The essential problems of humanity all spring from a common source. There are many different ways to talk about this, but essentially the human mind is driven by fear of the unknown. We each have a gatekeeper in the mind that examines whatever is happening around us, and compares that to what is already known and familiar, and admits entrance only to what matches what is already known, and then figures out what to do with that which is unfamiliar. The gatekeeper has many strategies for dealing with the unfamiliar, depending on just how threatening the new is to what is already known. Those strategies include reinterpretation, outright denial, attacking the messenger, silent internal ridicule, automatic reassertion of the familiar, arguing and criticizing, and in extreme cases, physical or character assassination. The mind fears what it does not know. And it goes to great lengths to preserve the known in the face of the unfamiliar.
Lesser threats that can be incorporated into the gatekeeper’s current paradigm are massaged into place. Greater threats to the familiar are resisted by whatever means. The more persistent the threat, the more violent the self-defense.
The primal fear driving this mechanism is social exclusion. The gatekeeper’s rule is finely tuned to the behavior it sees around it. It has a pretty good idea what is socially acceptable and what is not. Rebellion of the individual is usually well within the bounds of an accepting subculture. There are very, very few people who are willing to risk being rejected by everyone else in order to admit the truth and speak the truth and go where the truth leads.
Every single one of us has access to the truth. It is right at our fingertips. We don’t need religions or gurus or politicians or media personalities to tell us what is true. We don’t know the truth with the limited knowledge of the mind. The mind’s way of knowing is merely an impression of a keyhole view onto reailty. Reality is what is.
The truth does not come to us as dogma, as beliefs that tell us in advance what to do and what not to do. The truth comes to us as each new moment of life, with all of its complexity and uncertainty and inscrutability. Our social conditioning pushes us to simplify that complexity in ways that keep us well within the fold of our social group. We do not want to stick our necks out too far. Even if we know, because it is right in front of us, that the social norm is deadly or crazy, we follow the norm. Deviating from it is too risky.
This is such a strong mechanism in all humans that it is hard to see how it can be overcome. We can try to teach our children and we can try ourselves to be morally strong, which means to trust reality when it points away from societal norms. And there have always been a very few who have been able to achieve this. They end up being revered as spiritual leaders or killed, or both.
But for most of us the fear is just too great. The fear of being thrown out of society, killed even. The mind that is conditioned to respond to what is socially acceptable is very strong.
The alternative to fear is love. Fear is exclusive; love includes everyone and everything. Fear is self-centered; love is concerned about the well-being of everything. Fear is small and contracted; love is large and expansive. Fear wants to preserve the status quo, the familiar world of its past experience; love moves with the inevitable change of creative life. Fear hoards; love shares. Fear is crushingly lonely; love is the interconnection of everything.
I think most of us know what this is about. We know the difference between acting out of fear and acting out of love. We know that love is reliable and true, and that fear only engenders more fear. I think most of us would rather live in love than in fear. But love is not safe, not for the separate self. It never gives us the final answer so it leaves us moving constantly into the unknown. This is our true condition anyway, but that true condition is plastered over with the ongoing monologue of the gatekeeper who is constantly turning the new and surprising into the old and familiar and comfortable. We know how horrible it feels to deny the truth we deeply know and go with what is merely socially acceptable, but we do it anyway, and so most of us are pretty miserable most of the time.
Trusting the rule of society, trusting our fear of exclusion, gives us all the catastrophes we see, the wars and the destruction of Earth. Love never wants to do harm to anyone or anything. It never coerces or manipulates. It never wants to shut anyone out. It never wants to exploit anyone or anything or take what does not belong to it. It has no enemies, for it is the essential nature of everyone and everything.
In my own experience, falling away from fear comes when it is clearly seen just how this whole mechanism operates. When the mind sees very clearly how its own gatekeeping is threatening its own survival. Then that deep survival instinct is harnessed in service to seeing the truth and reorienting to the deep truth. When the mind sees that its gatekeeper is the source of the danger, it loosens its grip and reorients toward reality. It prefers reality to the gatekeeper’s story about reality. The gatekeeper may remain, but in a much diminished role. The gatekeeper is no longer the source of personal identity.
The reality of love is within and around every one of us at all times. The change we need is as simple as flipping a switch. Switching from fear to love. From running with the crowd to trusting reality. From drowning out reality with our monologue of explanation and rationalization and criticism, to paying attention, listening deeply to reality, loving reality in its wild splendor. This love does not need to be learned. It is our true condition. Fear is imposed on top of it. It takes no effort and no time to acknowledge the fear, to see through it, and to step into the love of reality, to fall into the embrace of the incomprehensible vitality of life itself.
At this moment, fear is prevailing. Even as we awaken to the existential threats of climate change and destruction of biodiversity, and the spread of life-threatening disease organisms, most of us are acting out of fear: trying to get back to “normal,” trying to preserve the familiar, trying to hold on to what little power we think we have, trying to find some “other” to blame, trying not to have to fundamentally change our way of life.
But switching from fear to love remains as the alternative. It’s our only hope.