Through no fault of our own, most humans—that is to say most of us—have minds that have come into being shaped by a context of fear and distrust of life itself.
We didn’t cause that to happen, and we can’t even know directly that that is the case, any more than we can know directly that the Earth is a big ball without actually getting far enough away from it to see its roundness with our own eyes.
And although we are unaware of its existence, we are driven mad by that invisible fear-driven context within which the mind has established its deepest silent assumptions about life—assumptions that we cannot help but believe are our own. We put great stock in thoughts, as if they mean something, but all thoughts arise from that set of invisible assumptions that take form in the context of fear from which they arise.
All the ideas about what you need and what you want appear conditioned by that context, that set of assumptions. All ideas about what you should think and do about yourself and your life arise from that context. All ideas about how you, and the people in your life, should behave arise from that context. All ideas about what is true and what is false arise from that set of false assumptions.
Your entire understanding of what you need, what you want, how you are, and how you should be, and all your efforts to be true and worthwhile, arise from that set of false assumptions.
The act of looking at yourself in the manner we advise quickly destroys that invisible fearful context and all the false assumptions it gave birth to.
This is why, for most of us, there is a kind of mental sigh of relief that follows the act of looking at yourself, and that state of relief and relaxation can persist for some time. But the destruction of the fearful mental context, and the relief that it brings, is just the beginning of the healing process. What follows the period of relief is a painful healing crisis that will, once it is completed, leave you with a mind that is sane and seeks only self-reliance and the intelligence it creates in its relationship with life.
What takes place during that healing and recovery is the falling away of the psychological mechanisms that served the fear, and the arising of new psychological mechanisms free of the fear; free of the idea that life is untrustworthy.
This healing process can be experienced as pure misery, but that’s not really necessary. All the misery that’s happening during that time is happening in thought alone. There can be some difficult physical symptoms present, but they too are mere experiences seen through the distorted lens of the diseased and dying psychological mechanisms. And, because every human mind is unique, each of us must find our own way through the recovery from the fear disease.
This is why the practice of self-directed attention is so important during this difficult time.
Try to keep in mind that all your thoughts and ideas about arising experience, good or bad, are not your doing. They are best thought of as possible explanations, thrown up by the psychology for your consideration. Your responsibility is to learn how to determine which of those ideas and experiences are worthy of your attention (and action) and which are not.
During recovery, its best to have no interest in the truth or falsehood of the opinions you may hold about the nature of the thoughts arising in the mind. You will do best to focus your efforts on the practice of self-directed attention. All that’s needed is to work to strengthen and clarify your agency over your attention. Just notice when your attention is focused on a thought about a present sensation and then deliberately move it to the sensation of breathing as described in our book.
It doesn’t matter how good you are at this exercise, or how long it takes for you to do it, all that matters is that you do it. Noticeable results will take some time to appear, and only when you begin to notice the results as they appear will you be able even to guess what will come of this entire process. There is no other path to true freedom and understanding as a human being.
It’s safe to assume that the results of this work have nothing in common with what you may have thought it would be like to be finally satisfied in your own life just as it is.
Nothing you have believed to be the problem in your life, and nothing you have believed to be the solution, has any relevance to the stunning reality of a human life lived free of fear. If you try this, you cannot fail. And as you develop a realistic relationship with your life, you will find that the key to satisfaction depends on nothing other than your own, sane, self-reliant authority over what is and what is not worthy of your attention.
And when the thick of the recovery is over and done, you will find yourself at home in your life. And you will see that, after a long journey in search for freedom and satisfaction, to be at home in your own life was all you ever wanted.