By Steve K.
In a spiritual sense it’s often suggested that love is the opposite of fear. When considering the characteristics of these two states of being I can see the truth in this point of view.
However, I would suggest that this viewpoint relates to unhealthy or neurotic fear, rather than ‘in the moment’ instinctual fear; which is natural and surely necessary. The type of fear I’ll be relating to is mainly born of our past experiences, trauma and social conditioning. This type of fear is the insecure ego that lacks self-love and emotional security. It’s resentful from the past, isolated and defensive in the present, and pessimistic about the future.
I suffer from this type of fear and it was the driving force of my active addiction. The book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ describes the alcoholic as spiritually sick and suggests that self-centred fear is the root cause of the alcoholic’s problems.
“Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity…”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd edition, p.62.
“Notice the word “fear”… This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it.”
Fear focuses inward towards self and disconnects from others. It isolates and causes a sense of loneliness by blocking healthy, intimate and loving relationships. As fear is often informed by past hurts and trauma, it is typically defensive and lacking in trust in the present, as well as pessimistic and controlling regarding the future.
Fear of this kind keeps a person stuck and from living their life to the full. It feels the victim of circumstances, is often demanding and blaming of others, and fails to take responsibility for life and its problems. This fear is a negative sickness that poisons the soul.
Love, generally speaking, seems to be the complete opposite of fear. It is open-hearted, vulnerable and extends outward towards others. Love connects and builds intimacy. It’s unselfish and lives in the present moment. Love feels secure and joyful, is trusting of life and in people. Love takes responsibility, lives wholeheartedly, and is a positive state of being. It nurtures the spirit.
The Nature of Love
What is love? Is it just an extension of our evolved survival, sexual and social instinct? Our limbic system with its neurochemistry creating the feelings that urge us to bond, reproduce and take care of one another.
This is the physical mechanism of love, the channel that it flows through, but I would suggest that love seems more than the sum of its parts. Deterministic science cannot explain our conscious experience of love (1); with its ineffable quality consciousness can’t be explained by reducing it to its component parts. Additionally, the evolutionist’s view doesn’t adequately explain the different types of love, where the survival and sexual motive appear to be absent.
The spiritual view of love suggests it’s synonymous with God (whatever that means to you), or a transcendent power within nature. Love is seen as the essence and guiding force of our true-self or being. It drives us towards growth and self-actualization. Love is often understood as a healing force working through people; that loving relationships are why we are here.
It is also believed, by some spiritually centred people, that only love and fear is at the core of our nature. (2) That we are either coming from a state of love, or that we are in fear. As opposites they cannot be experienced together; and so by practicing love we drive out our fear.
It’s been suggested that the essence of Twelve Step recovery is “love and service”. (3) That the practice of the Steps connects us to our true-self and to others. We are then ‘promised’, as the result of these Steps, “a new freedom and a new happiness”, which is freedom from fear.
“We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us….”
Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd edition, p.84.
The practice of love brings us serenity, feelings that are good, and a peaceful state of mind. By letting go of our resentments, our demands and expectations, we free ourselves from the conflict and mental distress that they cause. Love is accepting of self and others, it’s forgiving and unconditional in nature. This was Bill Wilson’s realization when writing his Grapevine article, “The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety.”
“If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependency and its consequent unhealthy demand. Let us…. continually surrender these hobbling demands. Then we can be set free to live and love; we may then be able to Twelfth Step ourselves and others into emotional sobriety.”
The Language of the Heart, p.238.
A Loving Mind
The book ‘Love is Letting Go of Fear’, by Gerald G Jampolsky, places great importance upon our mental outlook in choosing ‘love over fear’. He suggests that we can choose to forgive and let go of our demands, expectations, and blame where others and life is concerned.
I think this outlook takes faith and practice. We need to believe in the healing power of love and its ability to transform our lives for the better. We can let go of our past, stop worrying about and projecting our future, by just living in the here and now. We can practice trusting in our intuitive wisdom rather than reasoning with a fearful ego mind.
In terms of our philosophy of life, we have a choice in how we view the world and our experiences in it. The psychologist and philosopher William James advocated pragmatism in relation to our more spiritual beliefs. Believing in the transformational power of love is a positive and very beneficial thing that we can choose to do for ourselves. Belief in, and Practice of, love over fear… this is now my choice.
A core principle of Jampolsky’s book, is that what we give in love to others, we receive in equal measure. By giving love without demands we expand the love within us. This is the mutuality of Twelve Step recovery – by helping others to stay sober, we increase our own sobriety; what we give, we also give to ourselves; what we teach, we also learn.
This is why recovery is found in the practice of love, rather than fear.