How Fear Feeds on Attention

Inside my First and Second degree bubble, everything lives by satisfying needs. An unsatisfied need can trigger a sense of suffering, which can present as fear. The more attention I pay to a need, the more energy I invest in its satisfaction because I fear suffering.

Could fear be the result of imagining what might happen if a need isn’t satisfied? In this way, could fear feed on my attention? Might I create a feed situation when what I give attention to turns into an unsatisfied need? Could I be causing my own suffering?

My fear-need process seems to be a circular awareness path in which I:

  1. …sense an unsatisfied need and then –>
  2. fear suffering because of it and then –>
  3. pay attention to the fear and so –>
  4. take ineffective action that falls short of satisfaction and –>
  5. pay some emotional energy and–>
  6. return awareness back to item 1 above…

Unfulfilled needs lead to fear of suffering that leads to unfulfilled needs that lead to more fear. Note how often I pay in the cycle above. Pay, pay, pay – feed, feed, feed. Out of control – it’s a fear feeding frenzy!

Perhaps fear is like a parasite, feeding on its host’s energy through attention. Could fear prize attention as its reward? As I seek to satisfy my need to avoid suffering, might I draw more suffering by attending to the demands of fear? Am I evolving according to the fears I attend to most?

How does fear feed on attention?

Perhaps an analogy might assist in the understanding how fear feeds on attention.

Fire fighters pull up to a burning building. A window in an adjacent building reflects the raging fire. The fire chief erroneously points his crew’s hose at the reflection rather than at the burning building. Obviously, the water poured on the window fails to extinguish the fire. Despite the amount of water the fire fighters apply to the window, the fire continues to grow. The greater the fire grows, the greater the image in the window and the more the fire fighters’ attention to it.

The fire fighters are doing what they know is the right thing to do even though their efforts are ineffective. Until the chief questions their actions, he may not recognize the error. A very wet window and a very burned-down building will be the result.

Fighting Ghosts

How many times have I done what I knew would work and felt the sting of frustration when it didn’t?!! Maybe I was hosing down a window – a reflection. Perhaps my fear is a reflection that draws my precious attention away from effective action. The image of what I feared sucked my energy away from taking effective action on the object of that fear.

How do I beat my fears? One, perhaps useful, way is to recognize them for what they are: ghosts, figments of imagination, reflections. Unreal. No matter what I fear, that fear is a ghost – not the object it reflects. No amount of attention poured on the fear window will put out the fire it reflects.

Like the fire chief who directs his forces at the window while the building burns down, I can continue to attend to my fears as I have – enjoying a fullness of frustration. Or I might reconsider by recognizing the ghost for what it is – a reflection – and asking, “What else?”

  • What unfulfilled need does this fear reflect to me?
  • How do I feel about that need? (particularly, where and how in my body do I feel it?)
  • Why is my attention drawn to this need (and not another)?
  • Who has the power of intention to redirect their attention? (I do!)

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