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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Checking Your Values

One day I found myself wondering why we celebrate New Year's Day on January 1st. After all, what's the point? Nothing special is happening in Nature on that day. The winter solstice happens more than a week before. Christmas, of course, is exactly one week before, and December 25th was celebrated as the beginning of the end of winter in many ancient cultures in the Northern Hemisphere, but so what? What does that have to do with January 1st? My curiosity led me into doing a little research.

First I checked out the whole idea of a New Year celebration. I found out that the oldest one recorded took place around 2000 B.C. in Babylon, which was in what we now know as Iraq. However, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year in late March because that was the beginning of their new cycle of Spring planting. Before the planting, though, they spent eleven days in celebrations of thanksgiving for all the good that the gods had provided the previous year. In a very similar way the ancient Hawaiians celebrated the New Year in November, with four whole months of thanksgiving feasting and gaming and getting ready for the next season.

Some kind of New Year celebration has been part of virtually every culture on earth as a means of giving thanks for past things of value, and making preparations for another year of more things of value (hopefully).

Still, why January 1st? It isn't a harvest time or a seeding time in either hemisphere. As a point in the orbit of the Earth around the Sun it doesn't have any particular significance.
As it turns out, my research revealed that natural events are not the only things that humans consider significant.

During the early Roman Empire the first day of the New Year was January 1st. Weirdly enough, their January 1st fell on what we now know as March 25, at the beginning of Spring. Because various emperors and high-ranking officials placed great value on extending their terms of office, they fiddled with the lengths of months and years until the calendar got so out of whack that Julius Caesar had to put January 1st on its proper date again (March 25) in 46 B.C.

Enter the Catholic Church. As the leaders of that body became more politically powerful they decided to establish their own January 1st, in opposition to what they considered a pagan fertility festival. So they created a brand new calendar and made the New Year begin on the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, exactly one week after the birth of Christ by their reckoning.

The transition to this new New Year wasn't immediate. From the 11th to the 13th centuries, the Spanish and Portuguese celebrated the New Year on the Catholic January 1st, the British celebrated it on March 25th, the Italians on December 15 (which was Christmas day at that time) and the French on Easter Sunday. Meanwhile, and still today, the Chinese, Jews, and traditional Hawaiians celebrate New Year in their own timing. Because the Gregorian calendar is so widely accepted today, the latter get to celebrate the New Year twice if they want to.

It's time for a valid question to arise. What is the point of this article?

The point is that people everywhere have always acknowledged in some way the ending of an old cycle and the beginning of a new one. The exact timing of the cycle depends on the value--the importance--that people give to the cycle. As described above, some people may think natural cycles are more important and others may think religious or political cycles to be so. In addition, people everywhere have decided that the beginning/ending of the cycle is a good time to reflect on what they consider important in their lives, and to confirm these values or change them.

It doesn't matter whether your favorite cycle begins on January 1st, your birthday, the spring equinox, the winter solstice or Boxing Day. There is something inherently, humanly powerful about declaring that one cycle has ended and a new one has begun, and then using that transition time to give thanks for value received and make plans for value to come.

Your values consist of whatever you believe is most important in your life. Your values themselves have value because they govern every aspect of your personal behavior, and they influence the behavior of the world around you. In any situation in life you will always act according to what is most important to you at the time, no matter what the circumstance or what anyone around you says or does. If you are ever surprised by your own behavior, it's because you are not aware of your own values.

As an example, I was discussing values with my adorable wife and we each discovered something we didn't expect. We value our relationship highly, but during our discussion it came out very clearly that we value personal freedom even more. Our relationship has such a high value that we constantly accede to each other's wishes even when that means doing something we don't want to do, or not doing something we want to do. Since there is so much give and take on both sides, and so much joy in other aspects of the relationship, we consider these restrictions on personal freedom as easily tolerable (although I grumble sometimes just for the heck of it). In other words, the relationship has a higher value than these minor restrictions on our freedom. However, in playing the game of "What if...?" it came out that if these restrictions became "excessive" (by subjective evaluation) then the value of the relationship would diminish accordingly.

The discussion got even more interesting when we discovered that "relationship" and "personal freedom" are very abstract concepts. Behind those abstracts were the things we really valued most: the pleasure of our mutual admiration and respect; and the emotional satisfaction of making our own choices.

Behind all abstract values--love, power, health, freedom, etc.--are the very specific values, i.e., the really important things, that move us emotionally and motivate us behaviorally. At any given moment you will always move toward whatever holds the potential, in your estimation, for the greatest pleasure or the least pain.

In both California and Hawaii you can almost always tell who the carpenters are: they are the ones with surfboards in their pick-up trucks. They bring their boards to work, and when the surf is high enough the worksite is abandoned. The abstract view is that they value surfing more than working. The specific view is that they think the thrill of riding a big wave is more important than sawing wood for someone else (unless they are in dire need of money to pay the rent). They will usually stay on the job when the surf is mediocre, but when the waves reach a certain height...

Another example is the person who works so hard "for the family" that he or she ignores the family to the point where the person ends up alone and confused. Here the abstract value of "family security" is probably based on a very intense personal fear of being criticized for failing to support them. In the pursuit of avoiding criticism the actual family is lost from view.

The value of the discussion between my wife and myself was that we became more consciously aware of what we value. At the same time, because of our Huna background, we realized that it was all arbitrary. With the flick of a thought we can change any of our values that we choose to change. We can make important things unimportant and unimportant things important by our will alone. And the value of that is that we are more consciously aware of, and careful of, those values we choose to live by.

Changing what you value most in life is an act that has profound consequences for you and those around you, because the values you have now also have such consequences. If your life doesn't seem to be working out for you, there might be a problem with your values. If life is working out for you, then values are also involved and it might be a good idea to know what they are.

Any time is a good time to examine what is most important to you, in order to confirm it or make some alterations. Therefore, now is a good time, too.