Fear is much more complex than just a thought or a pattern. Fear is an emotion, an intrinsic process triggered by a more or less conscious perception and it’s subsequent interpretation. I think there is an instinctual component to fear (basic survival mechanism) as well, something like an inherited conditioning we carry in our genes. To use an analogy, fear to me works like a surveillance system wired to a highly alert response team. Something is perceived as being a threat, that leads to an activation of the alarm system and the response team is coming to the rescue.
We have to distinguish the emotion from the reaction. Fear is the initial emotion, it is the alarm going off, but the fight-or-flight reaction that follows is what is generally known as stress response, or panic attack.
A panic attack is a stress reaction, it is not fear itself. It is the alarm bells ringing and this is why cognitive approaches work quite well in cases of conditioned anxiety. That being said, I think with awakening we need to look at a different level of anxiety attacks.
Personally, I did not really have an issue with fear until on my own journey of self-discovery I came upon a level that touched on the subconscious and instinctual survival mechanisms. The first one had to do with learned conditioning from childhood experiences, associated with a deeply rooted fear of loss and separation. Observing what was happening in myself, suddenly made the process very clear for me. There was a profound and disturbing memory of being left alone and being vulnerable, that resisted the move towards bringing down the barriers to “hatch out the helplessness inside”, or what Zen calls the intimacy between the self and the ten thousand things. It became clear to me that on this journey we have to walk back the way we came, to be able to correct a basic error that is keeping us in check.
The other movement of fear I experienced with this had to do with the survival instinct of the egoic mind to resist surrender. It became clear to me that instinctual survival and conditioned fear were somehow related and built a wall of protect the false ego.
Fear is a powerful emotion, but fear by itself is just that – a pointer that something may threaten our human form. To be able to separate fear from the conditioning and alarm reaction, allows fear to be what it really is – protection from danger.
Fear points us to our greatest strength and moving towards our greatest fear means liberation.