• Miguel A. Fernandez

Roots of Fear

by Miguel A. Fernandez

… “So finally at the age of 16, I decided to search for some way to progressively cultivate a steadiness in my physical, emotional and intellectual reactions, this is, the capacity to be closely present with irradiating hearts without becoming neither disturbed nor anxious about the insecurities and fears I harbored at that age. And the set of experiences that became critical for me in order to undergo such learning without getting intellectually astray along the way were precisely my former athletic experiences in the field of gymnastics, fighting, bike racing and soccer since I was 12. One aspect that all these physical experiences have in common is the experience of falling, of being hit, and in general, of physical impact in all its diverse forms… Fortunately, I became aware at the age of 11 of the core significance of activities which involve the risk of physical impact, when I became extremely disconcerted by the feelings I experienced when standing at the verge of a deadly height and noticed my heartbeat immediately go wild. This physiological and psychological sensation of anxiety couldn´t be due to vertigo, because I´ve never suffered from this phobia, yet regardless of how intense was my capacity to rationalize the situation and intellectually trust in my body´s biomechanical capacity to stand straight at the edge, an uncontrollable reaction of shakiness and nervousness took over my intellectual reassurance on the steadiness of the ground that was supporting me, as if my senses were surrendering to an irrational psychic force that risked burdening my physical body into the abyss.

It´s rather disconcerting to discover that amid the vast proportion of modern literature on psychology there is very little intellectual addressing of the root mechanisms that are present in this type of experiences. Although Nietzsche advised to “sit as little as possible; credit no thought not born in the open air and while moving freely about − in which the muscles too do not hold a festival” (Ecce Homo), modern culture is rather burdened by a prevailing “armchair-type” philosophy that is uncoupled from raw action. However, the first obvious aspect present in these critical experiences of physical anxiety is that they expose the powerlessness of all our conscious rationalizations and self-suggestions when challenged by purely irrational forces. And in an age such as today´s when most education systems emphasize in the importance of information, rationalism, ideology, IT skills, opinion and discursive thinking, experiences such as these can easily toss to the ground the extremely superficial varnish that is coated in the human minds by such modern methods of instruction, ultimately allowing to reveal the presence of a very powerful psychic force that lays surreptitiously in all effective decisions we take. And this force is fear.

The experience of fear teaches us that psychic power is much more powerful than physical power, so it´s quite understandable that in today´s materialist culture this kind of experience is put under the carpet so that the fragile feet of clay in such materialist culture aren´t revealed to our conscious minds. But just because a culture doesn´t want to see something, this doesn´t imply that such something don´t exist. And in the case of the experience of fear, the more such type of experience is omitted and the more its repressed by given cultural values, the more the shadow of fear expresses its extremely powerful psychic force in the most unexpected and transposed ways.

Very likely the most paradigmatic case of the latter transposition of fear by modern culture was, ironically enough, in Sigmund Freud´s works on neurosis… If by standing at the edge of the cliff I become psychologically traumatized by my shocking and abyssal experience of fear, I´ll eventually develop some mode of neurosis that shall anesthetize my memory of the experience, hence suffering later from intense emotional barriers, phobias, etc. which shall induce high levels of anxiety whenever I experience fear again. Precisely modern psychoanalysis, inaugurated by Freud, addressed such neurotic outcome in many of its diverse manifestations, yet in terms of the specific mechanisms linked to the traumas induced by fear, Freud interprets that such mechanisms are “complexes” rooted in unconscious sexual taboos, taboos which –according to the Viennese neurologist - are conditioned by culture since the same day we´re born. Consequently, Freud proposes during psychotherapy the practice of aspiring to heal neurosis by “de-conditioning” one´s perceptions of oneself from what he conceives as the tyrannizing effect of spurious civilizational values (“Super Ego”). Some of Freud´s most eminent followers in the field of psychoanalysis (Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Alfred Adler) accepted the assumption that neurosis is a product of trauma yet proposed quite different therapeutic alternatives to solve it, usually disagreeing with Freud´s main interpretation that culture is the main responsible of neurosis, and also disagreeing with the founder of psychoanalysis in the supposition that the human condition is always motivated by primitive passion, pleasure, gratification and taboo/totem archaic predispositions. So when I formerly affirmed that the selfsame modern school of psychoanalysis actually transposed fear in a very ironical way, I essentially mean by this that by trying to cover it up and by only addressing its neurotic symptoms, the main consequences is that not only psychoanalysis poorly succeeded in effectively healing neurosis, as Hans Eysenck well exposes in his work, but also contributed to make it pandemic in modern society at large.

Apart from this paradigmatic `cliff fear´ experience that is definitely not recommended for everyone, as a general rule the feeling of fear emerges in any stressful circumstance or change in which the idea of who we are (this is, our being) trembles. But in order to behave as functional individuals in the extremely dynamic situations that are present in urban-industrial societies we need to perceive our being through the lens of values present in such society, and this inner perception of our being is our self-concept.

Our self-concept can be of the most diverse types, as for instance related to the identification of our being with our physical body; it can be more related to the identification of our being with our emotions, sentiments or affections; it can be related to the image of our being we´ve created in others; it can be related to the identification of our being with physical objects, social standards, money, work, properties, family or social status; it can be related to the identification of our being with intellectual notions, paradigms, ideologies, fashion, custom, religions… In this order of ideas, some would be tempted to equate our self-concept to the more common term “ego”, but the “ego” constitutes rather the prophylactic barrier that emerges in the psyche when fear irrupts, or in other words, if our self-concept doesn´t have the occasion to get stressed and its shit beaten out, then the “ego” shall not manifest itself in one´s character and attitude. Whereas our self-concept is an intimate perception of who we think we are, the “ego” is rather imported, external, alien, arbitrary, artificial... Adolf Adler showed that if we “measure” who we are with the external valuations that are present in a given culture we risk acquiring either complexes of inferiority or superiority, which both demand the prophylaxis of an “ego” in order to socially compensate such complexes. Whereas the “ego” can be purchased at a given price in today´s liberal economy, so to speak, the self-concept of our being isn´t available in the markets, and depends exclusively on our vision of the world and how this vision judges the value of our innermost being. Similarly as how we don´t see the world as it is through T.V. but only can see in T.V. the world filtered through the ideological values that dominate such medium, also our self-concept depends entirely on the values we embrace. Hence, the more integral is our vision of the external, the more integral is the vision of the internal.

Who do you think you are??

The latter is a very common expression that emerges often in human conflict and drama, in many languages, and it´s very insightful because it implicitly assumes that whatever might be the personal offense that occurs during interaction, it emerges not due to who we are but due to who we think we are, this is, the self-concept we cherish of ourselves, a self-concept that as Adler shows, in the case of someone who has very poor inner self-esteem can be easily compensated by an external arrogant “ego”. Hence, the real issue isn´t the “ego” –as most people would be prone to believe- but the poor or incoherent self-concept that requires the “ego´s” external shielding, especially in competitive and rather conflictive societies such as today´s.

In the last century, authors like Jiddu Krishnamurti, Alan Watts or Eckhart Tolle campaigned against the illusory and fragile character the human “ego”, but the main issue with their standpoint is that the “ego” is consubstantial to the demands of modern urban-industrial societies, this is, a type of very highly dynamic societies that can only be economically functional to the extent division of labor and techno-scientific specialization are applied to all domains. Contrarily, in rural and more traditional cultures the “ego” is much less predominant in the human psyche, because in these contexts the communities are organized in castes (not class-systems) that prioritize the development of one´s self-concept upon one´s “ego”, as a very critical political and operative factor for sustaining communities. In our type of society it´s technically necessary and, in general terms, psychologically comforting to rely on arbitrary, circumstantial, culturally induced self-concepts and “egos”, yet the price to pay for adopting this alternative it to grant free reign to fear, letting it surreptitiously motivate our lives, even in its tinniest details, also having a substantial effect in our somatic state and health. A vast majority of individuals are willing to pay such price, so it´s worth considering why in hell would anyone be willing to develop their self-concept, and ultimately, their personality?...

The main impediment for undertaking this endeavor is that the “ego” is purposeful only to the extent it´s kept up, and therefore the individual is forced to not to let it fail, let it fall, or in other words, the individual is not encouraged in our society to experience failure. In effect, in today´s urban-industrial society, failure is socio-politically and economically condemned, and the main goal is individual success, an ideological notion that is equated by the public as affirmation in the media of the individual´s “ego”. However, one of the great teachings of both falling and getting hit, especially at a physical level, is that what actually induces both tension and pain is the lack of integrity of our self-concept, a disharmony that interferes with our body´s spontaneous capacity to handle the stress caused by the fall and regain balance.

So falling, failing and receiving impacts allows gaining a full contact with fear. Fear is like a fighting bull that can only be tamed with such type of physical contact, and the more we learn to fall, stand up and learn through the process, the more our values become refined, the more the vision of our being becomes clearer, and the more its development becomes substantiated. Although when I was 21 I had the privilege in Vigo (Pontevedra, Spain) to receive full-contact specialized training by Simon González, who that same year was in his competition prime and became 13 times full-contact world champion (ISKA and WACO), already at the age of 16 I became determined to “expose my face” to all type of physical and psychological impacts, or in other words, I was determined to behave as authentic as I could without imitating anything of anybody, without thinking about anything alien to my direct life experiences, without expecting anything from anybody, and without relying on the protection provided by any illusory “ego”. Yet my attitude was far from following the rigors of what may be assumed as a rigid and stoic “Spartan-type” life discipline, because my fundamental objective was ultimately to gain a closer relation to pain and fear than most people in my social environment experienced and were willing to experience. This brutally honest approach to all things soon began to cost me a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts with people in general, so it was often like walking on a razor´s edge, but as I began to progressively notice its very positive effects in my character, intellectual growth, confidence and physical/emotional balance, I then decided to keep on the “hard path”, even if this decision risked me doing it in a minority of one.

Hence, when I was 16 I took the decisive decision of forging my spirit as if it was a sword that must be formerly worked at high temperatures. And yet in no case I aspired to simply gain a very superficial and egocentric image of “toughness”, but quite the contrary… As my heart was already deeply melted and sweetened by the beauty, presence and kindness of some souls around me, the only way I could keep my heart ductile was by protecting it, by building up a very tempered personality amalgamated with a high sense of combativeness and sense of justice in all life affairs, totally indifferent to any social drawbacks triggered by this attitude. Without the influence of these beautiful souls in my life, I never would´ve decided to follow the enchantment... Joseph Campbell popularized the expression to “follow ones bliss”, as the key aspect of the heroic quest, and although I had no idea of Joseph Campbell´s literature until I was 27 years-old, I truly recall that if there was any “enchantment” or “bliss” that motivated in my mission of becoming the better human being I could be, it was again some sort of memory of a paradise, some sort of connection between hearts that is incomprehensible, but that demands comprehension…”

by Miguel A. Fernandez

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