’s words seemed to emanate from a philosophical, rather than from a heartfelt, position. His statement came across as if clothed in his usual ‘Old English’ dry wit.

The opposing response to the anger of a motorist who is displaying ‘road rage’, is that of patience, which is something that can be practised and learned by both the aggressive driver and the one who is the target of the anger. Instead of feeling angry towards the homeless person asking for a coin, generosity moves in the other direction towards compassion. Jealousy towards the good fortune of others, requires a response of joy in others’ good fortune. And as everyone knows, spending one’s life accumulating great wealth is not necessarily a pathway to happiness, but can lead to emotional miserliness and an unquiet mind, instead, which are symptoms of underlying fear

Buddhists believe that the realisation and putting into practice of such wisdom could lead to the end of wars. They take this one step further, and state that all actions and emotions are related to karma (past actions of a certain polarity) that will ripen and manifest at a certain point in time. Everything is linked to cause and effect, which may not be the same thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ actions.

The ability to remain in the present, rather than being pulled back into the past, or always living for the future, is the basic aim of meditation, and at the core of finding inner peace. Buddhists even turns a certain well-known axiom on its head, by stating: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” They believe that the world can be changed through the process of enlightenment, via meditation and other spiritual practices. It makes me think back to my own early radical initiatives, when I believed that the world was on the brink of permanent and lasting change that would come about via “isms” such as socialism, marxism and feminism among others. Unfortunately, I tried to change the world, but the world didn’t change; in fact the world changed me.

My daughter, born two decades later, seems to have brought with her a direct realisation of the world as a life skills training ground, something akin to a giant university, without the emphasis on formal intellectual skills and prowess, where one is confronted with one’s particular lessons to be learned over and over again in different guises, until it finally sinks in and one can move on to the next hard lesson. It is a bit like peeling an onion of its many layers, one peel at a time, or like relieving a cabbage of its leaves to get to the heart of it.

Why is it, for example, that we are born into families wherein opposites exist in an almost blatant form? We are thereby challenged, from a young age, to deal with emotional situations that many adults are not able to cope with. The idea that opposites attract is not just a trite romantic notion, but a widely occurring phenomena, inadequately explained, in my experience, by psychological theories, such as position in the family, or genetic patterns.

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