Storied Fear

Fear not only plays a major part in the stories written by our most revered writers it is an ever-present experience in all our lives. But the “story” or experience of fear in P-B and the experience of fear in P-A are radically different because in P-A fear does not exist. Now that we have your attention we will introduce you to the topic of this essay. The distinction between the relative and the Absolute is paramount at this point in the evolution of human consciousness. We must find the courage to entertain questions that make us uncomfortable—like the following.

How can an afflictive emotion that we experience virtually every day not exist; because the one who experiences fear does not exist. Remember—there is no “I”—the ego is an illusion. Therefore, in Simple Reality, we experience the sensation of fear but we do not identify with that sensation. Fear, we must remember is impermanent. It comes and it goes. Our Essence, our True self, on the other hand, is permanent and cannot be destroyed or injured or even frightened for that matter. That is why, in P-A, we can say that we live in a friendly Universe—not because bad things can’t happen to good people—but because we are not the people that they happen to. We recommend that you read the following wonderful stories which provide a fascinating insight into the distinction between P-B and P-A and what fear is and what fear is not.

The Machine Stops (1928)
by E. M. Forster ((1879-1970)

There is only one nemesis for humanity and that is unconsciousness or the inability to live in an awakened state. Therefore, the machine in Forster’s story could represent unconsciousness. At the time that this story was published many people were concerned with the direction which they felt unfolding historical events were taking them. Writers and social activists began to project their anxiety onto some imagined threat instead of understanding that the many problems they feared were caused by the inability to see profoundly into the nature of reality.

For example, automation became a 20th century threat, or some felt the threat was the conformity forced on the “organization man” demanded by the faceless corporation. Machines such as UNIVAC seemed to be able to “think” and these and other ideas found their way into stories such as Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. We must remember that such “forms” as those cited above are always symptoms of human unconscious behavior never the causes of human suffering.

The Machine Stops is a science fiction story by a master storyteller. The “Machine” controls all of the people of the world enforcing a mind-numbing conformity just as P-B does in the world today despite the illusion of freedom. The false self is universally the same regardless of the nation, ethnic group or culture that might contain it. Human suffering has the same genesis regardless of where it occurs. We are kindred souls in that respect.

In this story the people live underground—a favorite locale for many modern futurist writers—which can mean metaphorically “below the level of awareness.” “Ideas? Scarcely any.” In short, it is a “mind-numbing” experience. In P-B there might as well be no ideas because ideas in an illusory paradigm are ineffective in dealing with human suffering because they are divorced from the reality of any given situation.

And now for the author’s intuitive insight in this our first short story on the subject of fear. “Vashti was seized with the terrors of direct experience.” Since the people in the underground world are in the mesmerized state associated with P-B, any unusual experience, including awakening into the NOW is very disturbing. Reality can be unsettling because they (we) have left our security, our false-self survival strategy, behind. The energies of the security, sensation and power energy centers are unavailable and unnecessary in the present moment. The still, small voice can sound very loud in the silence of awakening and in this story “all unrest was concentrated in the soul.” Our author couldn’t have known, of course, but there is no unrest in the soul or True self.

The creation from childhood of the survival strategy is a necessary developmental stage for all human beings but humanity is stuck in that stage and needs to move on to the next stage, the stage of human awareness. “We created the Machine, to do our will [but] it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, has paralyzed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it.  The Machine proceeds—but not to our goal.”

The “Machine” provides our basic needs, i.e. security, sensation, and power, but there is no profound satisfaction in having these needs met. “Is that all there is,” is the appropriate refrain that describes the universal human emptiness that our unconscious story delivers. “The Machine feeds us and clothes us and houses us; through it we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being. And so we are stuck in our state of denial. To such a state of affairs it is convenient to give the name of progress. No one confessed the Machine was out of hand. Year by year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased intelligence. But humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It had exploited the riches of nature too far.”

And so we sit, afraid to move forward (within) to the “silence” and yet we are aware that staying where we are is unsustainable. “Then she broke down, for with the cessation of activity came an unexpected terror—the silence. She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her—it did kill thousands of people outright.” We have no choice but to embrace the silence, solitude and simplicity that characterize the new narrative and that will move us forward to self-reliance and serenity. No, it will not kill us—but failure to do so probably will.

The Second Tree from the Corner
by E. B. White (1899-1985)

How does it feel when we have the insight that fear is no longer part of our identity? E. B. White captures that feeling when his protagonist, Mr. Trexler, leaves the session with his psychiatrist. Before he has his realization he reviews the experience and gradually appreciates what has just happened. The doctor has identified what we call existential anxiety. We are afraid because we are alive and contained in the narrative that tells us that we should be afraid and conditions us to be so. “The doctor reassured him that his fears were the cause of his sickness, and that his fears were unsubstantial.” Wow! What a diagnosis. There are seven billion people on the planet today that would like to talk to that shrink.

He is right of course. Not because people should ignore their “unsubstantial fears” which they cannot do in P-B but because the fears are based on an illusion, that is to say, they are not real, or as the doctor said, they have no “substance.” What human beings usually do with their fear is to repress it or medicate it or react violently against it. And here is what that experience of anxiety is like for many of us. “Each session would begin with a resume` of symptoms—the dizziness in the streets, the constricting pain in the back of the neck, the apprehensions, the tightness of the scalp, the inability to concentrate, the despondency and the melancholy times, the feeling of pressure and tension, the anger at not being able to work, the anxiety over work not done, the gas on the stomach.”  Such is the human condition.

Or, if we are lucky, we can find ourselves in the present moment feeling the joyful freedom of being contained in P-A. “Trexler felt invigorated. Suddenly his sickness seemed health, his dizziness stability. A small tree, rising between him and the light, stood there saturated with the evening, each gilt-edged leaf perfectly drunk with excellence and delicacy. ‘I want the second tree from the corner, just as it stands,’ And he felt a slow pride in realizing that what he wanted none could bestow, and that what he had none could take away. He felt content to be sick, unembarrassed at being afraid; and in the jungle of his fear he glimpsed (as he had so often glimpsed them before) the flashy tail feathers of the bird of courage.” Bravo! Insights do not get any more profound than that.

Trexler relaxed into the present moment and allowed his heartfelt wisdom to emerge and he intuited the truth and that truth was beauty; the beauty that is always available in nature, the beauty of “the second tree from the corner.” He stopped resisting reality and the fear fell away. He was momentarily in P-A where afflictive emotions cannot exist; he was free from the gravity of neurosis, a bird on the wing.

P-B: Perennial Noir: No Escape

Noir novels, short stories and films often express the darkest side of the First Noble Truth (noir is French for “black”), as noir short story writer Brian Haycock is well aware. “Critics often characterize noir fiction as being about people who are doomed to suffer. They live in a cold, hard world, and they have little chance of finding something better.”  As a Buddhist, Haycock disagrees about not having choices which is a fatalistic P-B outlook. Haycock continues: “We all have choices. We create our own karma, day by day.” However, to make a choice, we must know that the choice exists, and for people today the choice of how to avoid human suffering is largely unknown.

Of course, it would be good if more people knew that we always have the choice of reaction or response to what is happening in our lives. Few of us make the choice of breathing and remaining in the present moment instead we unconsciously let that false self that identifies with the body, mind and emotions have control. Doing that is definitely going to lead to a “noir” outcome.

“We’re all ruled by our desires. That’s the appeal of noir fiction. We can all see ourselves being taken over by desire and making the same bad choices. We can relate.” Compassion which is part of our natural True self enables us to “relate,” to feel and express compassion for ourselves and others. We are not, however, “ruled by our desires,” unless we choose to be or unless we are ignorant of our options. After reading the content of Simple Reality, we can no longer be unaware of our choices.

Haycock’s short story, entitled Escape, is an excursion into the noir, ghetto-like underworld of P-B, which indeed, we can all relate to. The protagonist overlooks “the avenue,” and its inhabitants. “He walks to the window and pulls the curtains open, raising the sash. He lets the city sounds come in. Then he climbs out through the opening onto the fire escape and stands on the steel grate, looking down on the avenue. It hasn’t changed. People on the sidewalks, standing on the curbs. Sirens in the air. The avenue never changes.”

And indeed, the old narrative never changes unless we change because we create it, day by day moment by moment. The narrator of Escape has a universal problem found in P-B, namely addiction. “He’s been six months sober and still wants another hit. He spent four months on the avenue, chasing the high that would make it all make sense. In the end he hadn’t cared about sense. He only cared about the high.”

Being a slave to our survival strategy conditioning is familiar to all of humanity which explains the popularity of noir fiction—we can all “connect,” not only because we have been there but because we are there now. Only the details of our lives are different from those of all the other inhabitants of P-B.

“He looks back down at the avenue, watching the people in the shadows. He knows that life. It’s almost all he knows. He can tell who’s dealing, who’s hustling the girls in the rooming houses, who’s waiting for a chance at snatch and grab. And he can tell which ones are just standing in the shadows with nowhere else to go but down and down. He has a sense for that. He knows about down.” All of us do!

So life in P-B is about the story, the choices and the conditioned habits of the characters. So it is in a noir story and so it is in the global village. “In classic noir fiction, ordinary, flawed characters are ruled by their desires, leading to wrong choices and, ultimately, their undoing. It’s a sort of formula—a fall-from-grace, bad karma morality play. The world of noir is the world of the first and second noble truths without the redemption of the third and fourth. It’s a world of people ruled by the desires.” Or as Buddha would have said, it’s about the suffering caused by craving and aversion.

Haycock sees noir fiction getting darker as it naturally would as the level of fear increases on the planet. “Modern noir stories often have no moral compass at all. In today’s neo-noir fiction the criminals often walk away grinning. And reloading.”

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.

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