27 April 2020

COVID-19 - understanding fear; accessing solutions

Franklin D Roosevelt is famously quoted as saying The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Well, seems fear is a predominate emotion for many beset by the pandemic and surely all of us will have experienced it to some degree.

So this week what can we understand about this very potent emotion called fear?  Can it be a force for good, or is it always destructive? And what to do about it? With one radical solution, but first

   Thought for the day

         In horror of death, I took to the mountains. 
        Again and again I meditated 
        On the uncertainty of the hour of death. 
        Capturing the fortress 
        Of the deathless unending nature of mind,
        Now all fear of death is over and done.


So clearly fear does generate a good deal of energy. Raw energy. Then, what we do with that energy determines whether it becomes a force for good, or a destructive force.

Fear as an agent of transformation
With just a little reflection, we can appreciate that many good things are inspired and followed through driven by the energy of fear. Hitler was repulsed, social changes accomplished, environmental laws enacted, personal relationships sorted; all manner of things improve when the energy of fear is provoked and sustaines positive change.

What to do
Righteous fear is a tricky one.

While good has been achieved often, much that is evil has been conducted in the name of dealing with an external source of fear. One needs a good deal of inner stability and clarity to be confident one is using fear wisely.

Perhaps this is no more difficult than practicing “Right Action” at any time. Responding appropriately to any given circumstance is a major life challenge and may well be one of the best hallmarks of a “good person”. In my experience, the one thing we can do that will most likely help us with this challenge is regular meditation.

Fear as an agent for collapse
For some, the energy of fear is simply over-whelming. Big dog, little dog. The little dog rolls over and plays dead. The big dog loses interest, goes away and life goes on…

However, fear finds some people stuck long-term in the roll over position. A feeling it is all too hard. A feeling of powerlessness; hopelessness, apathy, paralysis. Sadly, domestic violence plunges some into this tough state. Maybe the collective inaction on real and necessary climate change action is a product of too many people being of the persuasion that it is all too fearful, too hard, to unattainable.

What to do?
Sadly, often it takes the situation worsening into an extreme to provoke action.

Maybe more simply, having the courage to start a dialogue makes a difference.

This may well be where someone close can be effective; creating a safe place to express the fear, to enable the person involved to feel it somewhat and to gather a glimmer of hope for a way forward.

Fear as an agent for destruction
This is the one we all fear. Where fear of fear comes from. The fear that fear will lead to our own undoing – or that of others we love and care for. We probably all know it too well - fear does commonly lead to polarisation, blame, aggression, deception, panic, injustice; all manner of destructive feelings and actions.

What to do?

i) When fear leads to projection
By projection we mean that the fear is directed outwardly. Common projection strategies are to find someone to blame, to be aggressive towards something or someone; to not accept any role or responsibility in the situation.

Many leaders use this strategy – President Trump is a leading example. We could call it deflecting, passing the buck or simply say “it was not my fault”. Of course, this strategy has a lot going for it. Usually it is not too hard to find someone to blame; often it is easy to feel well justified in asserting it was their doing not mine.

But none of this leads to satisfying, long-term solutions.

What to do
This can be tough. As they say, we need to own our part in it, feel the fear, avoid projection and do what we can to work constructively with whatever the issue is. There is probably enough for a book in this last sentence, but maybe it points the way a little . Very satisfying if we can turn this around. Might take good support to pull it off.

ii) When fear leads to guilt

“I must have done something terrible to deserve this.”

Often fear does lead to this sort of thinking while the feeling that goes with it can lead to the acceptance of all manner of tough circumstances.

What to do
In dealing with guilt, often a reality check is a good place to start. And talking your reality through with a good, level-headed friend or skilled professional.

Commonly we all have done our best.

Commonly we all make mistakes, we all have short-comings.

But then, commonly we all have redeeming features.

Taking blame upon ourselves in a neurotic way is neither helpful to us, nor to others.

So maybe contemplation of our own qualities might be helpful. An inner reality check. Maybe then a sense of proportion.

iii) When fear leads to panic
Pole vaulting trained me well.

Being a decathlon athlete in my 2 legged youth, I was of necessity a part-time pole vaulter.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong; and they often did.

So on the way down from a considerable height from yet another unsuccessful vault is not a time to panic.

Better to stay cool and attempt to land without too much damage.

Now faced with danger, threat or fear, I am happily programmed to become calmer, clearer and take time to assess the situation and decide upon a course of action.

Then for me, meditation has helped develop this early skill to a heightened degree.

What to do
So maybe you have missed the window of opportunity to take up pole vaulting. What I have observed others doing with good effect, however, is to make a choice about how to respond and reinforce it often. Like an affirmation. Develop a conditioned response out of your own choice.

Fear of death – and the radical solution

In horror of death…” This latest Thought for the day from Milarepa speaks to the primordial fear. Fear of death. Even worse, fear of personal annihilation – that when we die we lose all sense of self.

What to do

I took to the mountains…

These days meditation is where you find it.

Milarepa, however, emphasises meditating on the horror of death – over and over.

So rather than responding to the fear of death with manic activity, apathy or projection, we face it.

Feel the fear, stay with it, contemplate it and break through. Break through the layer of fear our mind constructs around our deeper essence. Break through using meditation to a direct experience of our true inner self, and realise its true nature that amongst other things, is beyond death.

Be prepared for death, be able to live well.

Happy meditating…

Oh, and perhaps to finish… Roosevelt’s complete quote – taken from his inauguration speech in 1933:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

And let us pray for inspired leadership free of fear, free of projection in these very needy times.

What is behind the panic around COVID-19? and what to do 

Love is Letting Go of Fear - Jerry Jampolski


  1. Ian, this blog is fantastic! Your communication here of that which really matters is at it's best. Fear is such an important thing to understand. It works unconsciously in a way that can be quite destructive. We really do need a way to transform it at this time, into compassion. Yes, I'm your wife, and I'm truly blown away by your skilfulmeans.

  2. I second that Ruth- thankyou for your clear headedness!