The Invitation Offered by Pretty Little Fears

Question: In one of your previous talks, I heard you say “fear is beautiful.” When you talked about the questioner’s fear, you called them “pretty little fears.” That stuck with me – I’ve thought a lot about why you would say that. Will you explain it further? It’s the subsiding of fear that I find beauty in.

Michael Richardson-Borne: Sure. Fear is the interaction of two stories of separation. One is a flower. The other is a lattice on which the flower and its leaves grow. The fear you speak of is the flowering of a secondary story that grows on the lattice of a primary story, the story of being a separate self.

So I call fears “pretty” because I know them like flowers on a lattice. They come, they blossom, they pass. It’s a neutral, natural occurrence of separation lived as Non-separation. Look closely and you will see that it’s the story-mechanism of separation that makes your mind tense up and body react, not an independent event. The kind of fear you are talking about is a story that defines a story – it has nothing to do with you. But you still observe your reaction to this combination of stories and believe it’s the way things are, the way things have to be in this world.

The top layer of fear, a flower, grabs your attention, makes it your total focus, and keeps you distracted from the underlying story of fear, the lattice. You are here to discover that both of these stories can be questioned. Both can be psychologically squeezed like an interrogator does to a suspicious subject to reveal the truth – that both stories of fear are the pain of believing in the existence of a separate self. This belief is a misunderstood relationship with fear, one that triggers the separate self into delusions of independently performing specific actions.

I call fears little because they exist inside of a much larger space – fears are like the proverbial gnat on an elephant. When the gnat is right in front of your face, tickling your eyes and nose, you swat like mad to get rid of it. When it’s on your shoe, you don’t even notice and could care less. This is the difference between experiencing fear as a separate self and existing where fear is not something to be concerned with. When you give fear your total attention, your heart races and you feel disturbed. When fear is simply another arising, it’s like watching the silhouette of a bird float across a calm sunset. It’s simply there as part of the landscape.

What is experienced as fear by one that perceives individuality is actually fear of fear. Fear arises as what I call a Personal Myth, a little story that registers on top of the belief in separation, a separation that is experienced from assuming one personally owns a story of individuality. This story of individuality is what I call one’s Original Story – the bigger, foundational fear that is the original occurrence of separation that unnoticeably happened to you. Take a moment and let that sit. I said this foundational fear happened to you. It’s the fear that fear happens to, the fear that can be questioned to reveal impersonal existence.

The little fears are merely descriptions of the bigger fear underlying them. They are adjectives inviting you to take notice of the noun, which is an invitation to take notice of the verb that lives both the noun and the adjective into being. So, the totality of fear has two layers – little flowers of fear that grow on the lattice of one’s Original Story of fear, the combination of which constitutes the fear of falsely believing one is a separate self. Ultimately, the fear you are asking about is a flower that doesn’t notice the lattice it is using as a crutch – or the ground in which the lattice is planted.

Fear is beautiful because it’s a constant invitation to inquire into who or what is fearful. The separate self finds beauty in colorful objects outside of the self or in emotions like joy or tenderness. It never gives the proper due to the beauty of its own foundation – which is the fear of an imaginary separation experienced from dreaming there’s some sort of space between Non-separation and the body it owns.

There’s a beauty in living as an invitation, as an underlying question hanging on every one of your actions to see if the answer will be revealed. To see if the invitation will be accepted. There’s a devoted beauty in an invitation that remains open to you even if you ignore it for a lifetime.

The takeaway here is that while you are attached to the separate self, fear never subsides. What you experience as subsiding is actually a temporary distraction from the constant ache of separation. Even the joy and tenderness I mentioned before is infused with the serum of separation when one is absorbed in the story of a separate self, when one has forgotten Non-separation.

Question: About 15 years ago, I was in the military – in the Iraq War. And fear, while my boys and I were under attack, was not beautiful in the way you speak of it. No invitation to anything was happening there except an invitation to life or death. Very little, if anything, was beautiful in those scenarios other than the bond I felt with my brothers. The presence of fear in war just means you are paying the proper attention – but these are not “pretty little fears.” They’re ugly realities – real fears.

MR-B: These ugly realities have been a significant part of your journey – one’s that have landed you in this conversation. What could be more beautiful than that?

What you experienced in Iraq is actually the most intense, loudest, most compelling invitation to Non-separation you can possibly receive. There is so much fear of separation, so much fear of “an other,” that you possessed a willingness to fire automatic weapons at people in the name of perpetuating your personal story – one that is grounded in separation. And your adversary was under the same illusion – willing to kill to make their separative story correct. Willing to kill as a story in the name of protecting what they believe to be a superior story, not noticing that life itself is lived without a story. Non-separation is not a story, it’s the impersonal existence of being that includes all stories.

In war, the horror of the suffering of separation is mirrored at all combatants with laser-like precision. This is why so many Vets struggle after leaving combat zones. The story of suffering they’ve witnessed embedded in their story of an imagined personal autonomy wrings them out until there are no options left but to question everything. You are one of the lucky ones who has been graced by a turn within – a turn that can lead you out of living a lifetime of disillusionment within a culture of separation.

If you can, recognize right now that you are still ingrained with a story and are in relationship with that story, not the supposed human on the other side of the story where both of us are lived expressions of Non-separation. The reaction to the mind’s fear drives the mind. It keeps you in a constant state of war with yourself – which taken to its logical end becomes a war with others.

If you can, recognize that an invitation to Non-separation is also an invitation to life or death. It’s an invitation to align with the truth of being lived or to remain dead as a separate self doing the living. In the culture of separation, we’re able to see the intensity of being in situations, like war, where physical death is more probable. However, in this same culture, the equal intensity and corresponding bravery of questioning the separate self is ignored. If anything, self-inquiry is mistaken for pop Buddhism where the only thing going on is an attempt to relax or a desire to be slightly nicer to the people around you. But true self-inquiry is to hang on a string between life and death. As you question the separate self, at any moment, a flip can occur where you overcome the dead experience of separation and align with life itself, Non-separation. Just like war, until you’ve been in the situation, until you’ve authentically stepped into a life of self-inquiry, you have no idea what it’s like. Questioning the separate self is just as real as a bullet flying over your head – the separate self feels equally threatened.

The awareness of fear as part of self-inquiry also means you are paying the proper attention. But there is only one kind of “real fear” and it’s applicable to all situations – it’s the fear the separate self feels about losing its attachment to separation.

Question: So, in order to find Non-separation, I just need to contemplate the relationship between consciousness and my own fear?

MR-B: The first thing to look at is the word “between.” Can consciousness be in relationship with something? If so, what is outside of consciousness in which you can relate? What is between consciousness and anything? If you find a gap, it’s a gap between your stories of fear and your stories of what consciousness is. Fear is a reflection of an impersonal consciousness, not separate from it.

And yes, you can contemplate fear and consciousness to realize Non-separation.

You can contemplate if there is an owner of fear.

You can contemplate how fear is not separate from consciousness.

You can contemplate how the story of individuality happened to an impersonal consciousness.

You can contemplate how the Original Story of individuality is the beginning of fear.

You can contemplate why fear is amplified when there are specific things to fear outside of the Original Story of individuality.

You can contemplate why fear is always impersonal at its root.

You can contemplate why fear is always a mere movement of Non-separation.

You can contemplate why Non-separation is not something to be found, it’s only to be remembered.

Question: Do you have no fear then? Are you immune from these fearful impulses?

MR-B: Who I am is immune, who I am not is not immune. Which means Non-separation is both immune and not immune. Non-separation is the impersonal existence of being that includes the personal. Fear is real. Just who is experiencing the pretty little fears is not real in the way you think. The experiencer and the fear are lived as a pre-existing unity, who you truly are – Non-separation.

Question: I feel like I’m close to a breakthrough. So, the reason you call fear “pretty little fears” is because every instance of fear is an opportunity to see fear for what it is. And, when you recognize that fear is not happening to an individual, that it’s a story not separate from beingness itself, then fear “just is.” It happens as it will – but to nobody in particular. Is that what you’re saying?

MR-B: Yes.