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7 Fears, 7 Treasures, 7 Shadows, 7 Others

7 Others

There is another way to look at our fears of wellness.  It is considerably more complicated and requires some understanding of human development, including transpersonal or spiritual levels.   Perhaps it is even more fundamental than the above exploration. Perhaps it may satisfy the need for a deeper understanding of the 7 Fears that have been identified so far.  

Is there some even more fundamental cause of all of our different fears?  According to the Upanishads:  “Wherever there is other there is fear”.  Assuming there is truth in this statement, it remains to be addressed what “others” are and how they got that way.  I have proposed so far that there are seven basic fears of wellness.  It may be that all of them share this deeper commonality, our fear of an “other”.

A complete exploration of this theme would require an extensive examination of human development.  My aim here is to merely suggest a general framework for identifying the major “others” that are created in the process of development, a process that entails a series of differentiations of subject and object.  In other words, our own development involves the creation of “others”.  In abbreviated form these differentiations/others could be seen as follows:

  1. Body-Environment
  2. Body-Mind
  3. My BodyMind-Your BodyMind
  4. Membership Group-Outsiders
  5. Conscious-Unconscious
  6. Mind-Soul
  7. Soul-Spirit

The new infant is not conscious of fear because it has not yet made any subject-object divisions.  But this is not an expression of enlightened fearlessness.  Once we emerge from our oceanic oneness with the environment, and differentiate, through our sensory-motor perceptions, that our bodies are distinct from the world of external objects, we then can experience fear of those objects, which are now experienced as “others”, i.e. not self.  We have then begun the heroic journey of development, which will take us through a succession of different fears, as we continue to differentiate our locus of identity from our experiences of new others. 

Our next stage of development will be to differentiate, mostly through language and the beginnings of conceptual thought, our emerging minds from our bodies.  Not only is there the other of the outer sensory-motor world, but also our own bodies are now other to our minds.  We can now fear our own bodies and their functions, processes, and sensations.  We have crossed the line from being a body, to having a body.

My BodyMind-Your BodyMind
As we establish that our body is separate from the physical environment, and our mind perceives our body as an object of awareness (an other), we then also begin to recognize the people around us as separate bodies with separate minds, i.e. as others.  Our self is distinct and separate from the selves of other people.  Eventually we may realize our deeper common ultimate identity as Spirit, not by regressing back to a state of fusion, but by continuing to develop through a process of differentiation, transcendence, and integration.  But at this stage we experience a separate self-sense that makes other people appear as others. And they can be pretty scary!

Membership Group-Outsiders
Once we differentiate other people as separate from ourselves, we then begin to differentiate our membership in certain groups from the members of othergroups.  Our sense of self then takes on a social and cultural dimension.  We identify with our gender, family, school, race, religion, nation, etc., and experience everyone outside of those groups as others, as potential threats to be feared.  We have moved from ego-centric to ethnocentric, but have not yet reached a world-centric or cosmo-centric level of consciousness.

As we develop psychologically we also begin to differentiate aspects of our own minds, identifying with some and turning some into others.  I.e. we identify with our conscious mind, and experience our unconscious as other than ourselves.  We then begin to fear our own minds, or the unconscious and un-integrated or repressed parts of our self (i.e. our own “shadows”).  The ego fears the id. 

At any point along the journey of development, and particularly as we move toward contemplative or transpersonal stages, we can have an intuition, glimpse, or temporary state of consciousness beyond the mentally constructed ego.  We can taste our own soul.  This may inspire us to take up a contemplative practice, or it can provoke tremendous fear, as our own soul can seem to be a terrifying, self-destroying other.  By the same token, if we are able to sustain our consciousness in identification with our self-transcending soul, we can also turn our ego into an other to be feared, repressed, or destroyed, and so not integrated at the level of soul.

At the higher reaches of development, from the point of view of anticipating satori or enlightenment, as a different and monumental experience, there can be the exhilaration, but more often the terror, of impending ego-death, or even soul-death.  It seems that we are about to die, or that we are dying.  We expect to feel crushed or swept away by the tsunami of awakened mind.  It seems we must rouse an incredible courage, because we will be utterly destroyed and released into the eternal void of non-existence.  Every last thing we held as dear, especially our own identity down to the most infinitesimal speck of selfhood, will be obliterated forever and ever by the Ultimate Other.  It will be the (M)other of all big deals. 

From the realization of complete enlightenment, rather than from the point of view of anticipating enlightenment as an upcoming experience, there is no expectation or fear of death.  Instead there is awareness of the self-evident truth that there never was an ego in the first place.  And there never was an other.  The death throws of ego are revealed as the emoting of an actor on a stage, the dramatization of a fictional part by one who has simply forgotten that they are in a play.  There is no longer any anticipation of a spectacular or terrifying experience, but rather the recognition of the complete presence of Spirit as the ground of all experiences.  There is freedom to participate in the play, to even care and feel deeply into the parts, along with a continuous awareness that it is a fiction.  Enlightenment is utterly ordinary and obvious.  It is the end of all others, and it is no big deal.     

Fear is a Natural Part of Development
Our ability to differentiate others and experience various kinds of fear is not a sign that we are inferior, or that we have made some kind of fundamental mistake.  It is the natural product of our development.  We do not need to feel guilty about the fact that we are afraid, but can rather see fear as the natural challenge inherent to our development as human beings.

Since development entails differentiation, transcendence, and integration, there is an inevitable creation of “others” along the way.  The point is not to avoid the creation of others by not developing, or by regressing.  Rather we must cultivate courage and take a heroic journey, by differentiating, encountering, embracing, and metabolizing/integrating all others.

At each stage of successful development the current stage has differentiated from, yet subsumed, the previous stage, which then can be perceived as other (i.e. mind subsuming body).  Then there may arise fear of that previous stage, which can now be experienced as other.   This fear will become exaggerated and amplified when differentiation has gone too far and into dissociation.  Still, even without dissociation occurring, there is a transition between differentiation and integration, when the new other is not fully metabolized into a greater sense of self.  The process of integrating this newly differentiated part into the wholeness of the next stage involves fear and the necessity of overcoming that fear (i.e. courage).  The current stage also begins to intuit the next stage (i.e. mind intuiting soul) and the next stage then becomes a shadowy other, also provoking fear- our fear of what we may become.  Also, even though we may be generally successful in navigating each stage of development, we can still experience the fears associated with previous stages.  For example, we can fear our own bodies when a mysterious pain appears, or fear certain strangers, even though we have gone beyond the infantile stage. 

From birth to enlightenment, development proceeds through a repeating process of differentiation, transcendence, and integration.  As I have been saying, this entails the creation of others and an accompanying experience of fear until integration is complete.  This is a heroic journey, because courage is required.  And we can rouse our courage by recognizing the treasures to be gained by overcoming our fear. 

But courage alone is not enough.  What is also required at all stages of development is some form of practice.  As we explored in the last chapter, to strengthen and synchronize body, speech, mind, and environment, is to also embark on the developmental tasks of differentiation, transcendence, and integration.  If we really want to be well (i.e. awaken and engage all of our human potentials, relieve suffering, and emancipate ourselves from the constricting forces of fear) we will have to take up practices.  Confronting all of our fears without any practices would be like attempting to hang glide from a mountain top without first learning how to handle a hang glider, without an understanding of convection currents, body positioning, or landing techniques.  In that case rather than discovering and enjoying the treasures of being human, we would likely crash on the rocks and waste our precious opportunity.

Our ability to offer care will be greatly enhanced by an understanding of the developmental journey that we all must take.  If we are to inspire another to rouse courage, it will be important to know the nature of that person’s fear.  Whether it is one or more of the 7 Fears mentioned above, or is part of a particular stage of development, we will be better prepared to respond in a helpful way if we know where the fear is coming from.  Our own intimate experience will be our most powerful source of knowledge, and our own courage will be our greatest source of strength in providing care.  At the same time, we should not just assume that someone else is experiencing the same fears in the same ways that we do.   Hopefully the 7 Fears, 7 Treasures, 7 Shadows, and 7 “Others” will provide some reference points for a discerning awareness that can guide your efforts to provide care.

The works of Ken Wilber that I would recommend as particularly helpful toward gaining a developmental understanding are as follows:
  • Wilber, K. Up From Eden, New York: Quest Books, 1996.
  • Wilber, K., Engler, J., Brown, D. Transformations of Consciousness, Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2006.
  • Wilber, K. Integral Psychology, Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000.


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