A guest post by Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.D (author of Religions of Kindness, from our July 2010 issue).
Today fear is rampant in all areas of our lives. There are many ways we seek safe harbor, a place to feel protected and cared for. Many turn to relationships for this, to experience security and comfort. Then, a paradoxical thing happens, the relationship itself becomes a cause of fear. What makes this happen? How can we experience fearless relationships, based upon true compassion and good will?
It has been said that there are only two emotions: love and fear. For some of us, oddly, love is frightening, while fear feels safe. We think fear will warn us of danger and keep us alert. We are taught it can be dangerous to be trusting; that love makes us weak. This is fear speaking, creating confusion, based upon lies. Fear is a liar. The more we believe the false messages it brings us, the more power it has in our lives. The good news is that once we see through fear, once we turn and face it, it melts away. Then it’s easy to see that true strength comes from living a life grounded in love; in understanding what it means to be loving, not necessarily how to be loved.
Fear has many faces and camouflages itself in different ways. In relationships, fear masquerades as counterfeit love. Counterfeit love is the idea that love is a feeling, not a way of life. Counterfeit love confuses the experience of excitement, infatuation, dependence and attachment with love. As soon as you have strong feelings towards another, it is easy to imagine that you are in love. But, most of the time, it is simply that you feel you have finally found the ideal person, who will fulfill all your desires and dreams. Counterfeit love is based upon fantasy and unfulfilled longings from the past. Strong feelings towards another are not necessarily love.
When you use another person as an object to fulfill your desires this is not love. When your desires and expectations are not met, when the reality of the other person bursts through, your so called love often turns to hate. Many say they do not know where the love went. Of course it did not go anywhere at all. It was not love in the first place, only a camouflaged form of fear. It is the fear that causes all the distress and undermines your basic sense of confidence, clarity and good will.
In order to experience love without fear, it is important to and learn how to recognize and dissolve fear and to become clear about the difference between real and counterfeit love. Then you naturally discover where to put your trust, how to look for and find the best in others and how to be strong and safe, no matter what life brings along. You learn how to open your hands and offer to others what it is you have been wanting from them. As you do, you see you already have all that you have been wanting. The source of all you long for is within.
There are many ways of dissolving fear and building fearless relationships. This is the practice of fearlessness, based upon the principles of peace of mind. When these principles are learned and practiced, not only does fear depart, but your natural ability to love and accept others, (and yourself), expands exponentially.
As an example, one of the most common causes of fear in relationships is the fear of rejection, of not being good enough, or able to satisfy your partner or yourself. When this fear becomes active, you twist and turn yourself into a pretzel, become someone you aren’t to get the love and approval you crave. However, this craving is a drug and the more you get, the more you want; and ultimately, the emptier you become. Approval is not love. It is the false self that demands this, the self that is fueled by fear. The truth is that you can never change enough or do enough to “make” someone love you. Again, this is the voice of fear speaking, turning the truth upside down.
No matter how much praise the false self receives, it never feels really approved of or loved. By its very nature, it is skittish, fearful and ungrounded. It constantly craves more and feels threatened regularly. The false self cannot distinguish between what is useless and what is valuable. It eats too much, makes wrong choices and refuses to face reality. When two false selves join together for a love relationship, sooner or later, they become shipwrecked, and wonder what went wrong.
Although we spend much of our time and energy building up the false self, we do not realize that who we are is intrinsically perfect, lovable and complete. If we turn to a relationship to validate or complete ourselves, we are bound to suffer. No matter how many times Amy’s boyfriend told her he loved her, she didn’t believe it. She needed to hear it again and again. “Why do you love me?” she kept asking. Of course this became exhausting for her boyfriend, who, feeling drained, ultimately left. Why would we cling to our disturbing egos? Because we have no idea how magnificent we truly are.
There is another way to proceed. Use your relationship as a teacher to find out who you really are, to dissolve fear, learn to trust and taste the sweetness and power of love without fear. Your relationships will transform naturally and whatever happens, you will feel full and complete.
Brenda Shoshanna is a psychologist and a practitioner of both Zen and Judaism. She is the author of Jewish Dharma and Zen and the Art of Falling in Love. Her work focuses on integrating East and West, and she offers workshops on relationships and personal and spiritual development. Her new book is Fearless (The 7 Principles of Peace of Mind): becomefearless.org.
See Brenda’s article on Zen and Judaism, “Religions of Kindness,” in the July 2010 edition of the Shambhala Sun magazine.