How to Integrate or Remove a Phobia
This is part of my Start Here series of posts aimed at teaching beginners the basics of the human hardware.
Sounds silly but I have an irrational fear of insects, particularly moths. It’s so bad that I cannot enter a room if ‘something’ is in it, or if I see something in a room I can’t go back in until I know it’s gone… or dead. I spent a lot of my trip to Australia last year really on edge because of my fear. Due to return in November I do not want the same experience.
I can have panic attacks if I’m confronted with a moth and just feel full of this horrible panicked fear. . . put it this way. If you said, ‘here is 10k go stand in a room full of moths’, I’d tell you to keep it. Double that money and I’d still tell you to keep it!
Well, the first thing I would suggest is that no fear is irrational. On a cosmic scale, this fear was completely rational at some time. Insects were carriers of disease. In that sense it is a kind of genetic memory. The Buddhists call this a “formation”. The first thing I would do is to become grateful for the formation. Literally thank it in your mind and take a moment to fully appreciate its attempt to protect you. Gratitude removes resistance and is one of the easiest ways into acceptance, which is the first step in moving beyond the formation.
Dealing with formations is at the heart of Buddhist practice. Formations are not just fears but are all drives, thoughts, emotions and perceptions.
We should be precise with our language. Formations are not “removed” in surgical fashion. Rather, an equanimity is found with them (through various means, of which meditation is just one), at which point they become integrated and stop exerting their effect. It is more accurate to say you “move beyond” formations; they simply stop manifesting at a certain point. There is a process by which the integration of a formation occurs. This process is largely invisible and takes place in the unconscious mind during practices such as meditation, after the intention to move beyond the formation is clearly verbally declared. However, in meditations which utilize a high degree of awareness, the integration process becomes more visible in conscious awareness, arising perhaps as vibrations or fluctuating patterns of sensations, and the moment of integration may even be perceived as a mental “pop” – a noticeable shift in perception, or the sense of a veil suddenly being lifted.
The time required to integrate a formation varies depending on the nature of the formation and how fundamental it is to the being in question (since animals also have formations, as they are the basis of our experience of reality). Generally, the more fundamental the formation, the longer it will take to integrate. For example, a poor relationship with one’s mother might take many years to integrate, since those patterns are central pillars of a person’s relational map and a lot of other things would have to change as a result of tinkering with it. However, phobia of insects might be more arbitrary and easier to integrate, since it probably does not have much of an effect on the rest of your experience of reality. The time taken to integrate each formation cannot particularly be controlled by the meditator, beyond simply adding more practice time (which always helps).
The outcome of integrating your insect phobia would look like this: At some point in the future, you would walk into a room filled with insects and it would not bother you particularly. (And, reality will test you in some fashion like this at some point in the future, in order to demonstrate to you that the formation truly has been integrated and moved beyond.)
The primary force which causes someone to move beyond a certain formation is intent. This is unscientific, because science does not know how to modify behaviour (yet). What I am describing is how to modify behaviour, and it is likely done in a way you would never expect. Intent is the primary force that drives change.
The first thing to do is to choose the goal state. The goal state would be something like being able to walk into a room, be swarmed by insects, and not react above the normal level of discomfort (no one likes insects). You will need to put in the time to visualize this outcome, and ignore any emotional discomfort the imagined situation brings. You will need to get to a point where you can visualize this situation at will without resisting it too much (and remind yourself that it is only a mental simulation, if that helps). Finally, you will need to make a formal declaration of this intention, known in meditation as a “formal resolution”:
“I formally intend to become comfortable around insects, in its own time, for the greatest good of all.”
The latter two clauses are optional and simply reduce mental resistance to the idea. “In its own time” removes impatience, since it acknowledges that it may take months or even years for the intention to come into effect (and you have to allow it to proceed at its own pace). “For the greatest good of all” presupposes that ending the phobia will be of benefit to others beyond yourself, and is therefore an altruistic intention (and it is altruistic to the insects you would have otherwise killed).
Once this intention is made, it is certain to come true. It just becomes a question of when. Certain practices will speed its arrival. I personally recommend nondirective meditations for most purposes now. Conscious Mental Rest is an easy and powerful approach for beginners and experts alike. During nondirective meditations you are allowed to think; you can let your mind do whatever it wants. The only restriction is that you stay fairly still physically with your eyes closed.
You do not need to “do” anything to have your intention come true. Simply making the intention then meditating will cause it to come true at some future date. You do not need to think about insects or your intention during meditation (but if the thoughts come up, you can let yourself think them; there is no control exerted over such things in nondirective meditation). In this sense, you do not “work on” the intention to integrate the phobia. Rather, you allow it to resolve itself at entirely its own pace. There is no attempt made to exert control over the process at any point.
Technically, you do not even need to meditate. Once the intention is formally declared, it will take care of itself. Plenty of people get what they ask for simply by asking for it (in truly dedicated fashion, not flippantly) then letting time take care of the rest. However, meditation will hasten it by bringing equanimity to the situation and also by providing time for the unconscious reordering process to unfold. Given the many other benefits of meditation, it is a no-brainer that you would take up the practice.
Via the formal intention process you can receive whatever you want. It is literally the formula for planning your life. The only factor is the time it takes for outcomes to manifest. However, acceptance that it will take as long as it needs is, paradoxically, the way to get it quicker. I can honestly say that I have received everything I have ever asked for via formal intention. It is how you “hack the Matrix”.