In this episode, we discuss the impact of fear and how it has kept many people stuck in the status quo. Since we are conditioned by emotion, the only way to change our patterns is to deal with fear. Join us for a mind-expanding discussion on:
• What is fear?
• What does it really mean when we are afraid?
• What does fear have to do with Karma?
• How fear is a powerful navigational guide to reaching a fulfilled life
Watch the next Soul Session in this series on our YouTube Channel.
Welcome to CreativeMind Soul Sessions with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado, founders of CreativeMind. Explore personal growth with us through Jungian psychology, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience in a deep, but practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:23
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Soul Sessions with Debra and Rob Maldonado in CreativeMind, and this episode is probably going to be my favorite because my favorite subject is fear. And it the question is, is fear your dream killer? We're going to talk about how fear impacts our life, how to work with it so that we can reach our dreams, which is what we all want, to live a life fulfilled.
Rob Maldonado 01:05
A little reference to Dune, the genius of Frank Herbert. The fear is the mind killer.
Debra Maldonado 01:18
In every hero's journey, they have to face something they fear. In 1984, that also was a theme. You went into the room that you had to face your biggest fear. Fear can limit us, destroy our wonderful plans, or it can be a catalyst for us to move toward what we really want. We're going to cover that today. But I thought we'd start with what is fear? Let's describe it. How would you describe fear?
Rob Maldonado 01:55
I firmly believe in metaphors because in metaphor, you can say what is unsayable. The book, The Life of Pi, and the movie, if some of you have seen that, is a great metaphor of how we work and deal with fear or how we can work with fear, how it can also be our dream stealer, a dream killer, because it'll eat up our life, if we don't learn to tame the tiger. We have to deal with it, there's no way around it. In the metaphor, of the book, this boy finds himself in the middle of the ocean on one small boat with a tiger. It's him in a tiger essentially. Initially, of course, he scrambles for survival, he finds a way to get off the boat and float on some debris that's on the side to avoid the tiger, because that's our natural inclination to try to avoid things that are fearful. But he knows, it's not going to be a long term solution for him because he needs the stuff on the boat, and he needs to be the master of the boat.
Debra Maldonado 03:29
And that's where all the food is. I love what he said that he had to keep feeding the tiger, so the tiger wouldn't eat him. I think that's a metaphor, too. We keep feeding our own fear.
Rob Maldonado 03:40
We have to keep it alive because ultimately, it becomes our passion and our power. If we kill it, in other words, if we sedate it, like a lot of us tried to do with medication or self-medication, that's not a good creative solution because we're killing our passion, our power, we're giving that power over to substance, some external crutch. But anyway, in the book, the whole idea is that he has to learn how to tame this powerful tiger and use his wits, use his intellect, use everything he's got, in order to make that tiger serve him. Or at least be able to direct it somehow to where it doesn't eat him. He doesn't have to destroy the tiger. That's the balance we have to find with fear.
Debra Maldonado 04:41
I love that metaphor, but when we think of fear, there's really multiple aspects to it. There's first the biological aspect of fear, we're born with conditioning to be fearful for survival. It serves us in a way to be afraid of loud noises, to be afraid of dangerous people that can hurt us, strangers, afraid of the dark, even afraid of spiders or creatures in the world, afraid of heights, we don't want to fall. With all these physical things we have, it's conditioned, or we're born with it innately, genetically to fear certain things.
Rob Maldonado 05:36
It's a great survival tool, we wouldn’t be here as a species, if we didn't have fear as an automatic mechanism that tells us you're in danger, you need to either fight, flee or freeze, or get the hell out of there somehow. Because we evolved in nature, whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it or not. We evolved along with the animal world. The animal world is all about survival of the fittest.
Debra Maldonado 06:16
We do have some intuitive senses of what to be afraid of, we get a weird feeling sometimes when we're around someone we can't trust. I don't know if it's intuition, but more instinctual. The fear can serve us in a way to not go down that street, there's something. It directs us for survival.
Rob Maldonado 06:41
What's been happening with the modern world is that because we no longer face tigers, bears and snakes in our everyday life, now we have traffic, the boss, emails and bills, this kind of stress. But our evolutionary mechanisms have not really evolved, it takes longer periods of time to change. We're still reacting as if we were facing those mortal dangers.
Debra Maldonado 07:16
Posting something on social media, someone criticizing you is like that fear, that trigger.
Rob Maldonado 07:25
It feels like your life is in danger, you're fighting for your life, when it's just a minor thing. But the system is built for survival, therefore, it kicks in. The amygdala, which is the part of the brain center that regulates fear, becomes hypersensitive and overworked because we're continuously in that state of agitation, of fear. Our system is revved up continuously. We know chronic stress is a killer. Already just at the physical, biological level we're making ourselves sick essentially, by not understanding what's happening with the fear mechanism.
Debra Maldonado 08:14
We're seeing a situation, our body’s responding, but we're not connecting the mind and the body. Let's go to the psychological part of it. Through early life we learn what to be afraid of from witnessing what our parents told us, what our culture tells us. Conditioning of the rich people are bad, you want to stay with the group, you don't want to be ostracized, fear of money if your parents struggle financially, even violence in the household. That would create a defense mechanism. All these conditioned responses are our survival mechanisms, but also psychologically how do I keep myself in a calm state, so I'm not agitated. We're always looking to fight, flight or freeze, move away from the distressing situations, we try to create barriers around ourselves so we can survive. That's a sign of a healthy mind, no matter what happened to us we have this capacity to deal with these things that show up, just being alive.
Rob Maldonado 09:28
At the psychological level, we're always looking for why this happened, the reason. We're creatures of narrative. We need to have a story as to what's going on. If we don't have a story as to what's going on, we really fall into that despair. The mind just keeps spinning and spinning because we feel it in our body, there's anxiety, there's tension, there's fear, but we don't know where it's coming from. Therefore, we start projecting, we’re looking for somebody to blame, something to point the finger at. That's not really useful because then what can you do if the external is causing you that fear? All you can do is wait for it to change or hope for it to disappear, and the world is not going to go away, it's always going to be there. You're continuously running the narrative that you're in fear, you're in anxiety, you're in panic, there’s nothing you can do.
Debra Maldonado 10:36
It'll be so terrible if people criticize me or I'm shamed in public, or I get fired from my job and have to tell my family. People are afraid to start their own business because they're afraid they're gonna fail. More afraid of what people think of them versus what they're thinking inside, they’re afraid of embarrassing themselves. This fear of shame, guilt, making a mistake, failure. It's a more of a story we tell ourselves than actual physical survival. But that story feeds the emotion, which reads it as “This is dangerous.”
Rob Maldonado 11:20
Then you have those feedback systems. Now you have the biology, the revved up sympathetic nervous system, which is the action response, the stress response, then you have the narrative of anxiety, meaning worry and trying to fix some external cause, which is projection. The person falls into a cycle of anxiety, now they become afraid of being more afraid, anxiety about being anxious, it becomes a vicious cycle. Again, the narrative feeds the biological response, because we imagine the worst case scenarios as human beings. We know we have that negative bias always running in the mind. We're always looking for what's the worst possible situation with this thing that I'm facing. Of course, our mind takes us there. Our system reacts to that. It creates a vicious cycle. The good news is, we can reverse that, we have mechanisms already built in. But if we don't apply them and don't cultivate them, we're at the mercy of the external circumstances.
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Debra Maldonado 13:43
If we can deal with it from a materialistic standpoint where you're separate from the world, the world’s out there, and we have to protect ourselves, it would be really hard to be relaxed because the world always has threat. Looking at the world how it is today, there’s so much going on. But the spiritual element we want to bring in is that the solution is looking for a way to see ourselves not as a physical, materialistic body personality but who we are beyond that. That who we truly are beyond that can never be harmed, can never be damaged, can never be broken. I was reading one of the Vedanta books, Vivekananda. He was saying that you can take poison, the external will affect the body, but the poison can never affect the soul. It'll never affect it. Of course, we don't want to drink poison, but it's this idea that there's a part of us that is unbreakable. If we can access that, we will be less afraid. What do you think about the spiritual element?
Rob Maldonado 15:00
If we look at the biological treatments for anxiety, fear, panic, they're not very good because what they do is they aim to tranquilize the nervous system somehow. That only works as an immediate effect. If people become addicted to that, that's detrimental to their mental, physical—
Debra Maldonado 15:30
Do you think it could lead to depression? Being so afraid to be afraid, you just numb it down and then you don't feel anything, you feel numbness.
Rob Maldonado 15:39
People self medicate with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, internet, etc. It's the most immediate thing people have access to. But again, they're not understanding what is happening when the mind is in fear at the psychological level. If we look at the treatments, it’s talking therapies mainly that work, cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic therapy, talk therapy as it used to be called.
Debra Maldonado 16:20
Naming what you’re afraid of gives a little more groundedness to it?
Rob Maldonado 16:25
Research shows simply recounting your anxiety, your story, your fear, reduces it already because you are giving name and form to it, you're sharing it, you have an ally in trying to figure out what's going on.
Debra Maldonado 16:44
Versus spinning in your mind. You can have someone to tease it out for you and open it up a little more. But when we think about dream killer specifically, we are conditioned to survive by the ego. But spiritual aspect of us wants to grow, wants to expand, wants more life. We have this conflict that's happening with us, the physical mind body trying to survive and the spirit wanting to be expressed. The spirit, the soul in us wants to have a fulfilled life. We're constantly having to deal with the fear because our dream life and the things we want are outside of that condition response, it's things we haven't experienced yet. The reason why we haven't experienced it is because the mind body holds back with the thoughts and feelings, keeps us in our comfort zone, it creates a perimeter around, electronic fences, and it zaps you if you try to go over that, outside of your comfort zone. Even before you feel the emotion, there's something in you that starts to rationalize or intellectualize why you shouldn't take that action. It's not the right time, what if I fail, I'm just not going to try. Before you even feel the feeling, your mind starts to convince you to stay where you are. It as a defense mechanism, a survival mechanism. It sounds reasonable, so believable. It's rational and reasonable with the stories that come up.
Rob Maldonado 18:24
At the higher end talk therapies or coaching interventions, you have awakening of higher reasoning skill in the mind, that is able to override a lot of the biological and psychological mechanisms that are hyperactive.
Debra Maldonado 18:49
So the thoughts, the excuses, the rationalizations and minimization, procrastination, all those thoughts aren't really that higher thought. They're more of a survival thought. We have to distinguish between our survival thoughts that are keeping us stuck and the same, and this divine intellect, higher intellect, the mind that thinks in possibility and imagination.
Rob Maldonado 19:21
The ability to observe your own mind, which is meta awareness, meta consciousness, is really the key because then you can gain some distance from whatever thought and feeling you're having. You can observe it as an observer, as a witness instead of the one that is caught up in that anxiety. Therefore, you can work with it. But that skill has to be cultivated. It's there in everyone. Everyone can observe their own thoughts, but they don't realize that often.
Debra Maldonado 19:59
Normally, people deal with fear by trying to clear it out, put light around it and get rid of it, or avoid the situations and protect themselves from making change. But they don't really face it directly. What we're saying is that you have to open it up, you have to go toward it.
Rob Maldonado 20:18
Some of the best research on meditation, yoga shows that these practices of taking the reins of your own mind, driving your mind instead of reacting to it and buying into it, what it does, it actually starts to change the physiology of it. The amygdala actually begins to shrink when you meditate, when you practice calming yourself down, practice self regulation. It's self directed neuroplasticity essentially, you're reworking, remaking your mind in your own image, using higher faculties of the mind.
Debra Maldonado 21:05
Versus the default factory system you got when you were born, the genetic and social family patterns that we’re born into.
Rob Maldonado 21:15
If we don't use that higher system, all we can do is try to relax. Even at the biological level, the sympathetic system is counterbalanced by the parasympathetic system, which says “Calm down, chill out, relax.” We can always employ those, but they're only going to work to a certain extent. Sooner or later, we're overwhelmed by the sensory experience of the world and go back to that fear response.
Debra Maldonado 21:54
There's a difference between fixing the symptom, which is the fear that arises. We’re really getting to the cause of the fear. I remember one of the questions you asked me because I was triggered by something a couple of months ago, you said “What's the worst that could happen?” I really thought about it, and I was like “Oh, that's it.” My mind is in the short term just thinking of the experience I was having that I had fear around. Then when I thought about what's the worst that can happen, it was not that scary, but we don't even take the time to examine it. When we think about fear, a lot of people who study Eastern philosophy hear the term “karma”. Karma is really another way to talk about cause and effect, conditioning. How you've deal with new things, how you deal with new situations, certain personalities are more amenable to step out of their comfort zone than others. But it doesn't mean that if that's your default, you can't change that. How do we escape the karma of the patterns of our past and step into our destiny. That’s when the greatest fear is our greatest limitation. But it's also our greatest opportunity. Whatever scares you the most is going to limit your life. But you have to figure out what that is, what are you really afraid of? The surface is like “I'm going to lose my job, or I'm not going to make enough money, or I'm going to be single forever.” But what is underneath that? I think that's the question we have to keep examining, and feeling the feeling, and going toward it.
Rob Maldonado 23:44
Most spiritual traditions, and we're not talking about religious practices, but more mystical, spiritual practices, most of them agree we aren’t our human mind, which is a strange idea in the West because we're so used to thinking of the brain and the human mind as who we are. But the mystical traditions say that is not who you are. There's this pure awareness that permeates the universe and allows everything to exist. That is who you are. You are the witness of the human mind, not the mind itself. Which in practical implications means you're not your panic thoughts or your worrying thoughts. You can observe those thoughts and work with them, but you're not necessarily caught up in them.
Debra Maldonado 24:45
Even deeper, you're not the character that you're playing in the world. I'm not Debra, the real me isn't a Debra who's a coach who's doing a podcast. That's not even me. It's just a character my mind body is playing out in this Maya. You use the character to express and experience the ups and downs of life, but you don't get caught up in it. You think when that character dies, or something happens to that character, it's over, it's just a terrible thing. But it's like watching a movie, you see the hero go through all the ups and downs, you feel the feelings but you know, at the end, you're seeing that projection. That's the ultimate mastery. It takes a while, it's hard concept for people to realize because we think we are the I, we think we are this name, this personality, this body, this mind, our patterns. We're not the mind body patterns, we’re that awareness. But it’s knowing that intellectually, it takes practice.
Rob Maldonado 25:52
It's not just an intellectual exercise or understanding, it has to be a direct experience. Here's the thing, we're all capable of that. If you we look at what the mind does in the 24 hour period, it goes through this waking state, then we fall into a coma during the night, we’re in deep sleep, where the external world disappears for all practical purposes. Then we have these three dimensional virtual reality visions we call dreams during the night. And our mind does this every 24 hours. It's very capable of creating radically different states of mind. Deep meditation is nothing for our mind. It's used to doing these things on a regular basis, but we have to train it just like Pi had to train the tiger in order to get it to do what it needs to do. He's has to discipline himself and the tiger in order to get it to do that.
Debra Maldonado 27:14
We have to face our fear. Let me give you an example. When I first started doing coaching, my coach at the time challenged me to call up some of my old clients, just do cold calling and ask them how they're doing and see if they want to do more coaching. I said “I don't want to bother them.” I had the list in front of me. I sat there and looked at that list. There was something in me that said “Don't do it.” Then I started examining what's the fear, and the fear was they're going to be mad at me. They're going to think I'm pushy. They're going to think I'm a salesy person. I was like “I'm worried about what they think.” You don't even get to the core, you just react, you say “I don't want to do it.” I even asked her “Do your other clients find this helpful?” She said “Why are you asking that question?” I was trying to get out of it. I called five people, four called me back. They were actually excited that I called them and happy I was checking in with them, they wanted to do more. But your mind will create this delusional fear around something that hasn't happened yet. The ego is just trying to protect you from some terrible thing that's never gonna happen. If we live in that fear and let that fear drive us, it will kill all our dreams. Think about the other people that are involved. If I didn't reach out, those people wouldn't have the benefit of having the coaching and having the changes that happen in their life. Our ego gets in the way of us fully expressing who we are. My gift is to help others but the ego’s like “Don't bother people, your stuff is to help others.” A lot of people starting as coaches and looking for a job have that fear of being too pushy. That's just a small example. For me, fear has been a powerful navigational guide to growth for me. I always think of what I am afraid to do, what really scares me. Then I start moving toward it. Because I know that that's where the edge of my comfort zone is. If I feel stuck in any area, where do I feel afraid? What is the thing that I'm avoiding? That's what I’d try to do, and that's how you can use fear. You can examine it. I looked at those names and was just being a witness to my mind. Why is this so scary? I'm just talking to another human being, I'm just dialing a phone number. They may not even answer, might just leave a voicemail. But it was terrifying because I was so afraid of that judgment, or rejection, or them thinking I was this crazy salesperson trying to get money from them. It’s insane what we do to ourselves and how we stop ourselves and talk ourselves out of our dreams.
Rob Maldonado 30:25
The good news is, we all have the capacity to work with intense fear. It's a natural process, we don't want to see fear as to mean something bad about us, something negative. It simply means we're alive and we're human, and our brain mind is working. But now we need to work with it. Now we need to discipline it. We all have that capacity as well to observe our own thoughts, observe our own emotions or behaviors, and to become able to direct them, to work with them.
Debra Maldonado 31:07
I've said this before on another podcast, about using it as motivation, you can be motivated by fear to move, to grow, or you can be motivated by fear to stay stuck. It doesn't always have to keep you stuck, you could fear the status quo more than the thing you need to do to get out of it. Most of the time when people finally make a change in their life, most people don't proactively make a change, they wait until it gets really bad, where they're forced to make a change, where the flower bud had to open when it was too tight in the bud to grow anymore. That's where we often go by default. But if you want to live a bigger life, you have to go toward it. It's easier that way than waiting until everything falls apart and you have that dark night of the soul, you're finally forcing yourself up by your bootstraps going, “I think I'm hearing a message here that things need to change.” A divorce, or like for me, losing a job, some disturbance in our life that forces us into a transition.
Rob Maldonado 32:24
Definitely take heart. Practice self-inquiry, asking the question “What does this mean for me? What is the nature of this fear? What is it pointing to? What is it trying to teach me?” instead of thinking of it as a curse, see it as an opportunity. It's showing me that I need to work on something. The fear is essentially the X where you need to work. It's pointing to where the treasure is. See it as an opportunity, learn to approach it, to work with it. There are many good techniques, find what works for you, what's practical for you, something you can apply on a daily basis in your lifestyle. But don't give up. If people give up, if they fall into addictions or self-medication, then it's more difficult to dig themselves out of that pattern.
Debra Maldonado 33:34
Don't you find fear can be exhilarating, like passion? Because if you don't feel anything, you're not going to be motivated to make changes. If you're not feeling any fear, you're probably really comfortable. That comfort is going to get boring. There's a part of you that's going to feel that pushing from inside. Isn't there more to life than this? We have to constantly look for those edges, what we're afraid of, and challenge ourselves. It's so exhilarating after you do something that's so scary. When I speak in public, I have at first a little nervous energy, then after the performance or the speech, you feel this like huge high. Look what I did. You want to be able to feel all those emotions.
Rob Maldonado 34:29
It does become your passion, the power that you have, but you have to transmute it, you have to work with it, make that lump of coal into that diamond.
Debra Maldonado 34:44
Don't let fear be your dream killer. Let it be your dream finder. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. We'll see you next week on Soul Sessions.
Rob Maldonado 34:56
Debra Maldonado 34:57
Thank you for joining us. Don't forget to subscribe to CreativeMind Soul Sessions. Join us next week as we explore another deep topic where you can consciously create your life with CreativeMind Soul Session. See you next time.