September 16

Lions And Tigers And Bears–Oh My!!

September 16, 2011

Personal Growth

Carla called me, trembling, and said she had seen a spider in her house the day before, and for more than twenty-four hours she had been too frightened to move. I suggested that in the short term there were some things she might do to limit her fear somewhat, but I added that these approaches wouldn't be getting to the real root of her problem.

"Oh, right," she said, "you're going to tell me that this is somehow connected to Real Love." Her skepticism—nearly to the point of derision—fairly dripped from the syllables she spat.

"Darlin'," I said, "everybody wants an answer that's easy. But we have to see the whole picture. What are we always afraid of? Pain. And the greatest cause of our pain is a lack of unconditional love. Always. Really. The effects of pain accumulate, so if you're already in pain from any source—physical or emotional—the effects of additional pain from any other source will be greater. If you're already in pain from not feeling loved—as almost everybody is—then any other pain will feel worse. And if you're in pain already, you'll be afraid of even the possibility of more pain, real or imagined."

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had just lost her home and her family, and she found herself thrust into a world where everything was confusing. As she and her companions journeyed to find the great wizard who might help Dorothy return to her home, she became more and more afraid. Walking in a dark forest, with ominous sounds on every side, she began to chant, "Lions and tigers and bears—Oh my!"

Prior to that moment, Dorothy had not been affected by a conscious fear of lions, tigers, or bears, nor had she seen any in the forest. But while she was already afraid of everything else that was happening—and had happened—these specific fears suddenly became quite real (even though, for heaven's sake, one of her companions was an actual lion).

The more fearful people become, the more the fears grow on their own. As they find Real Love, their overall pain and fear decrease, and then specific fears seem to just disappear, even though they're not obviously related to love. Just the other day I received the following from a woman who has been practicing Real Love for a year or so:

"I can't count the ways Real Love has worked in my life, sometimes in surprising ways. I used to be afraid of so many things. One example: I used to get really creeped out about any kind of rodent. Couldn't even think about them. But just the other day my daughter asked about getting pet rats, and I discovered that I could actually make the decision not to be afraid of them. And now we have two darling rats in a cage in the next room. I thought my fear of rats was involuntary, but it was really a choice. Amazing."

I could have told Carla that the actual risks of spiders were small, that the most dangerous spider in the United States—the black widow—hasn't killed a single person in over ten years. I could have told her to call an exterminator out to the house. In the short term, there's a small chance that information might have helped, but the real problem—her overall level of pain and fear—would have remained.

This is not to say that all fears are irrational. Spiders and rats can bite, but the genuine potential for such events is tiny. Our fears, on the other hand, consistently cripple us. As we fill our lives with love, our pain disappears. Our fears of everything—including lions, tigers, bears, spiders, and rats—begin to evaporate.

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