Fear is the memory of danger. It serves a purpose, often keeping us out of danger like not touching a red hot stove top, but in many ways it’s a dinosaur. The fight or flight response of fear is a hangover from ancient times when people had to avoid flying spears and hungry mammoths. It created the urgency to act before thinking. Life doesn’t hold the same dangers for most of us now, and yet our brains still hold the same capacity for fear. Our challenge is to separate healthy fear from unhealthy fear. This is part of the process of photoshopping memories- updating the information and reframing the challenges behind fear.

Healthy fear gets you out of the path of a speeding car, and checks in with the doctor about a strange lump. Unhealthy fear is F.E.A.R, false evidence that appears real but is mostly a fabrication of the reptilian brain and the ego that wants to keep you imprisoned in your own mind, unwilling to be fully alive because it’s too risky to venture out. Overcome this unhealthy fear, and you will wake up to an inner security that will put external threats in a new perspective.

TS Elliot said, “I will show your fear in a handful of dust.” 9-11 showed us fear in a skyline of dust, an urban wasteland. Twelve years later, the dust has settled, but the fear remains for many. Unfortunately, some politicians, most branches of the media and too much religion tap into the reptilian fear impulse and encourage unhealthy fear. Whole systems of so called security are established to create the façade of safety. One of the ways we can photoshop the awful memories of 9/11 is to update some of our information and reframe our workdview.

I flew out of American on Christmas Day, 2009, the same day that the famed “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped explosives to his underwear and attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit airport. As a result, I passed through the tightest air travel security regimen that the world has ever seen. Countless hours and dollars were poured into patting down 7 year old girls wheeling Dora the Explorer backpacks full of Christmas toys and crayons. (I always thought there was something fishy about Dora, her evil side-kick Boots and that cunning talking map.)

Update your information about air travel. If you look at the total number of passengers on planes in the last decade, the odds of being on a flight with a terrorist incident is 1 in 10 million. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are 1 in 500,000. Here is a stark way to reframe the events of 9/11. You are more likely to die from falling out of bed than as the victim of a terrorist on a plane. Or to reframe this in a positive context. Your odds of finding true and lasting inner peace skyrocket when you rid your mind of irrational fears.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to have air travel security measures. We need to take precautions. But there is a world of difference between precautions and paranoia. A precaution is taking a cell phone and GPS on a long car trip. Paranoia is not leaving your home. There are few things in life we desire more than security, and yet it is often like chasing the wind. Just when you think you’ve caught it, another gust comes up from behind and knocks you down. Security has an elusive charm that keeps you searching but can leave you vulnerable to surprise attacks and missed opportunity.

Security is tightened at major national airports, leaving the gate open for someone to enter the system in one of the smaller, less secure, airports. It’s like double dead bolting your front door, but leaving the side French Windows wide open. There are gaps in the border walls to Mexico. There are loopholes to laws and tax systems. Bottom line, there is no perfect security system. You can surround yourself with the greatest military might on the planet and still not feel secure.

After twelve years of tightened security measures, do you feel safer on an airplane? Maybe. But at what cost? While so much focus is on air travel, what other security threats are being ignored? The ultimate question is- Are you prepared to sacrifice personal liberty for the illusion of security?

As long as you frame life against an expectation of security, you will never feel safe. When you frame your life and memories against a backdrop of freedom and personal responsibility, you will be at peace. To live is to risk. To love is to risk. To risk is to surrender. To surrender is to find peace of mind.

Updating memories with new information is one step in reframing traumatic memories. The chance of something happening on an airplane is slim. The risk in visiting New York City is negligible. People wearing turbans are no more or less dangerous than those without turbans. If 9-11 teaches us anything, surely it is to live while you are alive, and not allow the illusion of security and the frame of fear to hold you captive.

F.E.A.R- come back to the false evidence part of the equation. Change the frame.

There is a parable about a man who wakes up in the middle of the night to find a poisonous snake coiled next to his leg at the foot of his bed. He lies awake all night, frozen in terror, praying that the snake won’t bite him. As dawn breaks, and light begins to shine on his bed, he finally realizes that it’s not a snake at all. It’s a belt he forgot to put away when he went to bed. Once he knows the truth, the snake disappears, the memory of the night is reframed, the fear is gone and he is filled with relief.

Until he had seen the light, so to speak, his imagination got the better of him and he imagined his own demise at the hands of the snake. When you shine a light on the memories and call them what they are, you can make unconscious emotions conscious and reframe false evidence.

This is one of the ways we can honor the loss of 9/11. Call it what it was, but not more than that. It was the tragic loss of life at the hands of a few extremists. Insane people with insane beliefs can knock buildings down and kill people to further their agenda, but they can’t win inside your head and heart which is the engine room of your life, unless you let them. Choose love over fear.

The choice is there for each one of us- continue to reenact the fear, and you will live your life in a bomb shelter of your own mind. In this case the terrorists win. Or else put events of the past in perspective, and reclaim your power. Live with courage, which is not the absence of fear but the choice to proceed despite the fear. Sometimes your worst fear becomes your greatest opportunity.

Where do you find the strength to persist despite the fear? This simple story illustrates a profound truth. A mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther, so the magician turned it into a panther. Then it was full of fear for the hunter. At this point, the magician gave up. He turned it into a mouse again saying, “Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.”

Have the heart of a peaceful warrior and nothing outside of you can conquer you. Therefore there is very little to fear. You nurture the heart of a peaceful warrior with the rock solid inner stillness that accepts change without attaching to outcomes.

The stage is set for an incredible evolutionary leap beyond reptilian fear and you and I are a part of this shift. As more people make a choice to live with inner freedom and personal responsibility, the very DNA that defines our fear impulse will be recoded. As we reframe the ego’s insatiable desire for security, we will stop looking for things that don’t exist and start truly living while we are alive. This is the greatest way to honor the loss of 9-11.

Let these words from Native American poet, Joy Harjo sink deeply in. She writes from her personal experience of fear. Change the details to match your experience, but keep the essence of her message.

I Give You Back
By Joy Harjo

I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear.
I release you.
You were my beloved and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you as myself.
I release you with all the pain I would know at the death of my daughters.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the white soldiers who burned down my home, beheaded my children, raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.

I give you back to those who stole the food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold these scenes in front of me and I was born with eyes that can never close.

I release you, fear, so you can no longer keep me naked and frozen in the winter, or smothered under blankets in the summer.

I release you I release you I release you I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved,
to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice my belly, or in my heart
my heart my heart my heart.

But come here, fear.
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.

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  1. [...] memories, by making the choice for love over fear, by upgrading your information and awareness and reframing your memories. Of course it’s just an analogy, and an imperfect one, but it’s a visual starting point. You [...]

  2. [...] truly honor 9/11, be part of the solution. Heal the memories. Create meaning with your life. Love without fear. Believe that change is possible, as more and more people set aside the things that divide with [...]

  3. [...] friend Ian Lawton puts the topic to rest. Have the heart of a peaceful warrior and nothing outside of you can conquer you. Therefore there [...]

  4. gumbootsally says:

    That is brilliant! absolutely brilliant 
    Thank you  

  5. ian says:

    thank you Sally

  6. Curt Bizelli says:

    I stopped reading at “Fear is a memory of danger” …. Does a newborn baby not fear? hmm?

  7. ian says:

    hi Curt, if a newborn baby has fear it is likely a survival instinct, which is very much a memory of danger IMHO. Thx for commenting.

  8. Missy says:

    Wow. That was amazing. Thank you.

  9. Tim Graham says:

    hi Ian, I’d like to share a poem I wrote about fear;

    Fear is Fire’s cousin
    A servant good
    A master cruel
    Fear is Fire’s cousin
    A master only given fuel.

    Fear is Fire’s cousin
    A servant good
    A master cruel
    Fear is Fire’s cousin
    A servant only given rule.

    Fear is Fire’s cousin
    An opportunity for renewal.

  10. ian says:

    thanks Tim- LOVE it

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  12. Wonderful post, Ian. I love the term, False EvidenceAppearing Real. I have heard that in recovery circles. I have also heard f___ everything and run. That was me, until I learned to face my fears. I have to face them daily, sometimes, and when I do, it always leads to peace within.  I like that you faced square-on the issue of terrorism and the chances of it happening to us. The government and politicians continue to keep that fear alive, and yet, I know of no one in my circles who is afraid of this. I wish more felt that absence of fear. I recently did a 2-part series on fear also. Check it out on my blog if you’re interested. :) 

    Carolyn CJ Jones
    http://www.gatelady.com 

  13. ian says:

    WIll do Carolyn. Glad to connect

  14. lisa says:

    Terrorist actions are not always publicized by the FAA and Homeland Security…there are many incidents which TSA do Not make known, which Are Threats. Do not get yourself into a false sense of security just because you do not hear of it in the news…just because there is no one listed in Megans list, a sex offender list,   living in your neighborhood does not mean there are not any predators out there…they just haven’t been caught yet. There have been attempts on airports. Just not publicized.

  15. Beatrice says:

    This is a great post! Very well-written and quite interesting! :)

  16. Fear, itself, is the enemy, yet will never be conquered by the sword, but by graceful surrender.
    Bauke @wyrde

  17. Wow,  I really enjoy this article, and the poem is amazing. Thanks!!

  18. Kim says:

    every time I read your blog, it feels like you’ve saved my life! thank you

  19. In memory of my son Lee who died in 1986 from a drowning.

    “A Trail With No Fear”
    The beginning of the trail,  my path has been shown,
    By the love of your sunshine,  Oh! Chief so refined,
    For the visions of the light,  from your sun and your moon,
    To guide me in daytime and also at night,
    My new life has a sunrise… even after the sunset,
    For you’ve given me vision,
    My life need not fret.
     
    Oh! Chief of the heavens, my dreams are so clear,
    For as long as the moon glows and the sun it appears,
    The rain cleans my memory and trees give me shade,
    The warmth of the sun’s rays keeps me warm when I’m cold,
    My heart has no room for the past and its fears,
    For the love of music from the birds I can hear.
     
    Oh! Chief of my future and chief of my dreams,
    As long as these visions appear in my eyes,
    Through the love of the heavens and the beautiful skies,
    I know there’s a future and always a part,
    For my dreams to be real in my soul and my heart,
    In the light of day and the dark of night,
    The visions, I travel by my soul filled with light,
    By your words, whispered softly,
    By you sounds pure and clear,
    To follow the vision
    Of a trail with no fear…………………………
     
    Deborah Berry © 1993

  20. http://www.EmpowerYourLifeBook.com  After my son died in 1986 I began to understand life in a new way. In 1997 I had a car accident on the anniversary of my son falling into the swimming pool. 28th February, with in the same time. I sustained brain injury and disabilities. Understanding fear and living with serious injury to the brain has given me a deeper understanding on a totally different level to accept change and conquering fear. Fear is an amazing tool to remold and transform through. Its an opportunity to rebuild yourself like a super hero. Please come and join me at my website and radio show “Tea with Kindred Souls”. Walk in time with similar minds and passionate people who inspire, guide and represent a true force for freedom. One that starts within you. In the meantime be kind to yourself and be at peace. Deborah Berry.

  21. Bethany says:

    As someone who has suffered panic attacks since age 17, I had always run from them, never even acknowledging that the frightening feeling I had was something that others didn’t typically feel. Until recently, when I decided to unleash myself and confront the fear that had been pulsating throughout my blood and determining my every move. Now, I still have fear, but just like the poem depicted, I have set it free. I no longer hold on to it, and it no longer holds onto me. Thank you for the article. Very powerful and guiding.

  22. Bud Honse says:

    I intended to post you one little remark to help thank you very much the moment again on the fantastic suggestions you’ve discussed here. It’s shockingly generous with people like you to provide unhampered precisely what a few individuals would’ve marketed for an e book to make some dough for themselves, mostly considering that you could possibly have done it in the event you decided. Those advice in addition served to become easy way to fully grasp other people have the identical fervor much like my personal own to learn many more with respect to this problem. I’m sure there are a lot more enjoyable sessions up front for those who scan your blog.

  23. Tim Iacuzio says:

    Hello.This article was extremely fascinating, particularly since I was looking for thoughts on this issue last couple of days.

  24. Anne Turner says:

    this article was very interestin and informative .

  25. Phillip says:

    As always, great article once again, Ian. I’m beginning to think that according to Jungian thought,our fear instinct may be a product of our “shadow: side. Great piece, and very imformative.

  26. Nandi says:

    I don’t know HOW to let fear go? I always seem to come back to it in some way?

  27. ian says:

    First accept it Nandi. Don’t resist it or you will add another layer of fear- the fear of fear. Acceptance surprises fear because it feeds off resistance. Once your fear is off guard, you can question it and reframe its speculative ideas. Do it again and again when it arises.

  28. Noreen says:

    Thanks Ian! Reading this article is a great way to start my day.

  29. I served in the U.S. Air Force for four years, logged many hours on aerovac planes. When my time was up and I got out I still loved to fly. After 911, I have not been able to look at a plane…until after reading your no hold barred and compassionate, logical look at life. thank you

  30. Anthony Ellis says:

    Hi Ian. Lovely post, thanks.
    If you’re interested in the “Security theater” at airports then check out Bruce Schneier’s blog (http://www.schneier.com/) – the guy really knows what he’s talking about. He may even have coined the term.

    As for fear, I recently got a handle on handling it – I actively recognize that the feeling in my body was merely a physical manifestation of a thought – and that the thought had no validity, no truth to it.
    If you look at the source of the thought its often the case that its based on uncertainty – fear of the unknown and what could happen. If you can accept that uncertainty is an integral part of life and relax into that then it can help with the fear.
    This works for me anyway – when anxiety bites I no longer give it the power to cripple me.
    Its only taken 48 years to get to this point though

    Namaste!

  31. [...] squarely at them and see if they are imagined or appropriate. Here is a quote from the site “Soulseeds that speaks to this issue:” Healthy fear gets you out of the path of a speeding car, and [...]