The current increase in groups of individuals who subscribe to fanciful and almost always fantastic fictional conspiracy theories is, for many, both distressing and bewildering. It seems as though they have lost the capacity for critical thinking. Beliefs in the so-called “deep state” and of demonic or other spectral cults working insidiously in the shadows of governmental and financial institutions that are undermining the rights and security of good, god-fearing people has followers that are worldwide. Dismissing this as dangerous paranoia and even insanity is just a reactive defense and does not address the deeper question of why conspiracy theories are so common and always have been.
One answer is that they provide a sense of safety. Having these kinds of beliefs and being able to align with others who share them is a primitive psychological defense strategy. Thinking in this way generates a predictable, albeit absurd reality, and therefore a sense of certainty, especially at times when there is a perceived sense of increased uncertainty. There is a reason so many institutions don’t function as they should; there is someone or something to blame. And for an emotionally immature part of every human being, being able to blame is being able to believe that there is a cause. And if there is a cause then there must be a solution, something that can be done. This imagined power provides a sense of purpose and hope, but it also means people are continuously avoiding and never actually learning a healthy relationship to the basic sensation of fear.
Before any of us get too righteous that we don’t hold such irrational beliefs,
consider all your belief systems.
This may seem perverse because the resulting us vs them polarization aroused by conspiracists is contributing to even greater anxiety and stress. In the U.S. there is fear of a potential collapse of the experiment of democracy itself. And while increasing unrest may actually be happening, when you can point the finger of blame and be joined by others, this unconscious strategy has the effect of providing both a feeling of community and a sense of a named and shared enemy. It is the perennial bogeyman, always baseless in reality, but it creates a psychological environment that by providing a kind of certainty diminishes the genuine and much deeper fear of the actual uncertainty inherent in living. Conspiracy believers are creating a quasi-believable hell in order to avoid the forever existential Hell that is the deeper and inescapable uncertainty that is a foundation of reality. And the Catch 22 is that disputing their beliefs in things like ultra-secret conspiracies, which can never actually be disproved, is perceived as validation. At this level of emotional defense, to be opposed is to be legitimized.
Before any of us get too righteous that we don’t hold such irrational beliefs, consider all your belief systems. Whether your identity is claimed by your race, health, politics, religion, nationality, career, wealth, smarts, or the latest internet feed, those too are kinds of conspiracies. Inhabiting those forms of self-identification involve telling yourself stories – that you unquestioningly or implicitly believe — about who you are and who is with you or like you, and about what is “true” for you. While to our ordinary mentality such identities are considered rational, how rational is politics or economic theories? How upset do you get when the other side wins? How many wars have been fought about both? How many people have died in service to the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me” God… Allah… Jehovah… Patriarchy, etc., etc. Just as with conspiracists, whatever club you belong to forms a buttress against the deeper fear of uncertainty unless and until you learn to live in a deeper ground within yourself. That ground is never outside of you, something you join or choose to believe in. It is not a place, or a heaven above, it is relationship; the relationship you are living with what is moment-by-moment.
The nature of time has a profound psychological dimension and the future is particularly interesting. When imagining the future, we are faced with both infinite possibility and absolute uncertainty. When the conceptual mind (the only part of the mind that actually lives in time) moves into the future there are two basic emotions, hope or fear. Actually, what the mind imagines is either a way in which some remembered good might be increased or lost, or some remembered negative might get either better or worse. In this sense there is no true future for the conceptual mind or the ego it obeys, only a better or worse past. Meanwhile, the inherent uncertainty is too difficult for most people to allow themselves to feel, let alone come to peace with. Like a hungry ghost, this insatiable fear haunts almost all human undertaking.
The nature of time has a profound psychological dimension and the future is particularly interesting.
This failure to be able to achieve a healthy and healing relationship to fear, regardless of its cause, and particularly the fear that accompanies absolute uncertainty, marks the whole path of human history. It is not unreasonable to say that it is this unenlightened relationship to fear in homo sapiens that is at the foundation of the compulsive human project to create by whatever means possible some degree of stability, predictability and safety. If material things can make us feel briefly safe, then let’s have more. If power gives us imagined security let’s become more powerful. If belief systems and religions can give us a sense of identity and purpose, lets live in them unquestioningly. If science and applied technologies can make us secure and more comfortable, then let’s keep innovating and applying our genius to new technologies regardless of consequences. If law and order can make us safe, let’s limit our freedoms with more laws and more policing. If the authoritarian leader can tell us who and what to fear and promises to protect us, let’s follow whoever offers that hope. The unfortunate truth is that all these efforts are in vain.
With rare exception we are all in this deeper conspiracy to avoid fear, to make ourselves safe. We are so embedded in it that nearly all of human invention, the very world we have created and the ways we live, especially in the so-called developed countries, is now leading to an even deeper existential uncertainty. We are in the midst of the greatest extinction event since the monstrous asteroid impact 66 million years ago. We are creating a climate debacle that we ourselves, at least the majority of us, will struggle to survive in. Avoiding fear with our amazing mental genius is a failed strategy. Yet, generation upon generation, we repeat it over and over again imagining that somehow it will bring us to safety. History is a testimony to our failure to teach ourselves an inner and liberating relationship with fear. Thus, we continue to live outside the natural world, at war with Nature, the true Mother of us all in which uncertainty is the very fountain of evolutionary adaptation.
The failure of our species ability to engage fear from within through conscious awareness stems directly from the fact that human beings are poorly adapted to the present. It is only when we are anchored in our bodies in the present that we enter the kind of consciousness that allows us to be in relationship with whatever sensation is arising within us. We can presence with fear, learn to relax and be spacious with loneliness, abandonment, and every other threatening sensation. In the present moment thinking becomes a wordless awareness and we are no longer the victims of our own mind-made suffering.
The basic law of the present moment is simple: How we touch is how we are touched. When we bring a gentle compassionate awareness to the sensation of fear, that sensation transmutes and can become spaciousness, or even profound peace. When we are no longer threatened by fear all our relationships are transformed. It all begins when we each discover a healing relationship within ourselves to our fears. We cannot imagine the depth of marveling at our beloved world, nor the depth of love we can evolve between us, all of us, that becomes possible when fear is honored, but no longer directs us. To be able to learn from the past and plan and prepare for the future has given us our remarkable success in surviving, but it has not and cannot give us a ground within ourselves that won’t be pulled out from under us in a flash by every “unfortunate” turn of events and especially by life’s inherent uncertainty.
What kind of world would humankind experience and create if the foundation of education was about emotional and spiritual intelligence, and specifically about learning a direct relationship with unwanted and threatening sensations? Why is fear, a sensation in whatever guise, any different than any other object that arises in our consciousness, any sound we hear, sight we see, or thought we think? Why do we give it such power? But to strip it of its power requires an awareness based in the present, in what is real, in a direct relationship with the sensation, not in time and the endless machinations of our thinking mind as it labors ceaselessly in its failed effort to finally create safety. The moment we fall into the present, generally in certain types of activities in which we can become deeply focused – so called, flow states — words stop, thinking stops, and there is only presence, only This. There is a sense of the sacred. We are close to the deeper consciousness. In this presence, fear too subsides or is non-existent. We have all touched moments in which we are beyond fear, yet we continue to pick fear back up again, re-create the new or old bogeymen, the moment we leave these states. People become addicted to these kinds of flow generating activities, but rarely does experiencing the liberation of flow generalize to a foundational capacity for presence in any situation. For that we need a practice that is often called meditation, but even meditation and mindfulness can be co-opted as methods to achieve peace, another way to get around fear and stress, and not as practices that are about learning a basic relationship to all and anything that arises in our consciousness.
This most important of all things that can be learned is a long and painstaking work.
There is plenty of excellent guidance in how to begin the practice of meditation, but ultimately it is a limitless journey of discovery that only you can actualize. It is about staying still and becoming observant and gradually learning a relationship with all your thoughts, all your beliefs and judgements, all your strategies for power and security, or even for love, because you realize it is these, and not anything outside of you, that creates inner division and inner conflict. It is about a relationship with all the sensations you feel, sensations that condensed in your body and mind in early childhood that are the somatic representations of your childhood hurts and ways of adapting to all the various forms and degrees of your dysfunctional family dynamics. As we teach ourselves to be present with every form of somatic density, every place of blockage, every contraction, every sensation whether it is joy or nausea, stillness or burning, peacefulness or panic, we liberate ourselves into the present, into holy Now. And the body knows this current of sensation as Love, an unconditional love, a love based in the very heart of all existence.
The divided mind externalizes all its own divisions and thereby sees a divided world in which there will always be the threatening other. Simultaneously, mind at this level believes that because it can name the threat or the threatening sensation and ascribe some cause or blame that it believes explains why this danger is there, why it is happening, that it can also find a defense against it. As we have seen conspiracists adhere to this primitive psychological defense mechanism. Actual understanding of a cause can be a blessing as with the great advances in medicine. Yet it is the very nature of conceptual thinking when it comes to understanding ourselves, where thinking itself is the problem. The world is real; it is not our representations. Fear of the other may well be instinctual, but this does not mean we have to obey such primitive instincts. Fear is a sensation and why it is there is only of limited importance. How you are present with it is what determines its actual nature and intensity. Thinking, no matter how well applied, will never make us safe because it can never actually feel a sensation, never actually experience reality, never come Home. To heal we must feel. The sensation of fear is not a thing, not something actual, it is only the manifestation of the quality of relationship we are, at that moment, living with what is. For the ego fear is always the bogeyman, for our deeper awareness it is the starting point of a relationship. And it is in the quality of how your awareness touches that fear, actually feeling it, that allows all psychological fear to return to its original substance, Consciousness itself.
To heal we must feel.
We must finally appreciate that thinking cannot make us safe when it comes to the existential fear of uncertainty or the continuous ways our ego-identify believes itself challenged or threatened. If we have not appreciated the delusion in his habitual human strategy and all the behavior and invention it engenders by now, it seems questionable that the majority of human beings ever will. It is not a question that ego or me-based awareness is bad, after all it has given us virtually everything we see of human achievement and creation, it is just limited. It exiles us from the natural world and our own sensations. At best it can create conditions in which we briefly feel secure, but it cannot allow us to deepen in love, cannot bring us to a wordless sense of marvel at the wonder of our world, cannot connect us deeply in our hearts. Only a direct relationship to fear itself, the actual sensation, and none of the things we can blame or imagine that are causal, sets us free.
This requires a capacity to understand that awareness itself is not a thing, but a ceaseless relationship. The very ground of Consciousness is uninterrupted relationship. It is in the quality of the contact between fear and our awareness that changes the nature of fear. This is not a strategy for safety, it is a path of relationship impossible for the conceptual mind because it happens in a level of awareness that is not based in thought, that is deeper than any thought. Thinking and rationality are wonders of our human potential, but they are simply useless in healing our avoidance and rejection of fear. Yet, thinking can become the ally of self-healing, but only once thinking itself takes a back seat to feeling and assists us to focus our attention directly into whatever feelings or sensations are present that are causing our division and closing our hearts. In the present moment there is no conception, there is only sensation and our consciousness evolves as we evolve our relationship with all and any sensations, especially those that close our hearts. Some call this heart intelligence and it is an intelligence based in the body.
If we are to survive and create a world we all want to be part of, it is this heart intelligence that must guide our minds, leading us to realize the deeper consciousness which brings us into relationship with what we are actually experiencing right now through our feeling and body intelligence. Our feeling intelligence reflects the inherent relationship that links us to everyone and everything right now. This embodied intelligence instantaneously darkens toward fear and generates stressful reactions when our minds are moving us into division within ourselves. They brighten toward connection, belonging, and love the moment our separating minds relax and release us back into presence and direct relationship with our sensations. The darkening feeling states are the body’s intelligence showing us that we are stretching or even tearing the ever-present relationship that is the Present Moment. They brighten instantly when the mental divisiveness is relaxed. This is how we learn, though fear, to return to love.
There is one basic confusion that needs to be resolved because it is the source of all human conflict. The deeper, heart level, embodied intelligence that moment-by-moment communicates through subtle feeling (that we are either coming home or exiling ourselves from reality) is exactly that: Subtle. It is, unfortunately, easily drowned out by a much more superficial but generally more intense level of feelings that are our emotional reactions. Emotions, as we define them, are primitive feelings that are the result of the arousal of our divisive thinking: Feelings like anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, to name the most common. Emotional reactions cannot exist without being triggered first by divisive thoughts. What the deeper feeling intelligence teaches us is the reality of unbroken relationship, that we are always and already home. What emotions teach us are that we are reacting because we are living in the belief of separate-self, attached to one or another level of identity and trying to defend that particular identity. Our ego-self, the world of Me that is the first step of human consciousness development is nothing more than a continuous state of emotional arousal created by the divided mind, which in turn generates reactive emotions, which in turn generate divisive thinking in an endless self-reifying loop. Herein lies the great challenge of humankind: To awaken to the limitations of divisive thinking and the reactive emotions that accompany such thinking and realize the deeper consciousness in which there is no actual division. And this happens by listening in our bodies. When the heart intelligence signals we are separating and dividing ourselves from what is, fear begins to arise. Awareness of that stirring of fear is the guide to release whatever mental dimension is the driver for that contraction. It is as if the basic code for awakening is the body reflecting our minds and telling us instant by instant: love or not love.
This is what we all want in our deepest being,
because in our deepest being we were created by love and we are love.
What we ultimately realize is that the very warp and weave of existence is Love and Love has forever been calling to us and saying, “I am who you really are. If you want to know yourselves as Me then begin with learning a gentle, caring relationship to whatever you do not love.” Fear is that ultimate unloved part of ourself, the most reviled, unwanted, rejected part of all human experience. It can teach us a primitive, reflexive form of response that can help us survive certain basic threats, like running from a predator. But it cannot help us survive the fears that we ourselves create with our thinking minds. Underneath racism, white supremacy, homophobia, religious conflict, and every other form of rejection of one person by another is fear. Yet, fear can also be Love’s ally. If you want love, you must face fear and thereby heal all the wounds that cause you to succumb to fear and close your heart. The more you make your peace with fear inside yourself the more you become love and can live love with in ever-evolving depth with others. This is what we all want in our deepest being, because in our deepest being we were created by love and we are love. And that, we are sure, is God’s conspiracy for us all.
Richard Moss and Katherine Fellows-Moss
Beautiful and wise and healing.
As usual you invite us toward our deeper selves. Thank you.
Are you writing a new book? A new book by you, Richard, is always a gift for our lives and this article is very much a gift for our times.
Wonderfully deep article. Love is truth.
Interesting treatise on the nature of fear and conspiracy theories (which may or may not be true, lol).
When we all (or mostly all) realize Whom and What we really are, wich is no less than Sparks of the Divine, there will no longer be any need for fear. Though it may not seem like it at this time, we ARE getting there. ????????????
I just read this today just before setting out to NC to join you at the Round house. The issue covered in this essay is the crux of the issue with which I am dancing. Delayed in the miraculous abilities of thinking, I have just begun to enjoy my thoughts, especially around certain intellectual topics like history and geopolitical affairs. Almost simultaneously, I have had an eruption of quietude that daily feels grounding (reduces fear). Even so, the thinking that has recently enlivened me sometimes takes me to levels of anxiety (especially about medical mandates for still experimental treatments whose safety and efficacy are unknown). This is a daily dance that heretofore has still rested in the “NOW” of meditation. Thank you for writing this essay. I will look forward to experiencing the group work that will cover parts of how to integrate and respect the thinking mind (the world of necessity) and the natural mind or essence (the gentle and quiet world of contemplation and meditation).
It’s 41 years since I told God to get the show the road during 3 days of silence and fasting at sky high and broke my leg and kept silent. Life is still a “hoot” my dear dear friend and family. These are times of opening hearts and the out pouring of spirit world wide. Loving presence, kindness and loving ness held in the heart renders fear impotent. Blessings to you and your sweetheart.