Waking Up in Time

Fear - the voice in our heads

Fear is not of the present, but only of the past and future.

A Course in Miracles

Looking to the material world for the satisfaction of our inner needs is the source of much fear. We fear any changes in our circumstances that suggest the world may not the way we think it ought to be for us to be at peace.

We may fear losing our jobs because of the loss of income, and the possibility that our lives may not be so comfortable. We may fear failure for the disapproval it might bring or for the loss of self-esteem. We may fear having nothing to do because we might get bored. We may fear telling the truth because others might not like us for it. We fear the unknown for the dangers it may contain. We fear uncertainty, not knowing whether or not we will find what we are after.

Here lies a sad irony. In the final analysis what we are all after is a more satisfying state of mind. We want to be happy, at peace within ourselves. Our fears stem from the possibility that the future may bring us greater suffering rather than happiness. Yet the very nature of fear makes us more anxious in the present. And a mind that is anxious cannot, by definition, be a mind that is at peace.

Our concern to avoid suffering in the future, keeps us suffering in the present. We have lost the very thing we seek.


Many of our fears are not so strong that we would label them as fears. They may just be concerns, little niggles we have about how things might turn out. They may not even be conscious concerns -- in many cases they surface only in our dreams, in conversation with a friend, or after a couple of drinks.

Nevertheless, however intense or mild they might be, they fill our minds with thoughts. This is our self-talk, the mental chatter we carry on with ourselves. This is the voice inside our heads that comments, often critically, on everything we do. It thinks, “I did that well, people will approve of me.” Or it admonishes us, saying, “If only that had not happened, if only I had said it differently, things would have turned out better.”

It is the voice that speculates on the future. It thinks, “What if such-and-such were to happen, would it be good for me?” Or “What if I buy some thing, will it make my life more comfortable?” “Should I make that telephone call... just in case?”

It wonders what other people are thinking, and how they will react. It wonders what might happen to the economy, to housing prices, to our partner, to our lifestyle, to our image, to our car. It worries, “Have I made the right decision?” “Will I have enough money?” “Will I be able to cope?”

This is the voice of fear.

The voice in our heads believes its function is to guide us towards greater happiness. But it is the voice of the ego-mind -- the part of us that believes that only through what happens to us in the world around can we be at peace within. And since the world around seldom brings any lasting satisfaction, the ego-mind is always finding more possibilities to fear, new reasons to be anxious.

This is not to imply that we should not think about the future and not make plans. Our ability to look ahead and gauge the outcome of our actions is one of our most valuable assets. What we do not need is to fill our minds with worry over what might or might not happen. This is not the most constructive use of our imagination, or of our intelligence.

Not Now

Besides giving rise to much unnecessary fear, this mental chatter keeps us trapped in time. All the while that we are listening to our internal dialogue our attention is caught in the past or future. If half our attention is taken up with the voice in our head, that half is not available for experiencing things as they are, in the present. We don’t notice what is going on around us. We don’t hear the sounds of birds, the wind, the creaking trees, or the mood of our spouse. We don’t notice our emotions, or how our body feels. We are in effect, only half-conscious.

We have lost the present moment. Lost the “now.”

Saving Time

Similar fears underlie our concern for saving time. We fear that we will not have time to do all the things we think we should if we are to be content.

So we try to do everything as quickly and efficiently as possible, reducing “unproductive” times such as traveling and shopping to a minimum. Then, so we tell ourselves, we will have more time to spend -- to spend, that is, on chasing after fulfillment. Time to experience the world in new ways. Time to explore new interests. Time to earn more money , and buy more of the things we think we need.

Little wonder, then, that time is so often equated with money. We apply the same materialist mindset to both. We tell ourselves that the more time we have at our disposal, the more opportunity we will have of finding greater happiness. But again we are looking to the future, to the surplus times we will create. Again we miss the enjoyment of the present moment.

Fear of Each Other

Fear also plays havoc with our relationships.

  • We fear our partners may cease to like us.

  • We fear they may not understand us.

  • We fear being criticized and judged.

  • We fear others may react in ways we do not like.

  • We fear rejection.

  • We fear they will not listen.

  • We fear they may not be there when we need them.

  • We fear they may prevent us from doing what we want.

  • We fear that if they knew what we were really like inside they would not want to be with us.

  • We fear they might threaten our sense of identity.

And how do we react?

  • We may not express how we really feel.

  • We may not tell the truth.

  • We may manipulate others to behave in the way we want.

  • We may make them wrong, blaming them for our fears.

  • We may be more concerned with proving we are right than hearing their point of view.

  • We may attack them in various subtle, or not so subtle, ways, looking for ways to make them fear us.

  • We may not listen fully. (As soon as we hear something that goes against a cherished belief, the voice in our head tells us where they are wrong and how we should respond -- and as long as we are listening to our own self-talk we are not really listening to them.)

Then we wonder why our relationships can be so full of tensions and problems.

Nor is it just our intimate relationships that suffer. We find things to fear in our friends, our neighbors, our workmates and our bosses. We even find things to fear in people we have never met, or may never meet again. Will they make me look foolish? Will I be respected and valued? Will they impose upon me? Will they ignore me?

Fear also disturbs our relationships with people far away in other countries. We are afraid of different political systems. We are alarmed by other nations’economic power. We are frightened by their instability. We dread their military might.

Then, as if there were not sufficient fear in the world, we try to diminish our own fear by having them fear us. And so the vicious circle grows.

Resisting Change

Not only is fear the root of many of our problems, it is also leads us to resist the changes that would help solve our existing problems. Change can threaten our careers, threaten our relationships, threaten our position, threaten our sense of control, threaten our feelings of security, or threaten our freedom. If this is the way we see change then quite naturally we resist it. We resist new technologies, new working practices, new customs, new ways of thinking. We resist changes to our plans, changes in our circumstances, and changes in our lifestyle.

Tragically, we also resist the very changes that we most need to make if we are to survive. We resist giving up our cars, reducing our energy consumption, saving water, recycling our waste, and doing without some of the luxuries to which many of us have become accustomed. Stuck with our material addictions, we anticipate that in some way or another the inconveniences of such changes will cause us some discomfort.

The same pattern underlies our resistance to change on a global level. This is why farmers continue to degrade the soil. Why corporations continue to buy hardwood from the rainforest. Why industries continue to pollute the air and water.

This is why the world continues to spend $750,000,000,000 a year on armaments, rather than on food, sanitation, housing, and education. Someone, somewhere believes the change would not be in their own best interest.

Yet, much as we may resist change, we cannot prevent it. If the patterns of the past hold up -- and there is every reason to expect they will -- change is going to come faster and faster. We will need to become more flexible, more free in ourselves to accept change. To do this we must learn to let go of our many unnecessary fears.

If we do not then we may well find that fear will be our ruin. For there is one more problem that results from fear, and one which we each must attend to if we are to survive an ever-accelerating pace of change. And that is stress.

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