Podcast Episode 33: Naked & Afraid

In this episode, we discuss how the fear arises, how it manifests in our life, and how it can be eliminated, opening the way to the development of a sane, fearless mind.

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8 thoughts on “Podcast Episode 33: Naked & Afraid

  1. Take two. My reply seems on point with the topic, but for some reason my response didn’t show up. I thoroughly consider any posts I make, and I spend a lot of time writing them. Hopefully, intelligent questioning is encouraged here, and my inability to comment is just a technical problem with the site. Anyway, trying again …

    I don’t remember my birth. I can’t say if it was pleasant or unpleasant. I would like to offer another theory on the development of fear that I’ve heard, though, that I think is more likely. This theory attributes our fear to the natural implication of perception, and goes something like this … After we’ve gained a little experience with this place, we begin to notice that this body always seems to follow us around. The natural implication of perception is that we are this body, and that this body can suffer. This is learned through experience, though. I’ve noticed young babies who seem confused, for example, when they hit their arm on something … as if they don’t even know where the pain is coming from. I think it takes time to develop the idea that “oh, this is MY arm … I am this thing … and I can suffer”. It also takes time to notice that when YOU hurt yourself, that I’m not in any pain. These observations and deductions aren’t a given at birth. Perception implies them, but it seems obvious that connecting the dots (identifying as a body) takes time, and life experience. We know that a baby doesn’t even have depth perception until about the 5th month, so it’s even harder to differentiate itself from what it sees. But once the idea is set that I am a body, and that the body can suffer and die, fear and the idea of protecting oneself seems almost inevitable. And then language develops, and our sense of self becomes much more complex, giving the fear endless avenues to express itself. I’ve read more than one teacher who has explained the development of fear in this way, and they say that the fear normally hits a child around the age of two. Some of them claim to remember the moment when it happened to them … not that this should be blindly accepted, but the theory itself seems very reasonable, and we can all attest to how fearful it is to identify with something we know is destined for pain. Before identification, as in the momemt of birth, there’s just the experience of pain and unpleasantness … if, in fact, the birth was unpleasant. It seems to me, though, that the fear is an avoidance, and that the avoidance depends on identification. You can’t try to avoid an experience if you aren’t projecting that you are something which is trying to get away from something else. So, the idea that our trauma is rooted in birth implies that identification with the body happens at birth, which seems unlikely to me. The baby hasn’t even seen itself, doesn’t know what it is looking at (even if it’s eyes are open), and can’t really even “look” until the 5th month … and as I’ve already explained, it takes time to notice that the body seems to be a constant in our experience … it takes time to draw the conclusion that pain is coming from the body, and to notice that you don’t feel pain when someone else hurts themselves. It takes time to put everything together into the presumption that “I am this body”. So, yeah, it seems very reasonable to believe that identification as a body happens much later than the instant of birth. Or, to say this differently, the fear of life happens later on, once we’ve concluded that we are a body … a presumption that our perception seems to support.

    1. Dear Seth, thank you for your comment.

      We often speak of the birth trauma as the cause of the fear of life which is itself the root cause of all human purely psychological misery but, until recently, we have had little to say about the actual horror of it.

      Please join us for our next free live webinar this Sunday, February 24th in which will discuss this very issue: https://www.justonelook.org/webinars.php

  2. Hey guys. Looks like I missed your talk. But from what you implied above, you seem to be suggesting that an experienced “horror” can cause a kind of instant identification with the body. Would you agree? Anyway, I question that. If a child is in pain, what tells it that the pain is coming from the body, and that that is what he is? When I’m in pain, if I try to feel it without projecting an image that it’s in a body, I can’t find where it’s coming from. In other words, the pain isn’t pointing the child towards identification with a body, if it’s not yet identified with a body. I think that we must identify with the body for a reason. Something must imply that we are this thing. What could that something be, other than perception? Do you see my point? Or perhaps, you have another thought on how pain could reasonably trigger identification?

  3. Sorry, this took so long, but I’ve been busy, and I wanted to have time to really think about this. Before I begin, though, I’d like to comment on something that John said in the middle of the video you sent me. He said that I called your ideas ridiculous, and that I said that there was no such thing as a birth trauma. Let me just clarify that I didn’t say either of those things, and let me preface any of my future comments with the following: Guys, this is not an attack. I was merely hoping to have a mature conversation here, which is where people come together and think critically about an issue. I just presented an alternate viewpoint on where the fear of life comes from, and I gave many reasons that could possibly discount the birth experience as being the cause. So, again, it’s not about me attacking you. I just presented an interesting counter argument for your consideration. It’s either reasonable, or not. I thought it was very reasonable, and yet, I didn’t totally discount your position. That’s why I asked several questions of you, looking for clarification. The more I think about both sides, though, the harder I think it is to prove that birth is related to the fear of life. Maybe, you’ll think the same after reading this, or maybe you’ll have something to say that I haven’t considered.

    So, I don’t think anyone could discount that birth is probably not pleasant. To go from not breathing to breathing is quite the shock, especially if your nose and mouth are filled with mucus. And to go from feeling nice and warm, to a cooler atmosphere while naked, is probably not very pleasant either; although the room could actually be much warmer in certain parts of the world. I don’t know about all the physical pain that you say the infant is experiencing, though. For example, you describe the child as “being crushed by the birth canal and thrown up against the mother’s pelvic bones”. Your word choice certainly makes it sound violent, but I think that the child would be all bruised up if this were the case, and honestly, I’ve never seen that. So, I think it would be hard to prove that the child is in physical pain, unless that has been measured neurologically, somehow. I think that’s a reasonable and fair thing to say. It certainly could be, and I don’t discount that being firmly pressed into a tight canal might be uncomfortable , but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that it’s actually painful, having no evidence. But whatever the unpleasantness of birth, I think we’ve all seen babies that are bundled up, and sleeping quite peacefully, shortly afterwards. Isn’t this true? In the interest of an open mind, we have to acknowledge that. What other horrific trauma in this world, assuming birth is horrific, would allow for such apparent contentment, shortly afterwards? None that I know of. But ok, enough about this. I’m really not interested in debating degrees of unpleasantness in the birth experience, because I don’t think that this is the real issue. Let’s just agree that it’s probably an unpleasant experience. That said, I think that the real issue is whether or not an unpleasant experience can trigger a child who is not identified with his body, to randomly select something he has never even seen (his body), to identify with. After all, identifying with something separate that can suffer IS the fear of life, and in order for a difficult birth to be the cause of that mistake, you don’t just have to show that the birth is painful and unpleasant. You have to show how it is that pain can imply that you are something separate. Beliefs don’t just happen for no reason. Something implies that that belief is reality. If there was a toaster in the delivery room, and some kid grew up thinking he was a toaster, you wouldn’t blame it on a difficult birth. You would wonder why, out of everything else the kid was taking in, the presumption arose that he must be a toaster. Similarly, if you’re saying that an unpleasant birth causes an infant to identify with his body, I think it’s prudent to ask why you think this? The child hasn’t even seen his body, and he won’t even learn to focus his eyes till month 5. So, how could this happen? All of a sudden, the child catches a glimpse (perhaps) of a hand or a leg moving, and then what? What would make the child think, despite everything in it’s field of perception, that this is what he is? Pain doesn’t imply that you are a separate anything, let alone a separate body, and anyone can investigate this for themselves. In order to feel separate, you have to believe that you are separate, and you believe that you are separate when you have somehow deduced this from your experience. So, what could possibly cause this to happen, and how much experience does a newborn have with this place, in order to make that assumption around the time of birth? With only seconds of remembered life to rely on, and extremely limited vision, I think it’s very unlikely that identification happens so quickly. But let’s look more closely at the newborn’s experience.

    If I lay my hand on the table next to yours, perception does not say, “this is my hand, and that is your hand”. Perception is only perceiving. And in your video, you say that a newborn cannot separate himself from his experience, because he hasn’t yet learned to label things. Exactly, but labeling is still happening prior to conceptual thinking, and so I’d like to go into that, because I think it’s relevant. I think that people normally consider perception to be a kind of pure looking, prior to language, but is it? I can look at a picture of a cow, without labeling it “cow”, and yet I still know what it is. My mouth might water, as I picture a hamburger, or I might feel a warmth as I remember petting a cow at the local fair. So, thought and memory are still active prior to conceptual thinking. Language isn’t needed in order to learn and to make assumptions about this place. I don’t need language to believe that a cow is a separate “thing”, for example, if I’ve come to believe that I am something separate. But what about a newborn? A newborn doesn’t know what a cow is, or anything else, because it has no former experience to inform it. That’s about as pure as perception will ever get. It doesn’t know what anything is, or what anything is for, because it’s seeing everything for the very first time. Experience is needed before it infers that the kitchen table is for holding food, or that a bed is for sleeping. And experience is needed before it notices that it’s body seems to be a constant here. These are things which are logically indisputable. So, considering all of this, what object in our experience, could possibly imply that we are a separate object, more than the body? It’s the one object, through which we always seem to be looking out at the world : the one object that is in every snapshot we have of this place. If anything could falsely infer that it is us, it’s the body. But, as I said, experience is needed before all of those snapshots reveal a simple nonverbal relevation: the revelation that, “hey, this thing always seems to be here, just like me. It’s almost obvious that an association would grow between what we feel ourselves to be, and the body. But over time. This is the reason why I say that identification with the body seems unlikey to happen at birth. Experience is needed before the growing mind can put all this together. And as we grow over time, I think that our parents greatly increase the likelyhood that this will happen. After all, they give us our name, and start referring to us as a body, because they already believe it.

    Ok, so where are we with all of this? We both agree that the child comes into this world, unable to separate itself from it’s experience. That means that it is unable to try to avoid any pain that might be associated with the birth experience. But the fear of life IS avoidance, and so it seems like this one point would disprove your theory (remember, this is not an attack), because the child is incapable of making that effort. In order to try to avoid his experience, he has to believe that he is separate from it, and I’ve gone to great lengths to show why experience is needed in order for that to occur. We don’t simply believe in separation for no reason, and it seems undeniable that time and experience are needed to provide those reasons.

    Now, here’s another point that I think is really interesting. I forget the exact words that you used, but you said something like this: the child is ripped from a state of union with it’s Mother, and thrust out into a separate world, driven by anxiety. Consider these words, though, and how they don’t accurately describe the child’s experience. The child is not in a state of union with it’s mother, and it isn’t thrown out into a separate world. The child merely moves from a state of union that is pleasant, to a state of union that is probably not so pleasant. The child isn’t born into a separate world. The separate world is a projection that comes later on, after he has identified himself as something separate. And the child isn’t born knowing that food is now scarce. The child has no idea what the pain of hunger means, and no idea what food is. That’s why he is born with the instinct to suck, and why he will suck on anything, whether or not it yields what his body needs. He’s in a state of not-knowing, and your argument is projecting all of this fear and scarcity onto his situation, that he simply has no way of feeling. He’s not a separate person, fighting to survive in a cold, unforgiving world. Yet. Sure, those ideas are bound to come, once he comes to believe in separation, and once he learns that a body isn’t guaranteed sustainance or security here, but these are ideas that need to be developed over time, as he notices what he appears to be, and what his situation appears to be.

    Finally, after a few weeks of thinking about this stuff, it occurred me that the word trauma means to hold on to a shocking experience. So, I questioned, “can an infant in a state of not-knowing, hold onto to anything?” Avoid anything? In order for that disturbance of fear to occur, the kid would have to be identified as something separate, who is interested in protecting “himself” from the lack of safety “out there”, or “over there”. What could he identify with, and why would he do this? Something in his experience would have to produce a compelling argument that he is a “something”, and a something in danger. So, once again, I can agree that birth is probably unpleasant, but unpleasnantness doesn’t stick. Experience is just moving through. Isn’t this the likely reason why these kids can look so peaceful and contented, shortly after birth? The phrase, “I slept like a baby”, comes to mind. And isn’t this why we marvel at young kids, in general? We love how open they are, and how freely their emotions can move from one to another. They can drop an angry mood in half a second, because they aren’t living in the past, addicted to mulling over who did what to them. At least for a couple of years, anyway.

    Ok, these where the thoughts that I wanted to share. I hope that you’ll consider them. This took a lot of thought, and a few weeks of effort to put together, and I think it’s a pretty strong argument, approached from several different angles. I’d be interested in knowing what you guys think, and in hearing the specific reasons why you disagree, if you do. Take care.

  4. Thank you for your comments.

    The issue of birth trauma is actually not that important to us. We came to this idea when we were trying to understand what might be the cause of the appearance of what we call the fear of life. Our intuition that the fear of life appears at or around birth has been confirmed later on by some mental health professionals. For instance, the psychoanalyst Otto Rank wrote a book called The Trauma of Birth (Das Trauma der Geburt) in which he argues that birth is an interruption of blissful uterine life from which people spend the rest of their lives trying to recover. Freud also acknowledged the birth trauma as a fundamental aspect in the development of the mind. You may want to read the paper The Radical Act of Inward Looking in which a team of mental health professionals examines our work. You can download it on our website at https://www.justonelook.org/articles.php

    The fact is that we are speaking from different points of view. And that’s all right. We are not interested in a debate here. You really don’t need to believe anything we say. All that matters is that you look at yourself and then see results of that act for yourself. Have you tried to do it? If not, please leave all your ideas aside and just try it. And then start practicing Self-Directed Attention. Then, after a while, let us know what you find.

    All the best,

    John & Carla

  5. Dear John and Carla, This wasn’t a debate. I’ve just been trying to have a conversation here. I’ve been trying to get you to clarify why you believe what you believe. I’ve probably spent 40 hours writing thoughtful questions and comments, and none of your replies ever addresses a single thing I’ve asked or written about. If you didn’t care about the birth trauma issue, you wouldn’t have read all those books and papers, you wouldn’t have made Naked and Afraid, and you wouldn’t have felt compelled to create a special podcast in response to my initial post. At any rate, I’ll try one last time to get you to clarify your perspective.

    1. Do you agree that the fear of life coincides with (or is just another name for) the belief that you are a separate body?

    2. If so, how do you think that the pain of birth encourages the belief that you are a body, when the body is just one thing (among many) in the infant’s experience?

    1. 1. Do you agree that the fear of life coincides with (or is just another name for) the belief that you are a separate body?

      No. We believe the fear of life appears before the infant learns that it is a separate being. This event seems to be an unconscious reaction in the nervous system that sets the ground upon which the mental mechanisms will develop over time. A sense that “I am at stake”.

      2. If so, how do you think that the pain of birth encourages the belief that you are a body, when the body is just one thing (among many) in the infant’s experience?

      The newborn does not know it is a body.

      Thank you for your questions.

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