Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part One:


  1. Face forward.
  2. Fold hands in front.
  3. Do not make eye contact.
  4. Watch the numbers.
  5. Don't talk to anyone you don't know.
  6. Stop talking with anyone you do know when anyone you don't know enters the elevator.
  7. Avoid brushing bodies.


We all know fear. It is probably the most common limiting emotion--and, for many people, the most common emotion,period . As Shakespeare pointed out, we are often "distilled almost to jelly with the act of fear." Not only do we fear new things; we also feel fear in addition to other negative emotions. We feel guilt, and we're afraid to feel the guilt . We feel pain, and we're afraid to feel the pain . Even when we feel fear, we're often afraid to feel the fear. (That's known as "worrying about your worries," "an anxiety attack," or "the screaming meemies.") Shakespeare, again: "Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed."

Because it's so common, fear has many other names: apprehension, misgiving, trepidation, dread, horror, phobia, terror, alarm, consternation, foreboding, qualm, suspicion, fret, uneasiness, distress, panic, worry.

Physically, we tend to feel fear in the area we generally call the stomach. Although it's lower than the biological stomach (more in the area of the lower abdomen), for the sake of locating fear--and going along with the popular use of the word--I'll define "the stomach" as a large, circular area with the navel at its center.

In its more intense forms, the feeling of fear is accompanied by a quickening of the pulse, a widening of the eyes, and a sharpening of the senses.

Someone once described FEAR in an acronym: False Expectations Appearing Real. For the most part, what we fear is not real--it is merely our mind imagining something awful that has not yet happened. ("Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil," Aristotle said.)

The thing I fear most is fear.


Nothing is terrible except fear itself.


The only thing I am afraid of is fear.


Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.


Seldom do we do the thing we fear, so we seldom discover whether or not our projection of disaster was accurate. In fact, when we don't do the thing we are afraid of, we breathe a sigh of relief as though it actually would have taken place . "That was a close one!" we say, even though we never actually got close to anything but a string of our own negative thoughts.

Fear breeds lack of experience; lack of experience breeds ignorance (ignore -ance); ignorance breeds more fear. It is a vicious circle.

As Lucretius described it more than two centuries ago, "For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness, so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true."

Put another way: fear is interest paid on a debt you may not owe.

When we feel fear, we look around for something to fear. Considering all there is to look at (the media, the environment, our body, our memory, our imagination), we have little trouble finding something . The fear grows, our perception of the world darkens, and it becomes an increasingly terrible place.

Sophocles (fifth century B.C.) knew this when he wrote, "To him who is in fear, everything rustles."

Eventually, we begin to avoid all things and thoughts that even might produce fear, or that might produce the fear of fear, or that might produce the fear of fear of fear. It becomes a many-layered fortress--fear defending fear defending fear defending fear--and inside: nothing.

It is one of the great jokes of existence. When people have the courage to journey into the center of their fear, they find--nothing. The terror was only layers of fear, being afraid of itself.

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.


This realization is either tragic or comic--often both. People are often seen laughing and crying simultaneously. The unenlightened nearby may fear that the newly enlightened have gone mad.

When unreal fears become extreme, it's known as paranoia . As Tennessee Williams warned an interviewer, "I'm a paranoiac, baby, so I hope you don't make the mistake of laboring under the false impression that you are talking to a sane person."

Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.


Anytime we let unreal fears (and that includes untested fears) keep us from moving toward our dreams, it is a form of madness.

If the madness makes us furious, that might not be so bad: "To be furious is to be frightened out of fear." (Shakespeare, yet again.) But for most, the insanity of fear only produces discomfort and inaction.

And more fear.


Hail to you gods, On that day of the great reckoning. Behold me, I have come to you, Without sin, without guilt, without evil, Without a witness against me, Without one whom I have wronged. I am one pure of mouth, pure of hands.

1700-1000 B.C.

We find the defendants incredibly guilty.


Guilt is the anger we feel toward ourselves when we think we do something "wrong." The trouble is, most of us haven't explored what we think is truly "right" and "wrong" in years--maybe ever.

Even if we have explored our own sense of right and wrong, often we still feel guilty for things we don't personally think are wrong. It's a habit. So, even if we know that kind of guilt is a waste of time, we feel it anyway. Then we feel guilty about that .

Guilt is something we get so clever about. We always seem to be able to find subtler and subtler levels of self-judgment. "The only reason I still feel guilty about masturbation," David Steinberg said, "is that I do it so badly."

The process of limitation and immobility is fear before we do something new, and guilt after . (Maybe that's why they're both felt in the stomach area.) Guilt is the remorse--the shame, the regret--we feel at having done something "different." We feel so bad we promise ourselves, "I'll never do that again!" even if it's the very thing we need to do, over and over again.

When we've had enough blaming ourselves, we often find someone or something else to blame--"The devil made me do it" in all its various forms. In addition to purging the offending action from our lives, we also promise to avoid the person (situation, thing, etc.) that "caused" our "downfall."

And so our circle of activity becomes smaller and smaller. The comfort zone closes in.

Guilt is tricky. It's not always a deep, painful feeling--a desperate need for atonement. It has other methods. It can, for example, rewrite the memory of an experience. We may do something new, enjoy doing it (or the result of doing it), and guilt will actually convince us that we didn't like it (or got nothing from it).

We can say to someone, "I'm not going to do that again; I didn't really like it," and believe it --although, in fact, the experience itself (not the fear before the experience or the guilt after, but the actual experience) was enjoyable (or profitable).

Last night at twelve I felt immense, But now I feel like thirty cents.


Keep in mind I'm not talking about hurting yourself or others. I'm talking about the guilt we feel when we do something new (submitting a manuscript to a publisher, say, or taking a high school equivalency test) and fail. Although we learned something from the failure, guilt steps in and convinces us, "The lesson wasn't worth the cost." I'm also talking about feeling uneasy about trying something new and succeeding . Remember that guilt is not rational. Many of us have irrational beliefs that we should not be too successful.

"Who do you think you are?" guilt asks, "Someone special? What's wrong with the way things are? You have no appreciation . Why can't you fit in? Why do you always have to do it your way? Can't you learn to cooperate?" And on and on.

It's guilt's job to make us feel bad when we violate even a limiting belief about ourselves. A limiting belief such as unworthiness, for example.

(More about guilt on page 383, "Guilt (again).")


You have no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself and how little I deserve it.


Unworthiness is the deep-seated belief that tells us we're undeserving, not good enough, inadequate, fundamentally deficient.

It's the primal doubt we feel in the pit of our stomach when we consider living a dream. "Don't try it," unworthiness warns. "Don't even think about it."

And so, we don't even think about it. Our mind goes off on one distraction after another--anything rather than having to face even the possibility of our own elemental inadequacy.

Of all the components of the comfort zone, unworthiness is the most hideous, and therefore, the most hidden--especially from ourselves. We can stand feeling bad, but to feel that we are lacking even the most meager spark of goodness--that we are condemned to never have what we truly want, and that we deserve that condemnation-- is beyond pain and terror; it's unthinkable.

I grew up to have my father's looks, my father's speech patterns, my father's posture, my father's opinions, and my mother's contempt for my father.


My vigor, vitality and cheek repel me. I am the kind of woman I would run from.


We don't want to know that there's even a possibility that what unworthiness says is true. We camouflage and cover and avoid any thought about our unworthiness. We act as if we might be unworthy, which, eventually, convinces us that it must be true--otherwise, why would we spend so much time pretending we're good and pretending we're happy and pretending we're worthy? It seems we'll quickly abandon the thought of fulfilling a dream as long as we can momentarily calm the center, comfort the Doubt of Doubts.

Physically, unworthiness resides in the area of the solar plexus--an area just below the breast bone where the rib cage forms an inverted "V." In some Eastern traditions, they call this the center of Chi, a fundamental point for focusing energy and moving ahead in life. Unworthiness inhibits that energy.

As ABRAHAM LINCOLN pointed out, "It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him."

Paraphrasing Lincoln in the negative (which is what unworthiness always does): "It is easy to make a man miserable while he feels he is unworthy of himself and not good enough to claim kindred to the great God who made him."

When reading "Be free, all worthy spirits, and stretch yourselves, for greatness and for height," (George Chapman, 1608), unworthiness says, in what seems our own voice, "That obviously doesn't apply to me." When offered something we really want, unworthiness says, "No, I couldn't."

One of the most popular of unworthiness's comments, however, is, upon hearing of our own good fortune, "I don't believe it! That's too good to be true!" It's often spoken with such enthusiasm--and such self-limitation--that the good that's "unbelievable" soon disappears.

Unworthiness can destroy relationships. When we don't feel worthy, we can't love ourselves--how can we love ourselves knowing our Dark Secret? And all the games we play to cover the unworthiness--how insincere, how phony, how deceptive we are. No, we are not worthy of our love.

If someone loves us, we sometimes resent that person--how can we respect anyone who falls for the facade we slapped together so haphazardly and manipulate so desperately? Anyone loving us must be easily deceived, and not worthy of our attention. Conversely, the people who dislike us we might (sometimes secretly) admire--they must be very wise to see to the truth of our very being.

Unworthiness is the foundation of the comfort zone.

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