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Love Is Letting Go of Fear has had an amazing journey since its first edition was printed in 1979. No one could be more surprised than I at the journey this book has taken. It has sold millions of copies, has been published in dozens of languages, and continues to be a classic after all these many years. This book is about inner healing and spiritual transformation. In many ways, I wrote this book for myself. Being dyslexic and a slow reader, I like books that are reader-friendly, have larger print than usual, and have cartoons to help make the writing easier to understand.
The core principles are about having a willingness to see the world differently; seeing value in letting go of our control issues, judgments, and grievances; and making forgiveness as important as breathing. The principles in this book apply to every aspect of our lives, including our relationships with other people and with objects such as money and material things.
In celebrating the third edition of this book some thirty-plus years after its first edition was published, it seemed like it would be helpful to take a look back. I wanted to contrast my impressions about what I was like during those first fifty years with my reflections about the second part of my life after I began to incorporate the lessons in this book.
The first part of my life I thought of myself as not being good enough and not being very smart when it came to academics as I usually was in the bottom of my class. I was an undiagnosed dyslexic, a very fearful kid who grew up to be a fearful adult. I was shy, judgmental of myself as well as others, always wondering when the next brick was going to come down from the sky and hit me on the head. My fear made me overly controlling and at the same time fearful of intimacy. On the one hand I always had a mission of wanting to help other people, and on the other hand I wanted to make a lot of money.
Although the world saw me as successful, I was not a very happy camper and my inner life was miserable. I married when I was twenty-nine years old, had two sons, and had a marriage that looked great from the outside but was very challenging from the inside. What was important to me was financial security, how much money I had in the bank, and the kind of house and neighborhood I lived in. What other people thought of me seemed terribly important. I was a fault finder to others, but also to myself. Emotionally, I was on a treadmill machine going at high speed, and I was not capable of slowing the machine or stopping it to get off. My ego seemed to have me in a stranglehold.
No matter how much money I made, it was never enough. We seemed to be always spending more than we were making. At one point I bought a green Austin Healey and had a green hat that went with it. I was sure it would bring me lasting happiness. And of course, that did not happen. I projected my unhappiness onto my wife, and a twenty-year marriage ended in a painful divorce. I soon turned to alcohol to hide my pain.
I denied I was an alcoholic even after I was stopped by the police for driving under the influence of alcohol. Most of my friends were either heavy drinkers or alcoholics who denied they had an alcohol problem. During this time I was an atheist, and in my judgmental way I thought that people who were religious or spiritual were this way because they were fearful. I remember being proud of my atheistic stand and how I viewed life.
I do remember brief times of happiness. But most of what I remember of those days was a life where I had little if any inner peace. A lingering feeling kept bobbing up that I didn’t deserve to be happy.
I was fifty years old when I consciously started my spiritual journey. Before that I had no idea how hard I could be on myself or others. The word forgiveness had little meaning. However, I began slowly but surely to see the beneficial effects of being willing to forgive others--and, especially, myself.
By practicing the lessons in A Course in Miracles and Love Is Letting Go of Fear, I began to experience a sense of inner peace that I never had before, and I had never thought was possible. I began to sense, then believe in, what I call “inner knowing” and that there is a Higher Power that could, if I were willing, direct my life into a consciousness of love, giving and helping others. My focus on money and material things began to disappear. I was totally absorbed in helping as I started the first Center for Attitudinal Healing. I began to experience how everyone I met, or even thought about, was my teacher. Finally, I discovered I could make inner peace as my only goal, and forgiveness as my only function. I learned to listen to an inner voice of love directing what I thought, said, and did.
As I have advanced in chronological years, I have become more mellow and realize that I don’t know what is best for others but that each of us has an inner teacher that can show us the way. If I find myself in stress, I am more aware now that I have some more forgiving to do. As I have let go of some of the blocks I have put in the way of my experiencing love, I am more compassionate and focused on living in this present moment than doing what I used to do by getting caught in worrying about the fearful future and the fearful past.
In general I am more of a happy camper. I am not trying to change other people or their attitudes. I do my best to be a vehicle of love with everyone and not withhold or exclude my love from anyone, including myself. I laugh a lot more as I keep the six-year-old kid inside me--active, alive, curious, and playful. I don’t take myself so seriously. I am more careful about what I eat, and I exercise regularly and go to the gym several times a week.
Working with families with children who are facing death has shown me that there is another way of looking at living and dying and life and death. They have also taught me the value of living one day at a time and the great importance of discovering that it is always possible to have gratitude in one’s life. They have taught me that it is possible to experience peace of mind even when chaos is going on all around me or in my body.
The people who I spend most of my time with are no longer alcoholics. They are like-minded and like-hearted people who are also on a spiritual pathway and who believe that nothing is impossible. They also, like myself, tend to believe that it is possible to retrain our minds to believe that there are only two emotions--love or fear--and to see our fear as a call of help for love.
The year 1981 was another turning point in my life when Diane Cirincione showed up. I believe the angels were working overtime that day when I discovered my soul mate. I don’t think that was an accident or would have happened if I had not been able to let go of the shame and guilt I had been harboring in my own jail cell, resulting in my lack of self-love. Diane became an amazing partner and teacher for me of unconditional love, patience, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness. Our joint goal became to demonstrate and teach only love. It has been a miraculous journey where our Higher Power, our Source, God, or whatever word you might wish to call it has become the most important thing in our relationship.
As far as how I look at my aging process is concerned, I now believe it is more important to count your smile wrinkles than your aging wrinkles. I think that age is but an abstract number, and that my mind knows no limitations. In the first part of my life I was fearful of aging and of death, but now I no longer have these fears. I feel the age I am now is the best one yet and the best is yet to come.
And in those first fifty years I believed there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and it was my goal to find that pot of gold. Now I realize that we are the rainbow, the pot of gold is love, and that is what we actually are.
Am I always in a blissful spiritual space? Of course not. I am a work in process and believe I will be a work in process as long as I remain in this body. Every day there are challenges around judgments of others and myself. I have periods of impatience and irritation and not feeling at peace with myself. What is different now is that these periods are much shorter in duration, when I choose to remember, as constantly as I can, that it is only my own thoughts and attitudes that can hurt me.
As I look at the world and what has happened to it since this book was first published, there has been amazing progress made in the field of medicine and in the treatment of diseases and traumas, and in the scientifically established relationship between the body and the mind. There has been awesome progress in so many different areas of technology. The first edition of this book =I wrote in longhand on a yellow pad. The advancement of computers, the ability to communicate information instantaneously any place in the world on the Internet, and the advent of social networks . . . and on and on . . . all these have changed the world.
There are many people and philanthropic organizations, businesses, and individuals who are doing important work to help the disadvantaged in the world. But at the same time, again through my eyes, fear continues to play a major role in why we are not more loving, compassionate, kind, gentle, and understanding with each other and ourselves.
We continue to have major problems in getting along and living in harmony with our families, with our communities, with our country and other countries, and with our planet. There are millions of children and adults who are starving and others who are living below the poverty line, who do not have enough food to eat or proper health care.
Addiction problems are on the increase as are physical and sexual abuse. The rate of suicide is increasing in the armed services as it is in several countries. More jails are being built. Our educational system is in dire need of help, even as our military budget continues to go sky high. There are fears and concerns among many about the economic toll and political and spiritual impacts that wars throughout the world have been taking. There are fears about the possibility of nuclear war, fears about global warming, and whether or not these problems can really be solved. There are fears about drug wars, culture wars, religious wars, and wars over natural resources, and how they affect the world.
But perhaps the fears at the top of the list for many people are about financial instability and of terrorism. Because I am on a spiritual pathway does not mean there have not been those moments when I have had my own fears around money or the harm that could come to me through terrorist activity.
It is my impression that my attitudes and thoughts have a direct effect on how I and others deal with safety, money, and material possessions. There is certainly nothing wrong with money. What gets us into trouble is our attachment to money, which can lead to our making it have more value to us than our relationships. At the end of our lives when we reflect back on what has been most important to us, most people will agree that it has been loving relationships, not how much money we had in the bank.
In recent times, as in many other times in history, there has been a cyclic phenomenon where there is a tremendous focus on money and material things, on not having enough. People’s worst fears seem to have come true, in that so many have lost their jobs, their homes, and even their retirement savings that they had planned for and worked so hard to achieve.
The financial crisis has had serious consequences around the world. People got angry, blaming everyone and everything they could think of. It has been all too easy to fall into the deep hole of victimhood. Many found it impossible to experience any sense of peace when the force of these economic failures entered their lives. When the traumatic events of life happen, some never recover and people continue to feel bitter, angry, and unhappy the rest of their lives. They continue to scratch their injuries so continuously that their wounds never heal.
Others seem able to experience their fearful and bitter emotions but not get stuck in them, to forgive the past, and choose to make their loving relationships more important than money and material things. These people refuse to live in the past; they choose not to worry. They see worry as a waste of time because, in actuality, worrying doesn’t work! Against the majority of current world belief, they refuse to believe that the fearful past is going to =predict a fearful future. They refuse to allow themselves to be pessimists and choose instead to live with an optimistic attitude. They seem to know they can choose to be peaceful internally no matter what is happening in the external world.
Fear can be known as the most virulent and damaging virus known to humankind. Most of the world’s belief system of how we communicate with each other and ourselves is based on fear. Let’s explore just a few of the beliefs of the world’s ego thought system as it is related to money and material things.
Our ego’s laws are based on the belief that our happiness depends on how much money we have in the bank and how many possessions we own. Its voice of fear bombards us with an attitude of greed, thinking of ourselves first, and getting as much as we can and holding on to it. The fear that is the nucleus of our egos gives us an insatiable desire and hunger to consume more, more and an unending consumption of more. Our ego’s cardinal rule is that nothing is ever enough: “Seek but never find what you are looking for. Build your life with the fear of scarcity every step of the way.”
For example, our egos can deceive us into believing if we just could have one million dollars in the bank, we would have peace of mind for the rest of our lives, and =we would feel secure. Our fearful ego mind, the king of deception, would then come in with the thought that one million dollars is not enough to give me peace of mind and happiness; what I really need is two million dollars to feel consistently happy and peaceful. Our egos would not want us to believe that love, peace, and happiness are the enemy.
So what generally happens when we follow the belief in the world’s fear-based laws around attitudes when there is financial insecurity and we have lost our jobs, our homes, and our retirement savings that were going to make for a safe and secure future?
Our egos motivate us to believe that we will feel more peaceful and happy if we find someone to blame and direct our anger at that person. So we develop an attitude that our egos call “healthy,” which is to have a raging anger at bankers, mortgage loan officers, and politicians; we make up an “enemy list” in our minds. And when our “justified anger” does not seem to be enough, we add on to the list our anger at the world, God, and finally ourselves. The trouble is, we soon discover that it is just about impossible to experience peace of mind and justified anger at the same time.
When we get caught in the ego’s thought system, our beliefs are created from the fear that the past is going to predict the future and the future is going to be just like the past. I have witnessed some people who, when financial insecurity comes their way, continue to feed on their anger and bitterness and lack of trust the rest of their lives. They seem to go around and around in circles, with peace, intimacy, and love escaping them. They do not still their minds and find new creative solutions for the problems they face. They superimpose the past onto the present and future and thus continue to re-create what they least want to experience.
There are others I have known who have faced their human feelings without getting stuck in them and have forgiven the world and themselves. They spend their lives in a giving and helping attitude. The attitude they carry with them is an optimistic one, believing that when one door closes, another door will open. They are on the lookout for ways they can help others even during bad times, and they are not afraid to reposition themselves. They remind themselves with gratitude that the love they have and give to others is the greatest treasure they could have, and it’s a treasure that no one can ever take away from them.
Some years ago, Diane and I were guest lecturers on a conference titled, The Power Healing Power of Laughter and Play in Boston, Massachusetts. We were surprised to be met at the airport by two clowns. I started a conversation with the clown next to me and asked him his story about how he became a clown. His story was amazing.
He was a sixty-three-year-old businessman who had been quite successful. In 1987 he lost almost everything he had in the economic downturn. He stated that he became depressed and angry at himself for his poor judgments, and he was always feeling fearful of the future. One day he read in the newspaper that there was going to be a night course on clowning to be given at a local college near him.
He could not believe it when he found himself signing up for the course. He told me that this decision saved his life. He changed his lifestyle, including where he lived. He goes to hospitals and schools and helps children learn how to laugh. He enjoys giving his love to children and making them laugh, and the more he does this the happier he is. His last words to us were that he had never known he could be this happy.
People like him show us that we can suffer economic loss and see it as an opportunity for a spiritual transformation. We can make giving more important than getting; we can begin to see love as more important than material things. We can begin to feel that love actually is the answer to all our problems.
There are many of us who would rank our huge fear of terrorists along with fears about money and the lack of it at the top of our pyramid of fears. So far I don’t think that anyone has come up with a successful plan that people agree on to rid the world of terrorists; they seem so elusive and hard to find.
Would you consider that the hate, anger, grievances, lack of forgiveness, and murder, either in words or actions, seem justified to the persons performing the acts of terrorism? Would you be willing to consider that such decisions are based on fear rather than love? And would you rewind our history and observe that since the beginning of humankind, there has been an amazing amount of fear and terror in one form or another that we have passed along in our teachings from one generation to another?
Terrorists come in many different forms, political persuasions, skin colors, sizes, and have different religious beliefs--they are rich people, poor people, governmental agencies, and heads of state. Their attacks are often sudden and unexpected where thousands upon thousands of innocent people have been killed, and the perpetrators often feel righteous and justified about what they have done.
In attempts to understand the world and myself, I have found cartoons to be extremely helpful and insightful. =I, along with thousands of others, remember the famous Pogo cartoon that stated, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, famous psychiatrist, now deceased, was known for her work on death and dying. She once said, “There is a little bit of Hitler in each of us.”
When I first heard this statement, I resented it. I said to myself, “I hate Hitler, and there is no Hitler in me.” I was then in denial of my ego, whose center is fear, conflict, hate, revenge, and murder.
Then I began to remember when my sons were in grammar school and they left their rooms a mess, how there were occasions when I lost my temper and would shout at them, trying to control them by making them fearful, not realizing I was causing terror in them by my loud outbursts of anger. Is not a terrorist someone who causes another person to feel terrified? And what about bullies in school who create terror in kids who are smaller than them? Isn’t bullying another form of terrorism? Another form of fear?
Many of us have had the experience of being so angry that in our minds there is a wish that the other person would die or just disappear from the face of the earth, a wish and thought that can be considered as a disguised form of murder. If our thoughts are as powerful as our actions, could that be considered as the beginnings of a terrorist thought within ourselves?
Is it just possible that Pogo was correct and that the enemy is within our minds when we allow ourselves to believe that anger and hate will get us what we want? Is it not possible that to heal the outside world we first need to do inner healing of our own fears, attack thoughts, and hatred?
Questions and more questions continue to be asked. Can we get out of the mess that the world we see seems to be in? Is there an alternative to destroying each other and ourselves and the planet we live on? Will hate and violence always be a part of our lives? Is this a dream world, a world of illusions and insanity made up by our egos that blocks the awareness of the presence of love?
The concepts in this book can help heal our minds and our hearts. They can open the door to making all of our decisions based on love rather than fear. They can assist us in committing ourselves to go through each day with the vigorous determination that we will have no thoughts, attitudes, words, or actions that are hurtful to others or ourselves. The lessons in this book are based on the belief that only our own thoughts and attitudes create our reality, and that it is only our own thoughts and attitudes that can hurt us . . . or heal us!
I like reminding myself of my friend, Hugh Prather, who states, “There must be another way of going through life besides being pulled though kicking and screaming.” I do believe that there is another way of going through life, and it requires an open mind, a willingness to change our beliefs and to change our goal.
There is increasing recognition among people everywhere that we are destroying ourselves and the world in which we live. Many of us, myself included, have felt the futility of trying to rid ourselves of frustration, conflict, pain, and illness, while still holding on to old belief systems. We do not seem to be able to change the world, to change other people, or to change ourselves until we are willing to change our own minds.
Today there is a rapidly expanding search for a better way of going through life that is uncovering a new awareness and a change in consciousness. It is like a spiritual flood that is about to cleanse the earth. This transformation of consciousness is prompting us to look inward, and as we explore our inner spaces we recognize the harmony and at-one-ment that has always been there.
As we look inward, we also become aware of an inner intuitive voice that provides a reliable source for guidance. When the physical senses are hushed, and we listen to the inner voice and surrender to it, moments of true healing and growth occur. In this silence, where the conflict of personalities has ceased to interest us, we can experience the joy of peace in our lives.
Although we want to experience peace, most of us are still seeking something else that we never find. We are still trying to control and predict, and therefore we feel isolated, disconnected, separate, alone, fragmented, unloved, and unlovable. We never seem to get enough of what we think we want, and our satisfactions are highly transitory. Even with those people we are close to, we often have love/hate relationships. These are relationships in which we feel a need to get something from someone else; when the need is fulfilled, we love them, and when it is not fulfilled, we hate them. Many of us are finding that, even after obtaining all the things we wanted in terms of job, home, family, and money, there is still an emptiness inside. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, called this phenomenon “spiritual deprivation.”
Throughout the world there is a growing recognition of the need to feel fulfillment within, rather than to rely on the external symbols of success. When we have a desire to get something from another person or the world and we are not successful, the result is stress expressed in the form of frustration, depression, perceptions of pain, illness, and death. Most of us seriously want to get rid of the pain, illness, and frustrations, but we still want to maintain the old self-concept. Perhaps that is why we are going in circles, because we rigidly hold on to our old belief systems.
The world that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, heal our relationship with our past, and expand our sense of now by releasing the fear in our minds. This changed perception leads to the recognition that we are not separate, but that we have always been joined.
There are many valid ways that lead to transformation and inner peace. This small book has been written as a primer for those of us who are motivated to experience personal transformation toward a life of giving and love, and away from getting and fear. In brief, this is a book about self-fulfillment through giving. The words and drawings present practical applications of steps for transformation in everyday situations that all of us face. This book is intended to help us remove the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence in our lives.
We can learn to retrain our minds to have the single goal of peace of mind and the single function of practicing forgiveness. Our fulfillment can come from listening to the voice of our inner teacher. And in so doing, we will learn to heal our relationships, experience peace of mind, and let go of fear.