The Root of All Fears – A Process for Fear and Anxiety

They say the root of all fears is the fear of death itself. I’ve heard this over and over again from spiritual teachers over the years. Other teachers talk about something different, a variation – that we are ultimately afraid of being nothing, of being no-one. Perhaps there is no difference between the two.

What is the point of this teaching, you might wonder. So what? What does this have to do with me? I thought the same thing too, all those years. Now I realise that understanding this, and processing it out, will loosen any fear you might be struggling with – even if it’s everyday nervousness and shyness. But before we discuss that, let’s try something quickly.

Image Credit: Kriss Szkurlatowski

And Then What?

In Transcending the Levels of Consciousness, David Hawkins describes a technique called “and then what?” It’s quite simple – we begin with a fear, even a seemingly small and innocent one. Let’s imagine that I meet a girl I am very interested in, and I would like to ask her out on a date. I’m feeling nervous – which many would say is a “normal” response. But if we look at it closely, we can see some quite irrational fears driving it.

“I’m afraid of being rejected.”
And then what?
“Then I’ll be embarrassed.”
And then what?
“Then I’m a loser.”
And then what?

And on it goes. If we continue down this line of inquiry, most of the time we will end up with the ultimate fears: dying, being nothing, or being nobody.

It is helpful to process out each level of fear that comes up. This is simply a riding out of the emotion itself. Focus on the physical sensations, the raw fear in your body. What does it feel like? For me, fear feels like clammy skin, tingling, a chill down the spine, and sometimes nausea. And so I welcome them completely, breathing into it, asking for more. This normally clears up the fear completely, but if any remain, I let go of it. (This process is covered in detail in Welcoming and Releasing Our Emotions.)

The Fear Of Dying

This process is different for everybody, but in general, the complete processing out of fear isn’t something that is completed in hours. A while ago, I went through a phase where I was hit with fears of every disease in the world. Every cough was lung cancer; every running nose was AIDS; every itch was some exotic skin-eating virus that no doctor has ever heard of. Even worse, I had daily macabre fantasies of being operated on while I was still conscious, and watching my skin and organs being ripped apart. It took many weeks of inner work to loosen up these fears, but still they weren’t fully gone.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw someone pass away in front of me. I have seen dead bodies before, but that was the first time I personally saw the transition from life to death. I won’t go into details, and I will leave out all the parts unrelated to this post because it is not my story to tell – it is not someone I knew well. But as I watched, somewhere in the back of my head, I realised something: is that all dying is?

In other words, what have I been afraid of all this time? Physical pain? The sadness? The panic? Most of us have been through worse throughout the course of our lives. It didn’t seem that scary. Over the next few weeks, as I thought about what I saw, the old saying seemed true: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

As this realisation began to sink in, my surface fears began to fade away by themselves. And it is only when they are gone that I saw how much they had run my life. There are so many things we are afraid of – disease, accidents, old age, natural disasters – that we are almost used to having this undercurrent of dread in our lives.

The House of Cards

When we process out the root of all these fears, the subtle pressure they put on us is gone. It starts to fall apart like a house of cards. It doesn’t meant that I go out and start being suicidal, or start taking crazy risks. I don’t start driving while I’m drunk, for example – I still don’t want to crash. But the motivation behind safe driving just feels different. There is a relaxation, a decrease in pressure, and a corresponding increase in playfulness.

I’ve found this to be a freeing exploration, and I hope it will help someone. As with every other exploration or technique, please make safety and respect for everyone your top priority. This is a post dealing with a potentially complicated subject, with lots of possible misinterpretations. I can’t cover all the bases, so if there is anything that you are unsure about, or anything that makes you uncomfortable, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to address it.