sociopolitical (1)

Toward an Integral Yoga of Fear

Any of you who have followed my life, research and teachings know that since 1989 I specialized in the study of fear and fearlessness (and their cousins) because indeed everywhere I read and whatever I experienced, it seemed that these two dialectical constructs and phenomena are critical to the foundations of all wisdom, compassion and attainment of peace, individually or collectively. As part of my quest to bring a critical integral theory (a la Ken Wilber) to the knowledge and know how accumulated on the planet regarding these two constructs, my aim is to bring a better sense, and classification, of how all the different speakers and traditions, theories, philosophies, theologies, psychologies are at times saying the same thing (apparently) and very different things (apparently). I won't get into all the methodological issues as my various writings will guide you to that problem of knowing fear and fearlessness [1]. In graduate school for my doctorate degree (2000-03) I specifically began investigating how academic disciplines were beginning in the mid-1980s onward (in the Western hemisphere) to coin sub-disciplines of study regarding the topic of fear, which I found incredibly interesting because they were extending beyond the narrow perspective of the psychospiritual traditions [2] of knowing fear--and, especially they were critical of the psychologization of fear that has dominated for hundreds of years. I saw these new systematic pursuits to knowing fear as very helpful, if not more holistic, and sociopolitical than what we have been dished out from the dominating psychospiritual traditions. Not that I think the psychospiritual traditions are not useful, it is just that they have overly dominated the discourses and ways we then come to learn in societies how to manage and teach about fear. That's where I become very concerned, as is the integral yoga philosophy I follow more or less [3] There are too many of these new subfields re: the new scholarship on fear, as it has been called, to list, but a few are labeled as aesthetics of fear, architecture of fear, sociology of fear, anthropology of fear, ecology of fear, geography of fear, etc.

After attending a talk from a yogic swami (monk for peace) living in St. Louis, MO, it was interesting to reflect on what a yoga of fear might be, and what it seems to be in the teachings of the "classical yoga" tradition which this monk was trained. I used "integral" yoga of fear in the title for this blog because there is another branch of yoga that is not "classical" (I'm sure there are other branches too)--and, so I am interested in integrating the classical teaching with the postmodern teachings of yoga and beyond that into the future-edge of where we are heading in the Western world, which is arguably a post-postmodern era, if we don't destroy ourselves first. But these terms and historical orientations are not the purpose of this blog. I want to share what this particular swami is teaching in his "From Fear to Peace" mission--which, he is encouraging all of us to follow and for it to become our mission. I was invited by Kate, a recent member of the ning, and she was invited by a friend who is a friend of the swami, and well, you know in a small town news travels fast and I showed up with Kate. I'm writing some of the reflections from the swami's teachings on fear because we are faced with another potential sub-field of study, yes, I'm calling it yoga of fear--with an integral twist. 

I will email this swami, as he so invited us there on the evening to communicate with him and assist with the mission, from fear to peace. Which I looked up on his website was also written "from fear to fearlessness" --and "from fear to fearlessness to peace"--so, yeah, I am interested to connect with this work in some way. It is very much my own mission, and the title of courses I have offered in this area with few people attending, like 2 or 3 and then they fade away fast. I think, after hearing the swami last night it is clear that people living in the USA (southern mid-west) are perhaps more attracted to the mission if you add the word "peace"--which, I never do, just like I don't add "love" or "nonviolence"--I typically use "From Fear to Fearlessness"--and, yes, by the end of this blog, I'll make an initial case for why I don't add those 'good-marketing' words in my own work, especially while living here in American culture today. Oh, btw. if you didn't know, I am born and raised Canadian living in the US for 9 years, and have been very critical of most of a very sick American culture and its globalization mission since the 1970s. Not that I will hold that against any American, even this American born and raised, trained in India, now swami teaching peace.

I generally enjoyed being with the group of a dozen people for two hrs listening to the classical yoga teaching on "Positive Thinking" albeit, I have never been a fan of positive thinking (but that's a whole other critique). Swami Sankarananda is a very happy nice guy and wants to be infectious with these qualities and virtues. He started the talk with a prayer that more or less told us not be "fighting" with each other during the 2 hrs. I know it was more subtle and meaningful than that, but nonetheless, I'm not one to ever be happy with that kind of yoke around my neck from the start of being in a human relationship or group--that said, I let that go. Swami's taught several philosophical premises from pre-modern classical traditions of yoga teachings, which yes, they are quite universal in a lot of the psychospiritual teachings I have found, and in his case he mentioned the Vedic teachings as a foundation. At one point he mentioned there are in this teaching the three greatest fears humans have to face and conquer "fear of non-existence/death," "fear of the unknown" and "fear of ?" oops, forgot. It struck me as all pretty basic to what I have read in hundreds of articles and books by diverse authors. So nothing too new for me at this point, and of course, lingering in the back of my mind is to say, "Hey, and why not include the greatest fear of all?" In my own 27 years study of fear and fearlessness, I have come to the conclusion, at least in the modern Western world where I live, the greatest fear of all is that we do not really know as much about fear as we think we do... and, if one really takes that in, then that really shakes the hell out of our confidence--even, our confidence that the ancient gurus, mystics, swamis, saints, also did not know as much about fear as we think they do and that we need to know to live in the 21st century. Thus, all the arising new sub-fields of research on fear I mentioned. There's an intuition, and a reasoning, in some humans willing to face the 21st century uniqueness in regard to living in a "culture of fear"--that, there is a whole new study required that is both psychospiritual and sociopolitical and historical, when it comes to truly understanding fear (or what I call culturally modified 'fear'). It is at this point that swami would not enter in his talk on fear and its management as thought management in the yoga classical tradition. Of course, I forgive the swami for that ignore-ance because he is not trying to be an academic or scholar on the topic of fear and fearlessness, he is being was he was trained to be--a practitioner and teacher. I have no doubt he's doing lots of good work, go see his website:

Let me take some quotes from the swami's website that caught my eye, people here on the ning may want to comment on these and have a discussion and support each other as well on the mission...

"You can conquer your fear and come alive?" - note, I have read this slogan in so many secular and spiritual circles it starts to feel rather prosaic to me and definitely psychospiritual speak...

"We never achieve happiness ever after by pursuing our likes or avoiding our aversions." - note, I agree in general, good wisdom there and thus, I teach to study and know fear deeply, holistically, widely, integrally... is essential to the 21st century so that we have the best ongoing theory and practices of fear management/education

"Love is the greatest power on earth, it conquers all things" (he quotes from a mentor The Peace Pilgrim) - note, I make a good deal about this being a highly questionable dictum; but that's a long complex argument; and, it is not that I am against love or anything, nor against happiness... it is just that I never worship them and this kind of statement to me is susceptible to breeding that and creating American-style "addictions" to everything, like peace, happiness, love-- all that good-feeling stuff...

Anyways, there's a sample. The swami does some of his own writing on fear and fearlessness under the "Mission" link on his website, and I really appreciate that. Again, I do take issue with some of it as well, but let me focus only on his quote (which he obviously endorses) of Swami Sivananda:

"Psychologists are of the opinion that there cannot be Absolute fearlessness, and that only determined effort can be made to conquer fear. This is incorrect. Psychologists have no transcendental experience. A perfect sage who has knowledge of the Absolute is completely fearless. The Upanishads declare in a thundering voice, 'The knower of the fearless Absolute Truth himself become absolutely fearless."

Note- this quote is premodern, meaning, generally applies accurately to the times of this quote and the perspective of the speaker. I see partial truth. However, there are far too many modern, and even more integral (post-postmodern) psychologists who have spiritual practices and have even labeled transpersonal psychology as a field and equally integral psychology. Again, I am not going to make a big long argument around this. My other issue is a lack of distinction in this use of the term "fearless," which my research shows is not so simplistic as to be a behavioral characteristic or virtue attained for only an individual. The psychospiritual (individualistic) discourse in this quote is troubling as to where the "fearless" gets situated. From an integral yoga of fear, I would suggest to embrace the partial truth of this claim and to re-constitute its meaning frame in a full holistic-integral (four quadrants) reality. Again, I'm not going to say more here in this first blog on this topic of a complex dialogue that is required, beyond only my thoughts... yet, it ought to be obvious I am not a fan of reducing all reality to "thoughts" as classical teaching of yoga and the swami I listened to for 2 hrs presented with such confidence as if it is the only truth about reality. That's the way it came across. Of course, that's my personal interpretation, but, it also happens to be a highly skilled assessment based on 27 yrs expertise in this area of epistemology of fear and fearlessness--that is, how we know fear, etc. So, all the happiness and positive thinking talk for me is fine, but it can become rather thin and too washy, if not distortive, if the rigor of critical analysis of how one talks about fear is not addressed consciously--and, if we are not allowed to "fight" over our preferences of teachings, theories, philosophies. I forgive the swami in this regard, because he was doing what he wants and what his experience shows is best for him to do. I'm merely pointing to other possibilities of truthing our way in and through fear and fearlessness--and, sure, peace too. My experience is that people want peace but rarely want to do the disciplined study of what gets in its way. Swami offered us lots of those techniques to work with but for me, they are mostly psychospiritual and we also need to study in the sociopolitical quadrants or I am pretty convinced we'll not nearly undermine the current "culture of fear" dynamics going on.

So, because I have seen the addiction of American culture as both outsider and insider, my doubts about the value of peace, happiness, love as the 'way to go' and/or to keep in our attention as the Saintly, and Divine, etc... that we have to be very cautious this is not a (spiritual) by-pass, slipping us around giving equal and conscious attention (at least) that we ought to give to fear and fearlessness. Ultimately, I think the swami, and the Vedas would agree with me--though, I am not at all an expert in yoga nor really any religious or spiritual philosophy. They are not my paths but I highly respect their offerings. Swami is right that a lot of us have trouble being "too happy" (e.g., bliss or ecstasy is terrifying), yet, people in the USA especially are addicted to fun/happy and the American way--it's all part of the sociopolitical and ideological basis of capitalism in this country-- so, I am always cautious when happy and peace of mind, or even mindfulness is sought as the next "pill" or "fix" or marketing strategy. Again, I'm fairly sure that the swami wouldn't disagree with me on the need to be cautious, as I appreciated that he did at least one time say we have to be cautious in come to yoga and the spiritual teachings because our ego (fear-based structuration) can easily distort, use, appropriate anything. Thus, my case, we better well understand fear ('fear') as not merely a psychospiritual ego phenomena, but a historical, ideological, cultural, sociopolitical, economic phenomena--that's, mostly the 'balance' I did not see in swami's presentation nor on his website.

So, beyond any figgly details and critique I may have deposited here... what is really important is a larger project of What would constitute an Integral Yoga for the 21st century? And, for pushing me in that direction, happily, I thank the swami and those who brought him to little ol' Carbondale for a night. The hard and long work of progressing this yoga of fear is however up to us all, or even one or two, to pursue. I'm in... if anyone else is... lets dialogue (and conflict, if need be)... for a greater cause of positive growth and development, yes, from fear to fearlessness, and to fearless! [4]


1. A good summary of these problematics of knowing fear, via a philosophy of fearlessness and fearism, go to Fisher, R.M., and Subba, D. (2016). Philosophy of fearism: A first East-West dialogue. Australia: Xlibris.

2. The short distinction here is one based on psychospiritual quadrants of reality (upper left) or Kosmos, as Ken Wilber identifies this epistemological quadrant as 25% of the Kosmos knowing itself, in his Integral Theory (see for e.g., Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology and spirituality: The spirit of evolution (Vol. 1). Boston, MA: Shambhala). For the other 75% of co-arising Kosmos, and a truly integral epistemology which I think is about the best one can find, the three other quadrants were barely touched on in the presentation, although I did appreciate the swami giving several good references in the upper right quadrants (re: neurobiology, brain aspects)--yet, he was quick then to say but the Western approach is probably wrong and he would give the Eastern approach as the alternative corrective (his trained teachings). This taking one over the other view, is a sure sign of a non-integral thinker.

3. I don't actually fully like saying I follow "integral yoga" path (which was mentioned in the swami's talk but not pursued), yet, my roots of attraction to Ken Wilber's integral philosophy (although he is a Zen Buddhist), trace back into Hinduist thought, yoga, and especially the work of Sri Aurobindo and "integral yoga" that was brought to the USA, especially, foregrounded in an academic setting as the California Institute for Integral Studies, the latter of which I have followed more or less for a long time.

4. I say all these terms, not in only a restricted psychospiritual (individual behavioral, attitudinal, virtuous) sense, but an integral one. Which, one would have to study my work and dialogue with me to fully understand these distinctions.

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