By Georgi Y Johnson

Below, are six ways to support the mind in finding peace with the Fear of the Unknown and perhaps to begin to experience the adrenaline rush of conscious awakening as a harbinger of greater relaxation, centering and grounding.

So next time you experience irrational fear, try to play a little: relax the body; breathe in the freshness of the present moment (regardless of horrible feelings); admit that we all ultimately know nothing; let yourself become be the conscious of your own consciousness; and open up to the possibility of awe.

1. Relaxation

It’s a well known adage that what we resist, persists. Yet though we know it, it often doesn’t help with our Fear of the Unknown. Even if our conscious mind is ready to let itself be what the Zen calls Shoshin (Beginner’s’ mind), our whole nervous system can go into stress responses. This in turn, will spur anxious thoughts, which generate more stress. When we can consciously relax the body, irrespective of the sparking of existential fear, we begin to break the trance that fear casts on our sense of freedom. Fear becomes just an experience – like any other – belonging to the world of experiential phenomena.

2. From knowledge to knowing

The very nature of learning depends on the ability to open to the unknown. It’s only through this mental opening that knowing can begin, and it’s only through knowing that we can havea any claim at all to knowledge. To put it simply, all knowledge utterly and totally depends on the unknown.

When we learn to replace the Fear of the Unknown with the active principle of knowing, we can expand outward from our comfort zone, with a sense of excitement, (but without freaking out).

3. “I don’t know”

When we’re able to say “I don’t know”, it can bring tremendous relief to the nerve system. We are not required to ‘know’, nor is there any demand that we suffer because we don’t know. The fear of not knowing is so close to the Fear of the Unknown, and it’s often rooted in educational trauma. Not knowing in itself can be both a source of mental humility and mental expansion.

When the thinking mind becomes humble, it can expand to include all variety of new impressions. As a wise friend once said, “If you want to be huge, you have to be humble.” One great question is worth a thousand answers.

4. Consciousness as primary

Wherever we learned that existential validation comes through thinking – “I think therefore I am” – we need to unlearn it. As long as thinking is believed to be causal to existence, there will be no freedom from fear, and no peace of mind. The unknown (the absence of thought)  will be perceived as an existential threat.

Listen to the silence beneath the thoughts, attend to the gaps between them, notice the feeling atmosphere of a thought, notice the one that notices. Consciousness is not trapped in thoughts, nor does it depend on them. Thoughts rise and fall within consciousness, and as such, they are optional.

5. Breathing into the unbearable

All good so far, but there is always a deeper psychological charge to our Fear of the Unknown. It will be found in that one outcome – that one feeling experience – that must never be allowed to happen. It will be an unbearable feeling, in categories such as the sense of existential abandonment, betrayal, or isolation, that could come forward the moment we step into unchartered territory. Our grasping towards the known is fueled by aversion to this forbidden feeling that could emerge out of the perceived chaos of the unknown. Yet the feeling is anyway there, haunting us like a dark phantom, from behind the aversion. The more we can be present to this unbearable feeling, especially through the use of mindful breathing, the more our fear will decrease.

Our breathing affirms the gentle rhythm of the living flow of  interdependence, and a calm alignment of mind and body. The system learns that it can bare the feeling – no matter how horrible. The feeling rejoins the repertoire of the human experience, rather than holding the human experience at gunpoint.

6. Resourcing the sense of awe

The Fear of the Unknown is an attitude-shift away from entry into the sense of awe.

Psychologists and neuroscientists who study awe define it as the emotional response to something vast that surpasses ‘known’ frames of reference, leading to a change in perception.[1] Awe, (a forerunner in what are formally called “discrete positive emotions”) is clearly connected to the loss of grasping toward the ‘known’ and a willingness to turn toward the unknown. The sense of awe is powerfully neuroplastic (facilitating changes in neural connections) and is a deeply healing emotion. A 2015 study even revealed a direct link between the sense of awe and our physical health through its effect on health-proinflammatory cytokines.[2]

The opening of the sense of awe is intimately connected with the engagement of natural curiosity, an inherent quality of consciousness, that has the power to being future-based fears and expectations of pain, into the anchorage of the here and now, where the mind is fully engaged in witnessing the miracle of all experiential expressions of being alive.

“I came into the unknown

and stayed there unknowing

rising beyond all science.”

St John of the Cross

[1] Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion: Dacher Keltner & Jonathan Haidt

18 Aug 2010 Emotion. 2015 Apr;15(2):129-33. doi: 10.1037/emo0000033. Epub 2015 Jan 19.

[2] Positive affect and markers of inflammation: discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Stellar JE1, John-Henderson N2, Anderson CL3, Gordon AM3, McNeil GD3, Keltner D3.