Love > Fear
“I cannot live with myself any longer,” Eckhart Tolle thought to himself one evening as he contemplated suicide. Suddenly he was hit with an epiphany. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘Self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with."
Tolle went on to write The Power of Now, a guide to spiritual enlightenment explaining how we never really live in the present moment because we are always either reliving the past or planning the future. Tolle says the ‘I’ and the ‘Self’ exist in each of us. Our thoughts are the ‘I’, while the ‘Self’ is simply the observer who watches the thoughts.1
This concept is not new, and has long been explored in philosophy, psychology and Eastern religions. Generally speaking, the observer is closer to who we truly are while our thoughts can also be known as our ‘ego’. Your ego is anything you have attached to your identity as a reflection of your place in the world. This includes both the good and the bad. For example, my ego is Madison Eileen Williams - founder of MEW Clothing, resident of Torquay, mother to Kitty Williams, owner of a white suzuki, subscriber of Pulse FM, fan of The Simpsons, runner of marathon, eater of blue cheese and girl of blonde hair. If you want to see my ego, just check out my Instagram.
But none of these things are me. If I were to be stripped of them all I would still be left with my bare soul, my Self. Difficult though it may be to grasp, our thoughts are not who we are. In fact thoughts only form at an age when we are able to learn words. So then, one must ask themselves the question… Who am I?
To find you are not your thoughts is as liberating as it is terrifying. While one cannot deny the usefulness of thinking, one cannot pretend our thoughts always have our best interest at heart. Anyone who lives with mental illness can attest to this. Our ego beats us up for our past mistakes, tells us we’re not good enough, talks us out of chasing our dreams and even drives us to suicide.
In Self Love is the New Drug I wrote how through mindful meditation, “I became aware of the endless stream of negative dialogue that was the norm for my mind.” What really happened is I became aware of my ego and the ways in which it was leading me down a life that did not serve me. Fear was always the main driver behind my ego, and by submitting to this fear I became the passenger of my own life. Scariest of all, I was completely unaware. In fact it’s hard to believe I was ever happy when in hindsight most of my thoughts were negative. Until you learn to control your mind, your mind controls you, and if you think you are exempt from this, that is your ego talking.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” - Carl Jung.
If our ego is created as a reflection of the world I am not surprised I became a fear-based person. Our world encourages fear. We eat it up on the news every night. Mass shootings, recessions, pandemics. In the ad breaks we’re sold the fear of not being good enough so we can then buy the antidote. What are we all searching for?
We've been sold the lie that salvation exists with everything the ego chases such as money, approval and status. We spend our lives building in the wrong direction, worshipping a false light advertisers have associated with the divine. Even though we know the people who have all these things are not happy, we are still willing to look anywhere but inside ourselves for… simply everything.
We avoid looking inside for the same reason we avoid checking our bank balance the morning after a night out - too scary. To look inside is to be faced with truths about ourselves, and in a culture that preaches ignorance is bliss we prefer to run instead. This is why meditation is so goddamn hard. Seriously, why is it so fucking hard to sit with your thoughts for five minutes a day? Everybody has five minutes. If you don't believe me, check your screen time.
Many of the truths we run from are aspects of ourselves we have rejected. This can be anything from a personality trait we don’t like to a painful memory from our past. Historic psychologist Carl Jung says we repress these aspects into the unconscious mind to form what he calls the ‘shadow self’. The ego, on the other hand, represents the conscious mind. It consists only of the aspects of ourselves that we do accept. It is the self we choose to identify with.
Forced to reside in the broom closet of our minds, we have deemed our own souls uninhabitable.
The first thing I learnt in meditation is to forgive and love everything I see. Every truth brings me closer to uncovering who I am and so is cause for celebration, not judgement. Unfortunately our natural reaction is to judge, and so most of us never take the time to meet our shadow selves. That is, unless we get too drunk. And how do we welcome that new truth about ourselves the next day? #forgiveandlove
The reason we reject ourselves is because we’ve been taught to. Author Don Miguel Ruiz Jr writes in his book The Mastery of Self that from the moment we are born we become ‘domesticated’. Through reward and punishment we are taught the acceptable way to behave in our society. Through reward we learn which aspects of our personality to encourage and through punishment we learn which to reject.
The sad truth is our world is not a very accepting place. We are taught it is wrong to be fat, promiscuous, poor, gay or different, just to name a few, and so to identify with any one of these things causes us to self reject. Once we agree with an ideal (such as it is bad to be fat) the voice of judgement transfers into our own mind where we begin to judge and censor ourselves. This is called ‘self domestication.’ We then become unable to accept ourselves unless we live up to the expectations we have adopted from others.
An example of this is the current standard of beauty that exists in our culture today. If you look in the mirror and see many things you don’t like about yourself, you are self domesticating. You have created your own idea of perfection for yourself and find it hard to accept yourself for anything less. You use self love as a reward by granting it only once you achieve your goals and self hate as a punishment for when you don’t.
I was so programmed by this ideal that for years I lived with eating disorders and a constant belief my life would start in 5kg time. This time never came despite what goals I hit, and it makes me so sad to think of all the time and energy of my youth I wasted on something so meaningless as my appearance. It makes me so mad to think the only reason I hated myself so much is because someone else taught me to. Society has really let us down. Eventually I realised this mindset served me no benefit at all, but only harmed, and in order to let it go I had to accept the hard truth that I am perfect exactly where I am right now.
Ruiz says the solution to domestication is unconditional love. If you can love and accept yourself exactly how you are right now you no longer need to be or do anything to be worthy of your own love. This idea that we must do something before being worthy doesn't just apply to body image. We each have career goals, materialistic goals and romantic goals we feel we must achieve in order to feel complete because to accept we are perfect exactly where we are right now feels like blasphemy.
This is one of the many ways in which fear was running my life. My motivation for being ‘healthy’ was never love for my body, but fear of not being good enough. The fear of not being good enough had become the driving force behind so many of my life choices, and it is in this way I had become a slave to fear.
In an effort to regain control I made the conscious decision to defy my ego and follow my heart instead, and Self Love is the New Drug is the adventure I went on when I made this commitment to myself. Love always felt like the natural opposite to fear as every decision in my life seemed to come down to a crossroads between the two - fear or love, head or heart, ego or Self.
Following my heart meant coming face to face with fear, and I learnt a lot about how to overcome this emotion. Professor Lupin told Harry Potter he was wise for fearing nothing more than fear itself, and maybe there's something to that. Despite what form fear takes in its essence it is always the same. Fear is simply a shapeshifter, like a boggart in Harry Potter, or Ditto in Pokemon. Likewise, fear can always be defeated in the same way. Courage is a choice - you must choose to accept (if not welcome) the worst case scenario.
At first facing fear was just consequential. For example, if I wanted to start my own business I had no choice but to overcome the fear of failing publicly. But soon I began to understand the benefits that came from overcoming fear. Once I saw how much it held me back in life I began to use fear as a tool, a beacon in the darkness that could lead me to growth. Anything that made me feel scared I forced myself to take on. I joined new groups of people. I faced confrontation with friends. I put myself in drag. I started smoking weed and taking psilocybin again. I dyed my hair vibrant colours. I pushed the boundaries on my personal style and posted whatever the fuck I wanted to online. I started swimming in the ocean every single day, even in winter. I even joined a group of psychos who like to sit in ice baths.
“Slay the dragon in his lair before he comes to your village.” - Jordan Peterson.
Everytime I overcame a fear I felt like I was setting myself free. What all of this taught me is that I am stronger than my mind. Fear always felt like an oppressive darkness weighing over me, seemingly unconquerable, but I by facing fear showed me my power. In fact I realised that fear only ever had power over me because I handed it my power. Really it was only ever my power it had.
Jung said negative emotions such as fear, shame and guilt can lead us to our shadow. Jung calls this active exploration of the shadow self ‘shadow work’. By exploring these emotions instead of avoiding them we are able to uncover the aspects of ourselves we once rejected. Doing so gives us the opportunity to love and accept them again, and this helps transfer the unconscious mind into the conscious.
Some of the things that made me feel scared really surprised me. For example, the thought of having meaningful conversations with my parents. I wanted to tell them how much I appreciated them and open up more about my life, but every time I thought about doing so I would convince myself I would do it ‘later’. There was no reason for this resistance as my parents have always been very loving and accepting, and since having these conversations we have opened better channels of communication. In the choice between love or fear this one was a no-brainer, and I'm glad I had these realisations sooner rather than later as every day time ticks by and ‘later’ is never promised.
Another fear I realised that was always holding me back was the fear of what other people would think of me. This surprised me, as I always thought I lived in defiance of this, yet it affected almost every area of my life. Fear of rejection from society is understandable - throughout the evolution of mankind acceptance into the tribe has been paramount for our survival. But it is 2022 and we still carry outdated ideals we inherited from our ancestors like a bad hangover.
This fear was always strongest anytime I thought about sharing my art. For some reason self expression is something we tend to judge so harshly in our world. There’s this unspoken rule that we're only allowed to share our art once it has reached a certain level of excellence, and so we’ve learnt to keep ourselves to ourselves. How many of us keep the raps we write in our phones a secret, feel uncomfortable using the word ‘beautiful’, or find it impossible to sing our absolute hardest even in front of ourselves? Who the fuck taught us to hate the sound of our own voice?
Possibly the hardest thing I’ve had to do on my journey is publish my blog under my real name and not anonymously. To reveal your art is to reveal your soul in its most vulnerable form, and social media is the modern platform upon which we open ourselves up for acceptance or rejection from the world. But social media can be whatever we want it to be. It can be a place of community and connection, a place we go to feel good about ourselves. Since I’ve shared my blog I’ve had so many people reach out to me to tell me they feel the same way, some of them strangers. I used to always struggle with feeling seen, but I'm not sure how I ever expected to feel ‘seen’ when I never revealed who I was. If you want to see my soul, just check out my Instagram.
Who you are is not defined by other people, and their judgement of you is just a projection of their own fears. We judge people who are different to us because they make us question if we should be like them. We judge people who embody the aspects of ourselves we have rejected because we can’t stand to see our own shadow. We judge to create a hierarchy and place ourselves as superior because really we feel inferior. I’ve learnt to pity those who judge you, for it correlates with how they judge themselves.
Eventually I stopped caring what other people thought of me. I stopped censoring my personality to ensure people wouldn’t think I was fat, loud, attention seeking, self-absorbed, talking shit, or handed a good life that no one knew anything about, but I did still care if people thought I was a good person or not. I hated the feeling of misrepresenting myself and would always end up trying to prove I was a good person.
The truth is no matter what you do some people are going to think you are shit. And sometimes you have to be. Sometimes you have to fuck up and make moral mistakes and contradict yourself in order to grow. Sometimes you have to be a cunt to draw a boundary. Other times you just don't know what the right thing to do is until you make the mistake. People either have faith in you as a person or they don't, and if they don't, you don't need them in your life. Letting go of them leaves space for new people to come in, and at the end of the day it is only your approval that matters.
When you care what other people think of you you put yourself at their feet for their approval. That’s what they want. That’s why they judge - to feel powerful. I realised it was some of the people closest to me whom I felt most judged by. I realised I surrounded myself with people like this because I was unconsciously seeking redemption through them. It was like I needed them to approve of me because if they could approve of me, then I could approve of me. Eventually I learnt to approve of myself, and once I did, these relationships simply ‘fell’ away.
“Love is the absence of judgement.” - The Dalai Lama.
Eventually I stopped taking on every fear just for the principle. Ruiz says if you attempt to undo a domestication by always doing its opposite then you are still being controlled by it, and I can see how I fell victim to this. Sometimes it is unnecessary to face a fear to learn the lesson. Other times your fears are legitimate and you should listen to them. For example, you really shouldn’t post whatever the fuck you want to online.
While some fears are legitimate, vast majority of them are imaginary and represent more of a threat to your ego rather than your actual life. In general, I know my fear tends to come from my mind while truth comes from my heart. It takes time to distinguish between the two. In meditation, I know fear is anything that distracts me from breath or pulls me off centre.
Chasing fear often led me back to some deeper pain, some trauma from my past that I had long since buried. It is for this reason you shouldn’t force yourself to face all fears. Some fears need time to heal and it is important you give yourself that time. While facing the shadow is not an easy thing to do, it is important you do so. Without consciousness your shadow will continue to influence your life, and perhaps worse still, it will continue to influence the way you treat others. For example, we all know the ‘fuck boy’ is probably the person hurting the most in this world.
Often the monster in the darkness is really just a screaming baby, an unhealed wound whom needs love. The truth is we all have pain in our hearts, but despite who caused your pain it is your responsibility to heal it else the pain might spill out onto others and hurt them. Because the truth is no one is coming to save us, no matter how loud we scream in self destruction.
Sometimes I wonder if all acts of human evil are simply just people acting out of fear. Within myself I can see it is my fears that cause me to act immorally, such as when I gossip because I feel insecure. It is the ego that justifies why we can do bad things. I have learnt not to take other people's egos personally. By understanding my own ego I have been better able to understand others and help contribute to that judgement-free world we so aspire to. #forgiveandlove
It is difficult not to demonise the ego or hate the very thoughts in my mind, but I am too far down the path of self love to hate anything internal. Fear will always be there, the same way light cannot exist without darkness. I have learnt the best way to coexist with my fears is to focus on the positives they bring. For example, fear can help guide me to growth, and it can offer the resistance upon which I can strengthen myself against. Even Jung said the shadow possesses a number of good qualities, such as “normal instincts, appropriate reactions [and] creative impulses”. By viewing my fears in such a way I am able to see them as an ally rather than an enemy.
Likewise, the ego is usually formed at some stage of our development to protect us, and it usually has our best interest at heart. The problem with the ego is it doesn't know when to retire. Without conscious intervention it is unable to recognise when it does more harm than good. The ego is must learn to step down from its reign as inner tyrant and take its place as humble advisor, where it better serves. It must step aside and allow the new thoughts that are forming to rise up and take its place, understanding that eventually these too will need to be discarded. Respect your youth.
“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.” - Carl Jung.
I still have fears that feel too large to conquer. I still get scared that I will never find my soulmate or that I will never realise the ‘potential’ I know I am capable of. I still care what people think of me and I still feel guilty pretty much every single time I eat food But I choose not to engage with these thoughts anymore. I choose not to believe in them, and this is exactly where my power comes from - this choice. Once you become aware of a thought it looses so much power over you as you get to choose if you agree with it or not. And if not, you get to choose where to go instead.
“I still have my neurosis, they have just become irrelevant.” - Ram Dass.
In this way I believe awareness solves half of any problem. You don’t have to be meditating to become aware of your thoughts. You can check in on them at any time of day, such as when you are at a red light. By watching your thoughts you create a space between you and them, and this takes away their power. I like to categorise my thoughts with funny names to help trivialise them further. For example, ‘Gertrude’ is the voice that tells me I'm not good enough, ‘Patricia’ is always planning my life and ‘Clancy’ is always rehearsing conversations before they happen. All miscellaneous thoughts I have lumped together to form ‘Harry the Cat’. As Professor Lupin said, “Riddikulus!”
And so we return to our original question, "Who am I?" I think to find who you are is to find who you are not, and the more I strip away my ego piece by piece the more of who I really am is able to shine through from beneath. Who I am can only best be described by a feeling, a feeling that is most present when my mind is still. Over time I’ve begun to identify more as the observer of my thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves, and this came with changes to my sense of self that are impossible to articulate.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” - Lao Tzu.
My internal monologue has changed. The way I see life has changed. I used to always feel like the world was pushing down on me, but now I feel like I push out on the world. There has been a sense of ‘growing up’, as if so much of my sense of self was once anchored around the pains from my past. A sunny optimism has returned that I haven’t had since I was a child, and I feel like I am remembering how I saw life back then. Put simply - I’ve become happier. I've reached a new level of happiness so foreign to me that I’m not sure how to navigate it.
That’s not to say this path has been easy. The journey is incredibly hard as you are forced to accept one painful truth after another. In 2021 I went through a depression I didn’t know I was capable of, and in our first session my psychologist told me it sounded like I was grieving. And I was. I was mourning my old life. I was mourning my old self. Every step towards this life has meant a step away from the old, and for a long time I walked this path begrudgingly, almost backwards.
There comes a certain point on the journey when you just have to surrender. You have to be willing to let go of it all - the life you can see for yourself 50 years down the track, the people who cannot come with you, your very sense of self. You have to be willing to give it all up for something seemingly small - you.
But something happens when you make this decision. Something happens when you decide you are worth it. Suddenly you find that all the things you were searching for externally - like purpose, fulfilment and meaning - were inside of you all along. You find these things inside of you because this is exactly what your reward is - you. Your reward for looking inside is the ability to uncover and learn who you are, and the more you love what you see, the greater your reward. Your purpose is YOU.
Perhaps what the reward really is is love. Because the more I break down my fears, the more love I am able to experience within myself. The more I break apart my own ego, the more love I am able to experience between myself and others. Perhaps all we are in our essence is simply love, and fear and ego are just illusions of separation we have created to protect us from this love.
“To love is to recognise yourself in another.” - Eckhart Tolle.
Perhaps we fear love because nothing hurts more. We have all felt the pain that comes from loosing something we love, and everything we love we are destined to loose. Perhaps it is our innate understanding of our own mortality that causes us to fear love because we know that one day we are going to loose it all. Perhaps we look for reasons to hate each other so we can lessen the pain. Perhaps we even hate ourselves so when the day comes when we must part with our own lives we can almost welcome it as a relief.
Resisting love does not save us from pain, it keeps us trapped in it, as a life without love is suffering. If love is indeed what we are in our essence, then a life without love keeps us disconnected with ourselves. And perhaps this is what we want. Perhaps we fear love because love will show us who we are. Love will burn away the ego, illuminate the shadow and destroy all fears. Our relationships with our loved ones will reflect us back to us. Meditating, singing, talking to our parents - these things will lead us back to who we truly are, and perhaps this is what we fear the most.
Perhaps our greatest fear, the thing we fear the most, is ourselves.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Marianne Williams.
Alas, there is hope. The cure is your heart.
1 - Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Introduction, New World Library, 1999.
2 - Jung, C & Beatrice, H. Psychology of the Unconscious: A Study of the Transformations and Symbolism of the Libido, a Contribution to the History of the Evolution of Thought, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1921.
3 - Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Mastery of Life: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom. Hierophant Publishing, 2021.
4 - [CW9 paras 422 & 423]5 - Dass, Ram. Be Here Now. Lama Foundation, 1978.