Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Living Philosophy

As important as it is to have a philosophy of life, it is equally as important to have some guidelines for practicing that philosophy. Here is a format that I use every morning to remind myself of my philosophy, to clear my mind and clarify my purpose, to stabilize and harmonize my feelings and emotions, and to relax my body and charge it up for the activities of the day. I do it as if I were a teacher to myself. Sometimes I do it very briefly on a very busy day, but whenever I have the time I work with it for awhile.

Be Aware that the world is what you think it is, so decide what you want to believe today. It is up to you, after all. No one forces you to think in a particular way. It is totally up to you whether you think the world is a place of struggle and pain and danger, or a place of beauty and light and magic. Outside events do not rule how you feel, but the way you interpret them does.

Be Free because there are no limits, so give yourself the right to change your mind. An amazing number of people limit themselves unnecessarily because they feel they don't deserve to be happy or successful, due to something they've done or didn't do in the past. If this is your problem you have to forgive yourself and move on, or forever be bound by the chains you've put around yourself with a lock to which only you have the key. It doesn't matter who else says you don't have the right, or even that you do have the right. You will never have it until you give it to yourself.

Be Focused because energy flows where attention goes, so increase your desire to live the life you choose. You'll probably read this again several times in different forms, but the secret to increasing your desire to live the life you choose is to focus on the benefits of doing that and to decide that those benefits are really important to you. When the benefits become important enough then the focus will be automatic.

Be Here because now is the moment of power, so start right now with some kind of action to be, do, or have what you want. You can't do anything yesterday, and you can't do anything tomorrow. You can only do something right now. But "right now" is like a foreign country to people who spend most of their time dwelling on the past or the future. If you aren't used to it, it isn't easy to stay centered in the present moment, but the way to practice is to consciously breathe, consciously look at colors and shapes, consciously listen to the sounds you can hear, and consciously touch what is in your reach. And then consciously act, even in the smallest way, in a direction of your choice. The past and the future can be interesting places to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there even if you could. Your real home is here and now.

Be Happy because love is the source of power, so enjoy and acknowledge the good that is. If you aren't happy, get happy. How can you do that when so many awful things are going on? Well, "faking it till you make it" is one way, but I'll give you a simpler way that works for me and for thousands of others. A very ancient technique, it's called "count your blessings." You do it by actively seeking out and feeling appreciation for all the good things you can find. This includes all the good experiences you've ever had, no matter how minor they may seem; all the skills you've ever learned, and don't forget walking, talking and dressing; all the beauty and wonder you can discover in the world around you; all the good things that you see and hear about that other people do; and all the good things that you want to experience in the future. I'm not suggesting that you pretend bad things don't exist, because this is a practical teaching, after all. But the more you are filled with an awareness of goodness, the easier it is to deal with the bad.

Be Confident because all power comes from within, so always trust yourself. You can't trust people to always do what you want, because they have their own priorities and agendas which may or may not agree with yours. You can't trust the world to always be the way you want it to be, because there are so many forces and influences at work which may not be moving in the direction you want things to go. But you can always trust that you have the power to change what you can change, adapt when you're unable to make changes, and increase your skills by study and practice. One of the best posters I ever saw was of a sailor at sea in his boat, with a caption that read "You can't control the wind, but you can always adjust your sail."

Be Positive because effectiveness is the measure of success, so always expect the best. Some people believe in preparing for the worst, so they won't get any nasty surprises. There are two problems with that. First, they usually get nasty surprises anyway; and second, they seldom get any good surprises. Other people avoid optimism because they are afraid of being disappointed. Let's take a hard look at that. Disappointment is being unhappy with the way things have turned out. So these people are not planning for success because their plans might not work and then they might feel bad. And they are so afraid of feeling bad that they'd rather not feel good. There's something about that logic that escapes me. Yes, things might not turn out the way you want and you might decide to feel bad. So? If you still want to be effective you try something different and start again. Let me give you a quote from Serge Kahili King: "People don't fail, plans do. People just give up or make new plans."

Friday, September 9, 2016


We put a great deal of emphasis on blessings in our Huna work. The "Aloha Spirit" booklet is all about blessings, as an example, and we begin and end all our meetings and classes and workshops with a blessing of some kind. Ancient Hawaiians blessed their homes, their tools, their canoes, and each other abundantly, and modern Hawaiians and residents of Hawaii still bless homes, offices, hotels and other buildings.

A dictionary definition of blessing is "to will good; to bestow favor and benefits; to praise." Even though blessings can be in the form of material gifts and helpful behavior, our tendency most of the time is to think of blessings in terms of words.

Behind all of this is a belief in two things: the power of words, and the power of good intentions. The power of words is that of helping us to concentrate our intentions. The power of the good intentions themselves has a more esoteric basis. It is essentially an expectation that someone or something will hear and respond to our declaration or our action, whether it's because they've heard it with their physical ears or seen it written with their physical eyes, or because it was telepathically received and acted upon consciously or subconsciously.

A blessing is not the same as a prayer, although a prayer may contain a blessing. Prayers are usually requests (the root of "to pray" means "to ask"), but they can actually take many forms. The famous "Lord's Prayer" of the New Testament (Matthew 6:9-13) uses the following formula, which starts out with praise, then tells God what to do, and ends with praise:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Although most people think of this as asking God for something, that is due to a very modern assumption that when you want something from God you have to ask, as if God might or might not grant your wish. This is not how ancient people prayed, because they knew the importance of confident expectation. Instead, they gave appropriate praise to God, or whatever gods they worshipped, and then laid out in clear, confident terms exactly what they expected God to do. The Book of Psalms is full of this kind of prayer, and one good example is the famous 23rd Psalm.

Blessing is found all over the world in one form or another. In doing a little research I came up with these tidbits of information from the Bible which you may find interesting. These quotes are from the King James version. The first two blessings mentioned in the Bible: 1. Genesis 1:3 - And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 2. Genesis 1:4: And God saw the light, that it was good. The first example of teaching man to bless: Numbers 6:22-26 - And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying "Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying "On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace."

The first request for a blessing (as a material gift) and the first granting of a blessing between people: Judges 1:15 - And she (Achsah, Caleb's daughter) said unto him, Give me a blessing...give me springs of water. And Caleb gave her the...springs.

The first blessing of God by man (Noah): Genesis 9:26 - And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem. However, an alternate translation is, Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem, which would change it to the first blessing given to one man by another on behalf of God. And then the first blessing of God by man (Melchizedek) would be from Genesis 14:20 - Blessed be the most high God.
The first indication of one person blessing another with words: Genesis 14:19 - And he (Melchizedek) blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God.

Insincere blessings: Psalms 62:4 - They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.

First blessing of the New Testament (Sermon on the Mount): Matthew 5:3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The use of a blessing to change reality: Matthew 14:19-21 - And he took the five loaves and the two fishes and looking up to heaven he blessed and brake and gave the loaves to his disciples and the disciples to the multitude....and there remained twelve baskets full...and those that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

The last line of the Bible is a blessing: Rev 22:21 - The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

And from Paul we have this good advice related to blessing: Philippians 4:8 - Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are good, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Many people bless, but miss the main point of a blessing, which is to wish something good for the "blessee." It does little good to say "Bless you" unless there is an intention for something good for the receiver to be blessed with, and the more specific the intention, the more effective the blessing. Think of the blessing that Achsah demanded from Caleb, for example.

In Hawaiian the word for "to bless" is ho'omaika'i or ho'opomaika'i. Both have meanings of goodness or good experiences and they are pretty much interchangeable, except that pomaika'i(with a macron over the o) carries more of the sense of a state of good fortune or well-being rather than just something good. A typical blessing would be E ho'omaika'i ia 'oe me ke ola - "May you be blessed with good health."

And so I finish by giving you this blessing in Hawaiian: E pili mau na pomaika'i me 'oe; "May you always have good fortune" or, simply, "Best wishes." Oh, yes, one more: Aloha.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


One of the most useful lessons I ever learned in my shaman training was that life is really very simple, and so are the solutions to our problems. What makes it seem so complicated is that we get distracted by all the things there are to see and do and think about, and then we get so stressed by the effort to make everything work out right that we get confused and angry or fearful.

Simplicity can be found in the fact that no matter how busy, complex, and stressful things get, living consists of thinking, feeling and doing. That's all. And solving problems consists of thinking, feeling and doing things differently. And that's all, too. When life seems to be too complicated, this is what you can come back to. It isn't like failing to see the forest for the trees. It's more like seeing the trees and remembering the soil that they come from.
Here is is something to do when life gets difficult:
1. Breathe a few times with awareness of breathing.
2. Change negative thoughts to positive ones by noticing something good. Look clearly, listen well. there's always something.
3. Change negative emotions to positive ones by remembering something good. It doesn't matter whether it was this morning or many years ago. Find something to remember.
4. Change negative behavior to positive behavior by doing something good. Give a compliment, rub someone's back, perform a simple act of kindness. It doesn't have to be big.
When you do this you will discover that you can think more clearly, feel better, and act more effectively. It works.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Moving Beyond Patience

The Hawaiian word ahonui is commonly translated as "patience." However, that translation into English can be very, very misleading

Generally, when we talk about patience in English, we mean the ability to suffer hardship, or discomfort, or pain, without complaint. There is a sense of inner strength or courage about it, but it's essentially a passive concept. Something bad is happening to you, but you put up with it bravely for as long as it takes.

As admirable as that concept might be, it doesn't carry the full meaning of ahonui.

Let me tell you a story that will help to illustrate this, one of the stories of the legendary hero Maui. This is a Kauai version, and I'll bring out some of the inner meanings to show the relationship to ahonui.

Once a upon a time, long before Captain Cook, Maui Kupua, who was born on Kauai, of course, was coming back from O'ahu in his canoe when he thought to himself, "Why are the islands so far apart? They should all be closer together." So after he landed he went to his mother, Hina in Wailua and asked for her advice.

Hina stopped her tapa beating and said, "If you want to bring the islands together you will have to catch the giant whale Luehu with your magic fishhook, Manai-a-ka-lani, and you will have to hold on fast for a long time. If you can do this, Luehu will circle the islands and you will be able to pull them together. Take your brothers with you to help with the canoe, but warn them to always face forward no matter what happens, or you will fail."

So Maui gathered his four brothers, Maui, Maui, Maui, and Maui, and told them what he was going to do. They were excited about such an adventure, and when he warned them about facing forward no matter what, they promised that they would.

At last the canoe was ready, the fishhook was ready, and the brothers were ready. During a break in the surf they paddled out into the Kai'ei'ewaho Channel between Kauai and O'ahu and around to the northwest of Kauai to begin their search for the great whale. For days and days they searched, until at last they found the great whale Luehu swimming beside Nihoa, the island to the northwest of Kauai. Maui threw his magical fishhook, Luehu caught it in his mouth, and immediately the whale began pulling the canoe through the ocean at high speed.

For many more long days the Maui brothers held on with determination as the whale pulled them onward, but by carefully tugging on the fishing line in just the right way, and by cleverly paddling in just the right way at just the right time, they caused the whale to circle all the islands, until one day they found themselves again off the coast of Wailua, facing toward O'ahu.

Luehu was tired now, so while Maui Kupua pulled on the fishing line with all his might his brothers back-paddled furiously, and slowly, slowly the islands began to pull together. Just then, a canoe bailer, Kaliu, floated past the canoe. The eldest Maui, in the steersman position, quickly grabbed it and tossed it behind him in case they should need it. Unknown to him, the bailer was really a mischievous spirit, an e'epa, who turned into a very beautiful woman. All the people gathered on the Wailua shoreline exclaimed about her beauty. At first, none of the Maui brothers paid attention, but finally the praises got so loud that Maui's four brothers turned around to see who this beautiful woman was that everyone was shouting about. In that moment, Luehu felt the weakening of the pull against him and gave one last desperate leap to escape. Without his brothers to help him, Maui Kupua pulled too hard, the fishing line broke, Luehu got away, and the islands drifted apart again. And we know the story is true because the islands are still far apart today.

Hawaiian legends always contain knowledge hidden below the surface, usually in the form of names which have several meanings. In this story, the hero Maui wants to accomplish a great task, the uniting of the islands, but in order to do this he has to capture the whale, Luehu, with his fishhook, Manai-a-ka-lani. Now, "Luehu" means "scattered," and "Manaiakalani" is "flower lei needle." The scattered islands have to be brought together, perhaps politically, culturally, or socially, like flowers strung on a lei. Where did they find the whale? The old name of the Kauai Channel, "Kai'ei'ewaho," simply means "The Outer Heights," referring to the high waves of the channel, but it could also refer to the need to go outside of one's normal boundaries. The place where they encountered the whale, "Nihoa," was a very sacred place in ancient times. The name means "jagged, sharp," like a row of teeth, and is part of an old saying: "Ku paku ka pali o Nihoa i ka makani - The cliffs of Nihoa stand like a shield against the wind." This saying refers to someone who faces misfortune with courage.

The most important element in the story is the fishing line, because this is called aho, and it also means "breath, to breathe," and "to put forth great effort." Maui must put forth great effort to accomplish his aim, but that still isn't enough. The word nui means "big, much, many; something extending over time, or something very important." Ahonui is the Hawaiian word for "patience." And, it is also the word for "perseverance." This is not the patience of waiting in a line. It is the persistence of knocking on a door until you get an answer. It is not the patience of waiting out a storm. It is the perseverance of moving through a storm to your destination. It is not waiting to get healed. It is using everything you know and doing everything you can to make the healing happen. Ahonui can also be translated as "many breaths," the act of moving toward something you want for as many breaths as it takes.

Hawaiian legends do not always have happy endings, because sometimes their purpose is not only to tell you how to succeed, but also how to fail. In the story just told, the downfall of the great plan to unite the islands was caused by Kaliu, which means "a leaky canoe bailer." Ka refers to a canoe bailer, but it is also a strong action word used for tying things together, for making or doing things, and even for fishing. Liu, the "leakage," is the leaking away of attention to your purpose, the loss of focus on what is important. In the story, Maui's brothers, representing aspects of himself, get distracted, and as they lose their focus they also lose their goal. Perseverance does not work on a part-time basis.

Fortunately, there are many examples in this world of people who have persevered in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and who have accomplished more than was thought humanly possible. I have met and talked with a lot of such people, and have read about many more, but one stands out strongly in my memory.

A few years ago I had the privilege of participating in a Department of Education program to teach young people about self esteem, and part of the workshop I gave was incorporated into a video that was distributed in the school system. The best part of the video was not my contribution, however. The best part was the story of a young girl who became a hula dancer. I was mildly impressed when the camera showed her from the waist up dancing with a group of other girls, all moving gracefully with the same rhythm and gestures. When the camera pulled back ... I was stunned. This lovely young girl was a good dancer, yes, as good as the others. And she had only one leg.

Imagine the patience, the persistence, the suffering, the perseverance, the AHONUI that this young girl applied to develop the grace and skill that was also difficult for her two-legged sisters. And what gave her this ahonui? Where did it come from? How did she maintain it through all the fears and doubts and problems she must have endured? There is only one answer. What gave her the strength of her ahonui was the aloha she had for the hula.

What will give you the strength to persevere in the direction of your dreams and desires, plans and goals, wishes and healings, is the love you have for something that you decide is so important, so valuable, so good, that nothing at all can replace it in your mind and in your heart. If your aloha is strong enough, you will have the ahonui to keep going in spite of doubt, disappointment, fear, misunderstanding, and all the people who tell you that what you want is impossible. In this infinite universe, the only impossibility is whatever you never attempt, and the only failure is when you decide to give up.

However, there is something even more important to learn from Maui's story. What do you do when you've done everything you know how to do and put all the energy and attention you have available into achieving what you want and it still doesn't work out? After all, Maui didn't give up on life after his plan to unite the islands failed. He went on to have many more adventures. The answer lies in another Hawaiian word, ha'ule. Often used to mean "to fail, failure," it really carries the idea of losing something. And, in wonderfully Hawaiian style, it has another meaning as well: "to begin to do something else."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts On Cancer

My younger brother died of cancer in his early thirties, and my mother died of complications involving cancer when she was in her eighties. And I have had the opportunity to work with many people suffering from that disease. In every case I am familiar with, and according to many medical experts, cancer has both physical and emotional aspects. The strength of each of these can amplify the other, and the healing of either of these can help to heal the other.

My brother had lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker and had a lot of stress in his life. In addition, he fit the personality profile observed in almost 1000 lung cancer patients by Dr. David Kissen of Southern General Hospital in Glasgow: before he was fifteen one of his parents died (our father); there were marital difficulties; and there were professional frustrations. Naturally, a very large number of people may have these particular experiences, but what Dr. Kissen considered significant was how many of the cancer patients reacted to them. Typically, they held in emotional expression and denied conflicts. This certainly described my brother.

My mother had lung cancer. She also lost her father before the age of fifteen, and had her share of marital difficulties and professional frustrations, too. And, she held in emotional expression and denied conflicts as well.

Similar relationships between emotions, experiences of loss or frustration, and all forms of cancer have been noted in many medical studies (two good sources for this kind of information, if they are still available, are Psychosomatics, by Howard R. and Martha E. Lewis [Pinnacle Books, 1975} and Who Gets Sick, by Blair Justice, Ph.D. [Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1988]).

The common thread of emotional response in all forms of cancer (and, I suspect, in all disease), is a frustrated desire to control experience in some way. There is a wide variation in what people are trying to control. Some are trying to control their own behavior; some are trying to control the behavior of others; some are trying to control past, present, or future events; some are trying to control it all. It is not surprising that cancer is often associated with symptoms of depression, but it not always clear whether the depression is associated with the cancer, or with something else that the person cannot control.

In my own experience with and observation of people with cancer, I have noted that the most successful recoveries seem to be strongly associated with major mental, emotional, or physical behavioral changes among the people with the illness. What is major for one person, of course, may not be the same for another. Some people get results from radically changing their whole lifestyle, while others get results from forgiving a longtime resentment. I know of one success where a woman left her family, took up a different religion, changed her clothing and diet, and moved to a different country. Maybe she needed all of those changes and maybe not, but overall it worked for her. I know of another person, a man, who simply stopped trying to outdo his father, and that worked for him.
My brother, however, didn't change his reactions or his life. And my mother, right to the very end, refused to give up grudges she had held for many years against many people. If you want to change something, you have to change something.

Whenever we try to control something by mental, emotional, or physical means, and whenever we fail to control it to the degree that we want, we increase the tension in our body. The more often we try and fail, the greater the increase of tension. Not everyone gets cancer because of this since the specific outcome of excess tension depends on so many different genetic, environmental, and mental factors, but I believe that healing the control issues can be of tremendous benefit in helping to heal cancer and, probably, everything else that needs healing.

The need for control is based on fear, and fear itself generates tension. Control, then, is merely a technique for trying not to feel afraid. Maybe a good place to start the healing process would be to stop trying to control fear, and do something to change the fear reaction, instead.
It is an experiential fact that you cannot feel fear if your body is totally relaxed. However, even though there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to relax, such as massage, meditation, play, laughter, herbs, drugs, etc., that does not always solve the problem. The real problem lies behind the tension, and behind the fear. The real problem is not even the idea that something is fearful. The real problem is that you feel helpless. When this problem is solved the fear disappears (not the common sense, just the helpless fear), the need for control disappears, and a huge amount of tension disappears.

Fundamentally, what I'm really talking about is confidence, a kind of core confidence not related to a specific talent, or skill, or behavior, or experience, or piece of knowledge. Lots of teachers and lots of merchants offer ways to get this kind of confidence, and my own works contain many ideas about it, so rather than limit your possibilities by suggesting a particular technique, I'm only going to share a couple of Hawaiian words for confidence whose root meanings may point you in the right direction:

Paulele - "stop jumping around"
Kanaloa - "extended calm"

There is no quick and easy fix I know of that will produce this kind of confidence. It takes internal awareness and one or more internal decisions, but even that will only work if it results in a different way of responding to life.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fear Of Focus

I was browsing through some very old notes and came across the following piece, written to myself at a very crucial time in my life. It isn't very long, but I think that reading it might be useful to people who might find themselves in a similar state at some time in their life.

"It's time to review and set clear-cut goals. The past few days have been a torment for my Lono because radical changes are necessary and my priorities and directions are fuzzy.

I think I have a very deep issue about commitment to a single purpose. There is also an issue about what's important, about working in the present with trust vs planning/programming for the future, about what I want and what gives me pleasure, about security and service, and about focusing in the creation of an organization or focusing on the spread of knowledge.

From everything I know, success will require motivation, confidence and concentration. Motivation comes from believing something is important. Confidence comes from trusting oneself and the universe. Concentration comes from each of those. You can't concentrate if there's apathy or fear and doubt. In another sense, concentration comes first because there has to be something to be motivated or confident about.

We are back to the issue about commitment to a single purpose. Even thinking about that stirs up strange feelings akin to fear. Probably why I've found it hard to commit to a single technique, also. This is a prime issue. I see that the way I've coped with it before is to shift focus within a broad area or find a distraction. So I shift from peace, to love, to power, to energy, to success, to prosperity, to presence ... all within the context of Aloha International and Huna. Even when I 'make a commitment' to one focus, I either forget it the next day or begin to have huge doubts.

If there is such fear, there must be an anticipation of pain or danger as a result of such commitment. Is it a fear of power and what that might do to me or to others? Is it a fear of rejection or criticism if I'm 'too' committed? Is there a fear based on some other model I've seen or some other life I'm living? Is it a fear of loss from too narrow a focus? Since all of these have come to mind and provoked varying degrees of feelings and releases, it's probably some of each. 

What a complicated interlock! No matter which focus I try in my mind, fears and doubts and excuses come up as to why it's not a good idea.

So it isn't the particular focus at issue, it's focus itself. What would happen if I were to focus exclusively on one thing (I even found it hard to maintain focus on this sentence!)? Right now my head feels funny, my chest is contracted and my shoulders feel heavy. I would say the main issue is criticism/rejection. What would I be criticized for if I maintained intense, sustained focus? Here's a scenario that just went through my head: If I commit I'll be very successful, if I'm very successful I'll be noticed for being outstanding, if I'm outstanding I'll be criticized for being different and egotistical, and if I'm different and egotistical I won't have anyone to love me. Whew!

Lawa! Enough! I hereby commit myself to focus on practicing and teaching the Power of Love, 24 hours a day!"

Note from the Present: Well, I'm not up to 24 hours a day yet, even many years later, but every day in every way I'm getting better and better.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


We were born to be fearless.

We do not inherit fear from our ancestors. It is not an instinctive reaction, nor is it necessary for survival. Caution, yes; recognition of potential danger, yes; but not fear. We have to be taught how to be afraid.

I remember when I was a young boy watching my younger sister walk down a hallway in our home while smashing spiders on the wall with her hand. I thought it was disgusting, my sister thought it was fun, my Mom thought it was horrifying. I can still hear her screams when she saw my sister happily diminishing the spider population, and I remember how quickly my sister changed her attitude and behavior toward spiders after only one intensive spiders-are-awful-be-afraid-of-them training session.

One minute we can be fearless, and in the next we can learn to be fearful. For the moment let's put aside the question of whether fear has any value. The issue at hand is whether it is inborn or acquired behavior.

Here is another example, opposite to the one above. On a sunny day on a broad beach in Africa, when the ocean was like a calm lake, I noticed that my four-year-old and seven-year-old sons were having fun the water, and my three-year-old son was having fun on the sand. No problem with that, except that I also noticed how he scampered out of the way every time the smallest wavelet came within two feet of him. This looked like a job for "Parentman!"

I picked up my three-year-old, talked to him soothingly, and carried him a few steps toward the water. He immediately tried to squirm out of my arms, even though the water was only around my ankles. He was clearly afraid, so I stopped, calmed him down, and took a few more steps forward. Of course, he reacted in the same way. Very slowly and gently, using a classic psychological method of desensitization, I was able to get him to accept being in the water ankle deep, waist deep, chest deep, and, finally, we even ducked under the water together. After that I returned him to shore and let him develop his own relationship to the ocean. After he graduated high school he became a US Navy Seal.

One more example to illustrate my point. I teach a self-help behavior modification technique called "Dynamind," and one thing it is very good for is getting rid of phobias. During a seminar demonstration I had a young woman on stage who said she was afraid of water. We further refined that to be a state of paralyzing panic when facing a swimming pool. Even further refinement produced the interesting discovery that the panic occurred only when the pool was closer than two meters, more than one meter wide, and the color of the water was blue. In fact, regardless of the size or proximity of the pool, the panic disappeared if the color of the water was green.

In the first example above, my sister had no fear of spiders until she was taught to be afraid by our mother. Her first reaction to them was the instinctive one. In the second example, my son was afraid of the ocean, not the water itself. I know this because I had seen him happily splashing bath water all over on numerous occasions. I have no idea what event taught him to be afraid--and he doesn't remember--but his ability to get rid of the fear in such a short time definitely indicates a learned behavior and not an instinctive one. And in the last example, the fact that so many specific conditions had to be met before the debilitating fear occurred is indicative of learned behavior as well.

This would be a good time to define what I mean by "instinctive" behavior, because many people confuse it with "automatic" behavior. Behavior is automatic when you have learned it so well you don't have to think about it anymore. It is basically a stimulus response like Pavlov's dog salivating at the ringing of a bell. For many people, riding a bicycle, using silverware, reacting with fear to specific events, or getting cold symptoms when you get your feet wet in street shoes, but not in beach sandals, are common examples of automatic behavior. Such behavior is linked closely to individual experience and cultural expectations.

Instinctive behavior, on the other hand, is common to all humans and not dependent on individual experience or culture. Breathing is instinctive; breathing rates are learned. Eating is instinctive; food choices are learned. The urges to get warm when you are cold, get cool when you are hot, seek security when you feel insecure, or move toward or repeat pleasurable experiences, and move away from or avoid unpleasant or painful experiences are all part of humanity's repertoire of instinctive behaviors.

Another important difference is that learned behaviors, automatic or not, are capable of being unlearned or modified very quickly, whereas instinctive behaviors can only be suppressed, amplified, or redirected.

It is a fact, supported by abundant research, experiments and experience, that fears can be unlearned, often quickly, without suppression, amplification or redirection. This alone puts them into the learned behavior category.

Part of the misunderstanding about fear comes from early experiments in which babies were tossed into the air and observations were made of their behavior. The instinctive reaction of seeking a connection to something secure was interpreted as an expression of fear. Actually, as long as you don't drop them, some babies get immense enjoyment from being tossed into the air.

"As long as you don't drop them." This brings up the subject of how fear gets learned in the first place. For that to happen, three vital factors must be present: self-doubt, a memory of pain, and an expectation of pain. To be completely accurate, we really don't remember pain itself, but the memory of having experienced pain.

Self-doubt is the most important factor, for without it fear doesn't occur. Self-doubt is also learned behavior, but it can be learned while you are still a fetus. Basically, self-doubt is born when an individual interprets a feeling or sensation as meaning that one has lost contact with their source of power or love. To the degree that this interpretation is repeated with similar feelings or sensations it becomes learned and automatic behavior.

Memories of some kind of pain are present in everyone, but everyone is not affected by them in the same way. Fear is born--and eventually learned--when self-doubt is present at the time a painful experience occurs because, due to the self-doubt, an expectation of pain arises under any stimulus that resembles the original pain. When I was about seven-years-old I was playing with some friends and we decided to climb a tree and jump off a large branch. The other boys did it without a problem. They didn't have any self-doubt, at least in relation to jumping out of trees, so that even if they had gotten hurt in the past from leaping off a branch they had no expectation of pain from doing it again. I, however, had sufficient self-doubt, and a memory of a previous painful fall not related to trees, that I crouched on the branch, frozen with fear, for a very long time. The other boys simply crawled around me and jumped to their heart's content. At long last I suppressed my fear, gathered my courage, and leaped into the unknown. It was my first experience of branch-jumping. Fortunately, I had a good landing and it was so much fun I did it over and over, unlearning my fear in the process.
One of the last sentences in the previous paragraph reminds me of another aspect of fear that needs clarification, the so-called "fear of the unknown." There is no such thing, folks. It's always a fear of the known. Or, rather, a fear of not knowing. If we experience something truly unknown we will either be curious or we will ignore it. Fear only arises in this case when a new experience reminds us of a previous painful experience and we have an expectation of another painful experience because we don't know what to do.

Here is the moral of the story. It doesn't matter if we have self-doubt, or painful memories, or fear of anything whatsoever. We learned how to act one way; we can teach ourselves how to act differently. Self-doubt can be erased by teaching ourselves--over and over and over again--to trust in ourselves and/or in a higher power. To trust, not that nothing bad will ever happen, but that whatever happens we will be able to cope, and that more good things will happen than bad. How do we know? We don't. The future is never fixed, but now is the moment of power. What we do and how we think in the present moment may not control the future, but it has more influence on the future than anything else. There is no fear without self-doubt. Self-doubt begins with a decision. It can end with a decision, too.