Shed Your Dread

One of the articles in A Good Harvest (IC#42)
Originally published in Fall 1995 on page 62
Copyright (c)1995, 1997 by Context Institute

Dear IC Readers,

I often get asked, "How can you be so optimistic in the face of world events?" Part of my answer is that, while I’m well aware of the bad news, I’ve been fortunate to see a great deal of good news that the major media seem to ignore, but that has filled the pages of IN CONTEXT.

Yet there is also a more inner side to my answer. I’ve come to view chronic fear as a dysfunctional and eliminatable response to life.

I find it useful to distinguish between prudence and worry. If it looks like it might rain, I take an umbrella. There is no particular emotion in such prudence, and it serves me well. In worry or dread, on the other hand, I consume a lot of psychological energy in either experiencing unpleasant emotions or trying to suppress them.

Such worry rarely serves me. Once I start, I go through discomfort about imagined things that may or may not actually happen, and in any case are not happening now. Also, worrying distracts me from being fully in the present, which is the only place – if there is anything prudent to be done – where I can act to make a difference.

The good news about worry is that it is totally within yourself – so you can do something about it! You can’t eliminate worry through external changes; these only allow the seeds of worry within you to go dormant. To make real progress, you’ve got to work within.

Today there are many effective psychological and spiritual techniques for releasing fear and shifting your energy and attention from the numbing cycles of dread to a constructive and creative relationship with the present. These usually involve both fresh concepts that enable you to view life more fearlessly and nonverbal skills (visualization, breathing, massage, etc.) that assist in the release of old fears. If you don’t already have techniques that work for you, one resource I recommend is Light Emerging: The Journey of Personal Healing by Barbara Ann Brennan.

There is no better strategy in these turbulent times – for you, for those around you, and for the Earth – than to systematically free yourself from your own seeds of fear. You’ll be happier, you’ll make it easier for others to free themselves, and you’ll have more energy for the real work of building a sustainable society now.

This is not a minor issue, a bit of touchy-feely fluff. It is more likely the central issue of our times. You don’t have to look far to see that today fear is the fundamental barrier to positive change and that if fear continues to shape personal behavior and public policy, it will turn what could have been graceful change into a very painful process.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the sustainability movement responded to this by doing its inner as well as its outer work, by becoming known for its joy as well as its effective solutions, for its fearlessness in the face of tumult, and for its twinkle-in-the-eye esprit?

Won’t you join me in learning to shed your dread? It may be the most prudent thing we can do.

Context Institute’s Founder and Director Robert Gilman has spent the last few months between The Netherlands and Scotland, where he is doing sustainability consulting work. Robert is one of the speakers for the Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities conference to be held this October at the Findhorn Community in Scotland. Robert can be reached via e-mail at:

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