A Tree Isn’t Frightened

Image Credit: Lydia Eloff

Fear is the result of getting caught in the middle. Buddha says that it is the result of ignorance. And the ignorance is that when you start out as an infant with an undifferentiated awareness, and then you are taught who you are, that component, that structure which we call ego, is a very fragile structure. It seems tough, but it is actually a fragile structure. It is a structure that is created of mind, of learned neural patterns.

On one side of it, it has what Freud referred to as the Id or the impulse life. And the structure is designed to interface between the impulse life and the society, to protect the society from the impulse life.  Then, on the other hand, it is this fragile structure in the face of tremendous external forces, which are parents, and then social institutions and chaos and storms and nature. All of it. So, when you didn’t have a framework – when you didn’t have somebodiness, you are just part of the Universe, and there is no fear.

I mean a tree isn’t frightened, and it is not even clear. Like, in one of the discussions that Emmanuel had about what a mouse feels like when it is being eaten by a cat. The question is, is the mouse saying “Oh my God. I am being eaten by a cat,” or is it feeling warmth and moisture and shifts in energy? And the squealing … do we project?  We anthropomorphize and we say that it is squealing because it is afraid. But to be afraid, one has to have a self-concept. And when an organism is functioning instinctually in a scene, each change in the balance of the situation is just a new moment.  It is just a new moment to which it responds. It’s very delicate to interpret things, because we tend to interpret in terms of where we are sitting. We’ve developed these structures, and if you can sense the way that works, you just see on one side of you these extremely powerful impulses in you that you are afraid of.

And on the other side, there are the tremendous forces outside that you are afraid of. And you are feeling yourself as a very fragile entity within that structure. So the root of the fear is the separateness. The root of the fear is the model one has of oneself. That’s where the fear starts.

Once that exists, then you process everything from inside or outside in terms of that model, and it keeps reinforcing the feeling of vulnerability, because, in fact, there are incredibly powerful forces outside and inside. The transformative process of spiritual work is re-awakening to the innocence of going behind that model that one had, that cut oneself off, that made oneself a tiny little fragile somebody. And a lot of the power preoccupations that we end up having – and especially the power of trying to leave something behind in the face of death – is the feeling of our own fragility.  If you look at social structures, you see how much social institution is based upon the feeling of fragility of the human condition.

So, how you deal with fear is by saying, “I’m afraid of that person.” You say, “I’m afraid of being socially shamed.” But when you are socially shamed, it hurts, and then here we still are. You are afraid of violence. And then if violence happens… Sure, it’s scary and painful, and then behind it, here we are.

I think that often the fear feeds upon itself, and we’re almost afraid of the fear.  Or the fear is the thing, rather than what we are afraid of. We are just afraid. We’re just afraid. We just feel very vulnerable.

35 thoughts on “A Tree Isn’t Frightened”

  1. After years of meditating,yoga,praying,I have never felt so directly addressed as to the reason for all of my fears. Thank you, Ram Dass. I have been devoted to you for 25 years.

    Reply
    • This is so pertinent today as last night I dreamed everyone had to get into an adult-size sardine can and go through this fire to move on to the next fun activity. I am extremely claustrophobic and I pass out when overheated. I kept watching people come out and they were red but okay (my grand daughter was crying. Finally I just said No I won’t do this.
      How much is it about fear of hanging onto this life vs fear of following the herd?

      Reply
  2. GENIUS. Now I’m getting wrinkly skin from all this freakish light you’re outpouring.
    Thank YOU for your fierce and tender wisdom in helping this Melancholy Optimist come to terms with his Inner IDiot.
    I promise to try to be better.
    Yeah. We’ll see how THAT goes…
    Mercurious, Me
    :o)~

    Reply
  3. Namaste Ram Das!
    The Bhandara at Parvati’s was wonderful, AND Then, “A Skype Call”,Ram Das joined us . Wonderful became Extroadinary!
    Thank You Ram Das, for Being Exactly as you are,
    Hanuman Tirtha

    Reply
  4. well ok. mice probably are a lot better than many of us humans at getting in touch with their kinesthetic sense. Could be they’re feeling afraid when the cat’s eating them. Then again, maybe enraged? Some folks posit herbivores feel something like samadhi — a willing giving up of life to life — when the predator pounces. Then as to our human fear of death — that’s a hard one, what with our obstreperous brain power. On the other hand, when we fall into deep sleep every night, could be we’re where we will be after physical death. It would be hard to prove otherwise, wouldn’t it?

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  5. Well ok. Mice probably are a lot better than many of us humans at getting in touch with their kinesthetic sense. Could be they’re feeling afraid when the cat’s eating them. Then again, maybe enraged? Some folks posit herbivores feel something like samadhi — a willing giving up of life to life — when the predator pounces…. Then as to our human fear of death — that’s a hard one, what with our obstreperous brain power. On the other hand, when we fall into deep sleep every night, could be we’re where we will be after physical death. It would be hard to prove otherwise, wouldn’t it?

    Reply
  6. No a tree isnt frightened but im not a tree. recentley i was put in a position where my sexuality was chalenged. and felt i had to defend my self, i kept trying to remember that the ego is brittle when threatened i chickened out and took some downers to cope, so still back on the merry go round.

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  7. What a surprise! Last night I dreamed Ram Dass, quite jovial and looking good, was sitting at a table in my grandmother’s house. I don’t remember many details but thinking, “I don’t have to go on FB for Ram Dass, he’s here.” How comforting. Then I went into a bedroom and picked up a very tiny baby out of a bath. I will be meditating on this.

    boundless love,
    Namaste

    Reply
  8. life is a beautiful surprise …. i had a steady job and through grace and fortune was bitten by a shoplifter who was hurting a team member … i intervened and due to injury was forced to take a drug test, i refused on principle and was fired, but since then, without a job, identity and security (or so i thought) i have discovered that i am not afraid anymore of unknown events or trials/traumas … since i had that identity obliterated, i have been stripped bare and understand the false nature of wrongly created self/ego … i was lucky enough to see ram dass many years ago, but had forgotten him …. well blessed be, while watching a friends netflix, i found him again in fierce grace … and he is again a teacher …. it seems that if you want to give god a good laugh, just make plans … thank you ram dass and i will always again be here now … your courage and grace truly humble and inspire me …

    Reply
  9. I lived with a lot of fear for a while this really made sence to me. The part about the mouce can be helpful for me as well. I have Jurney to awakening and i was just lying outside in the sun thinking of it and remembering this web site. My imprisonment was largely due to ignorance on two ends and society’s modern diffaculties iv managed to live with the fear and make it into a ting to enjoy rather than run away from. I feel as if now when bad things happen something inside me is laughing like a trickter who enjoys those moments of my frustration. Im really starting to enjoy every aspectg of living with myself. Thank you for choosing youre way and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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  11. I still think the mouse squeals because it feels fear – it isn’t about the mouse’s ego !!! The mouse’s self-concept doesn’t cause it to be frightened of being eaten by the cat (ie ceasing to exist on an egoic level), but it’s instinctive and very real desire to avoid pain and death does ! Sorry Ram Dass, I love your thinking, but the mouse bit doesn’t work for me. x.

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  12. We use Mice as Indicators that model human diseases .. their nervous systems and cells are just like our own otherwise why would they be employed so extensively in vivisection ..

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    • Mice are readily available and have a short gestation period. yes they carry similarities of mammals, but mostly they are used because they are quick and easy to breed.

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  13. All animate creatures have an instinct for survival, part of that is fear. Without fear the creature would lack basic survival skills.
    When the mouse sees the cat approach, it feels fear, hence it runs to escape being eaten, to survive.
    As the mouse is being eaten it squeals because it feels pain.

    There are only two states of mind – conscious and unconscious. Anything else is merely the imagining of a not fully conscious mind.

    I could be wrong, but I suspect Ram Dass did not write the above article.

    Reply
    • There are two types of fear, the fear of immediate real danger which of course results in trying to withdraw oneself from that situation – the basic survival instinct. The other type is the fear that the mind constructs based on egos insecurities and other emotions. I think the article should have been written with this distinction in mind and not just tackle fear in general.

      Reply
  14. I agree, I’ve worked with animals for many years as a vet assistant and seen my own cats catch enough mice to know that they surely must be afraid and feeling some very real pain. I also don’t think animals have quite the same attachment to their bodies like a human does, for example, if you gave a dog it’s own amputated leg, it would eagerly gnaw all the meat off of it. But, they most definitely can feel fear and pain, and I think also love. So if a mouse is squealing and trying to get away from the cat that is eating it, I’d say it is a reliable guess that it is feeling pain and fear.

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  15. “it hurts, and then here we still are. … behind it, here we are.”

    YES.

    I remember saying that to myself after a PTSD inducing ammount of continual stress. I no longer had fear for a time. I would shrug in my state of Allowing Presence, going through life taking it moment by moment, saying to myself, “Well, I’m still here aren’t I. meh”. Once we know We Are Love, and the Universe Is Love, and nothing in this earthy world can ever truly harm or kill what we truly are, once we identify with our Soul, not our ego, THEN we are not afraid to die. We are not afraid. The ego is afraid to die. The ego runs on fear. The Soul runs on the Energy of Love, and Light and Intelligence.

    We have to surrender to this sea of Being, and ask ourselves from moment to moment, within ourselves, about our thoughts and actions, “Is This Love?”, and remind ourselves, “We Are Love”. We detach from others actions that stem from their own fear and pain and false beliefs, we forgive them compassionately, and then continue to focus on ourselves (our reactions, our feelings, our self-care, our self-compassion… we are loving to ourselves, and the we are loving to others). The Enneagram is a wonderful tool for Awareness http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/DevelopmentLevels.asp#.Ut16c_0QE18

    I think Christ was a wonderful example of this in his admonitions to:

    Judge Not.

    Turn the other cheek.

    Love others.

    Take no care for the morrow.

    Fear Not.

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  16. Yes, we do tend to make unscientific assumptions about non-human animal behaviour. Take the Spider in the Bath scenario. We assume the spider must be getting stressed and anxious at its apparent inability to climb up the steep sides of the bath to freedom. But its just as possible that the spider is simply enjoying the sensation of sliding down a steep low friction surface. How we interpret such events says a lot about us!

    Reply
    • And yet the mouse runs from the cat because it instinctively fears being killed. The mouse squeals from pain, and, if you look into it’s eyes, fear.

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  17. i think the mouse squeals because it is in pain. Yup, thats it.
    Now how often have you broken your bone and said “Oh, my arm moves in many more directions”.
    Yes, we do have a delineated, unique identity (in this present moment) Just like everyone else. So, what are we afraid of? Ultimately, DEATH. That is where religions are born. We want SO desperately to continue this conscience the we so love.
    Yet. ultimately we die. yup. we die. we will be dead, dead, dead. yeah my parents are dead. and they will not come back to life.
    So, the only time we have is Right Now. LOVE everyone around you. love your children, love your parents. BE

    Reply
  18. i think the mouse squeals because it is in pain. Yup, thats it.
    Now how often have you broken your bone and said “Oh, my arm moves in many more directions”.
    Yes, we do have a delineated, unique identity (in this present moment) Just like everyone else. So, what are we afraid of? Ultimately, DEATH. That is where religions are born. We want SO desperately to continue this conscience the we so love.
    Yet. ultimately we die. yup. we die. we will be dead, dead, dead. yeah my parents are dead. and they will not come back to life.
    So, the only time we have is Right Now. LOVE everyone around you. love your children, love your parents. BE

    Reply
  19. I am amused by the responses. Fear prevents understanding. Most of these people aren’t willing to peal their onions yet. Fear prevents them from seeing outside of conditioning. To each his/her own. Thanks Ram Dass for testing thresholds and challenging views

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  20. I am amused by the responses. Fear prevents understanding. Most of these people aren’t willing to peal their onions yet. Fear prevents them from seeing outside of conditioning. To each his/her own. Thanks Ram Dass for testing thresholds and challenging views

    Reply
  21. I am amused by the responses. Fear prevents understanding. Most of these people aren’t willing to peal their onions yet. Fear prevents them from seeing outside of conditioning. To each his/her own. Thanks Ram Dass for testing thresholds and challenging views

    Reply
  22. As far as I understand this, on one hand there is the body-based fear induced by physiological changes in the body; neurons firing, adrenaline rushes setting off alarm bells, etc. which are a response to a given current environment in the NOW. Such as, a mouse encountering a cat is likely to start running or fight back to avoid being caught. I would assume it is not a pleasant sensation for the mouse to have to run from a cat because I have read about lab experiments where mice and rats have learned to avoid painful triggers so I am not quite sold on being eaten by a cat being soley a warm, moist sensation. Plus, I have rescued mice and rabbits from cats before they were killed by the cats and, even though they looked unharmed, many of the rabbits had died of shock before I was able to release them – mice seemed to be a bit more resilient.

    On the other hand there is thought-based fear which are reflections by the ego on the possibility of impending pain or death and that feeds off past experiences and hypothetical what-if projections about the future and why-me questions in the now. I believe both Ram Dass and Jack Kornfield have written about that you can’t avoid body-based pain in life (humans and animals alike) but you can avoid suffering because that is a thought-construct. I do agree with many here that some animals do seem to have a capacity for reflecting on what is happening to them and try to avoid body-based fear or pain situations and if they can’t avoid those situations they seem to suffer and have low spirits (I know I am projecting human emotions here but anyone who has taken a pet to the vet probably shares my opinion)

    Reply

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