by D. Patrick Miller
The world is often terrifying.
A toddler drops her toy underneath a table and screams in terror at its disappearance. A six-year-old faces going to school for the first time, seized with fear by having to leave his mother at the door and enter an unknown universe of strange kids and even stranger teachers. All this before we encounter the far more fearsome challenges of adolescence — including sexuality, heartbreaks, and deep confusion about identity and purpose.
If we manage to enter adulthood with any degree of confidence, the really big terrors await us. Not just the individual challenges of making our own way in the world, but the societal and political frights. At any given time, another culture, religion or nation is out to get our culture, religion or nation, and will use any violent means they can: bombings, hostage-taking, public massacres, or deadly drones.
While we’re all prone to blame others for our fears, the temptation to disguise the source of our terror is especially powerful at the political level. After all, those whom we identify as “terrorists” really do kill people, at which point it seems necessary to hunt down those terrorists and administer “justice” — which ultimately means killing them. But that doesn’t make us terrorists, of course, because we are just innocent, peace-loving people who are rightfully defending ourselves.
Over time, balances of power may shift and the particular names or identities of “terrorists” may change, but the endless cycle of attack, vengeance, and renewed attack never alters. That’s because hardly anyone seems to pay attention to the fundamental source of all the terrors we feel. As the contemporary spiritual teaching known as A Course in Miracles puts it:
“There is no statement that the world is more afraid to hear than this: I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself.”
This is the existential terror that befalls us from the moment we are expelled from the warmth and safety of our mother’s womb, and that dogs us to some degree in every waking or dreaming moment that follows. It is the nameless anxiety that keeps us awake at night, and the nervous compulsion that makes us seek wealth or comfort, or the reassurances of intimacy, or self-destructive addictions. This is, in fact, the “human condition.”
This is why I believe that forgiveness has to be the basis of all our efforts to prevent terrorism. We need to admit that the world is a scary place, and that we are plagued by an “identity crisis” of the most fundamental sort.
If we do not see, feel, and take responsibility for the existential foundation of all our terrors, we will never find our way to undoing it.
But there’s another reason to recognize the fearful dilemma of not knowing who we are in a world seemingly beyond our control. As the Course suggests: “Yet in this learning is salvation born. And What you are will tell you of Itself.”
Our normal self-awareness is what psychology calls the “ego.” It is basically an uneasy fiction that we keep telling ourselves is true, built from a selectively remembered past and all the shaky strategies we have devised for simply keeping it together from moment to moment. That the ego often fails us is evidenced by the high incidence of addiction, depression, and anxiety in the general population — all forms of what might be called terrorism against ourselves. Those who choose to turn their terrors outward are simply coping less well than those who only suffer inwardly.
There is another way of being that can calm our terrors on a daily basis. When we acknowledge that our self-created identity is a fearful fiction, then our true identity can emerge from a deeper level. That reality is Love Itself, which can tell us What we are.
What this means on a practical basis is that when we know ourselves at a deeper level, we are enabled to act more wisely and compassionately in every kind of circumstance. Instead of automatically responding to threats with self-defense, we can instinctively respond with actions that will reduce everyone’s terror. Instead of judging others as less-than or more-dangerous-than ourselves, we recognize that everyone struggles with the same basic terrors — and there is a better way to deal with them than what we’re used to.
It may seem humiliating at first to admit that we really don’t know who or what we are, or what we’re doing here. But when we forgive this human condition, we can actually open ourselves up to enough love and wisdom to undo all terrors.
D. Patrick Miller is an author and literary agent living in Northern California. You can contact him at www.fearlessbooks.com.