Roberto Assagioli wrote “Obstacles to Spiritual Development: Fear,” in Transpersonal Development (Crucible, 1991), pp. 169-172, declaring that intellectual obstacles to spiritual development such as skepticism and doubts are often symptoms of deeper emotional obstacles such as fears, which are “based on ignorance or error,” and these require spiritual solutions. He categorizes 5 main forms of fear and relates them to instincts: fear of death from the instinct of self-preservation; fear of loneliness from a sense of incompleteness and the sexual drive; fear of isolation, weakness, and insecurity going to the herd instinct; fear of not being recognized leading to excessive self-affirmation; and fear of the unknown leading to curiosity.
Sufficient psychological development lets the mind exert control over the emotions and transform them, and therapists use several techniques to help the mind to this. Psychoanalysis explores our experience, seeks out and brings the roots of fear to our present consciousness, which diminishes their power and hold on us as present fear. Physical activities and sport, directing the imagination elsewhere, use of humor, cultivating positive emotions, affirmation, and training the imagination to go through the feared event over and over in our mind before it happens until we no longer feel afraid of it, are various simple ways to help resolve fears.
Spiritual solutions to fears are more permanent because they deal with the root causes. The resurrection robs death of its finality and lessens or evaporates fear of it. Becoming aware of participating in the life flowing from God reveals isolation as the illusion it is, and deliberate acceptance of communion with God, others, life, and one’s own inner self, evaporates loneliness. This growing awareness of one’s “true spiritual nature” and of one’s inner strengths disintegrates fear of failure and inadequacy. Seeing that ills we fear often don’t happen is a help, and knowing that the energy to overcome them will come to us when we need it mitigates our fear of the unknown. Wisdom, true spiritual awareness as intimate, direct intuition of life and identifying our being with it “overcomes the limitations of separate consciousness” and replaces fear of the future with joy and freedom.
In pages 88-92 of The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels Year A, John Shea interprets the text as Jesus drawing us away from anxiety to gift consciousness. Realizing we are gifted by God, anxiety will diminish. I agree, but sense the text is opening us a further possibility, which doesn’t seem practical. The more we dedicate ourselves to the
C.F.D. Moule in “Punishment and Retribution: An Attempt to Delimit Their Scope in New Testament Thought.” in Essays in New Testament Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, 1982) argues that these two terms, as well as reward, sacrifice, and atonement, are really leftovers from the Old Testament Law. I don’t agree, on the grounds of Jesus’ statement that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Depending on how we live our lives, we either come under the effects of the law, or under the effects of Jesus new law of love. For an unhealthy person to "deny themselves and follow Jesus", they probably need to get more sleep, exercise, and proper diet, rather than do all kinds of fasting and penances. For a healthy person to "deny themselves and follow Jesus", they will probably progress by judicious practice of fasting and penances. The first has to pay better attention to the law (of nature), while the second is ready to go beyond to the law of love and self-denial.
In personal development there is a threshold between the psyche and the spirit which can most clearly be described as what separates preoccupation with the self from solicitude for others, or struggle for health from the quest for holiness or transcendence. The neurotic confuses the quest and needs help to see and live it in terms of health. You can't give your life out of love if you don't have a life to begin with. For a neurotic person spending too much time running after supernatural “goodies” while neglecting family duties, self denial could be to cut back on the running and be more attentive to family; while self denial for a healthy person could very well include ascetical pious practices in the church.
I believe that is why Jesus denounced sin strongly when He preached but was so compassionate to those sinners who came to Him. Those who are neglecting the basics need to begin at the beginning; whereas those who have progressed enough to know they need forgiveness and come to Jesus are beyond the minimal requirements of the law. There is a basic truth as lowest common denominator; so the Law remains – with its rewards and punishments – for all who have yet to rise above the threshold of self-preoccupation to solicitude for others. In the realm of love, all takes on a different perspective intended by Jesus: those who leave preoccupation with self, worry, fear, and anxiety behind, are free to look at Jesus and see - perhaps for the first time - their neighbor, and discover that all is gift in the Father’s love, in the new life of the Spirit.
In “On Being Open and Closed,” in Spirituality and Human Nature (Suny), Donald Evans notes that a closed person, unlike the open person in touch with the limitless abundance of life and energy of which he is a part in creation, suffers impressions of scarcity and so becomes preoccupied with power and status and is closed even from the self. The open person is in touch with self at all levels, even the body, with others, all creatures, and with God, with a deep sense of participating intimately in the flow of life energies within and all around and even feels a kinship with living things, free to face sins and limits, to grow, and enjoy life with expansiveness.
The closed person tends to focus on its activity and interests as though there are no others, whereas the open person intensely commits to personal projects but recognizes the value of other people’s projects in a way that increases their own abundance. As the Gospel says, to the one who has even more will be given, but the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The closed person needs to put the self at the center of the universe, whereas the open person is simply glad to be part of it. During our vulnerable and closed times we tend to inflate ourselves to fill in our vacant sense of self, and it takes compassion, forgiveness, and kindness to our self to ease out of that darkness back into the light, where we are part of the abundance of life in all creation and can draw from it, as well as share it with others. There is value to my presence and participation, to my life. When closed, out of fear of emptiness and irrelevance, we imagine illusions of expansiveness and limitations, but when open, we enter into true expansiveness and know our real limitations.
Closed, I aim for self-sufficiency, but open, I am able and willing to be “parented” by others and in my turn to “parent” still others. Closed, my altruism is motivated by my own need to matter and be recognized, but open, I am able and willing to empty myself, to pour myself out for others, like Christ. Closed, I do for others to exhaustion and then retreat in utter selfishness to take care of myself or “lick my wounds”; but when open, I enter into communion with others through my serving, able to receive as well as give, and find my life energies renewed. In openness, my solitude is not an escape from others, but a “participatory solitude” in expansiveness and awareness of others and all living things as “transfigured” or radiant with the life and power of God who is ever sustaining them and me. I sense within me that God’s divine life is the radiant energy of love flowing and radiating through us all, transforming all who are open and receptive. Fear, self-deception, and not having ever experienced in the body the radiance and vitality of life and energy in God, are so many obstacles to overcome, by God's grace.
I can be closed by fascination or obsession with my own experience and feelings, as though there are no other ways of seeing; so that I only see my view, my feelings, and no one else’s, or only see those feelings and views in others that are like mine, or not perceive anything at all of what other people see or feel. At the other extreme, I can hold everyone and everything at a distance and refuse to feel anything at all. In order to really be in touch with reality and experience life fully, we/I need “a sensitive and realistic responsiveness.” There will be shadows and obstacles of closedness, but I need only acknowledge these, with kindness and understanding for myself and others, and I will continue to grow and develop. The key is to notice, sometimes with the help of others, whatever tends to close me in on myself, and go out in the opposite direction, and open up to others and the real life that is all around me and within my depths, where, in faith, I can contemplate this life as God and recognize Him simultaneously in every other human being.
to be continued....