Searching the Roots of Fear and Pessimism

There is a sadness I feel when I encounter people whose lives are driven by fear. A sadness comes over me because of what is lost. I imagine what wonders and surprises and hopes and healings these people might have brought to the community had they not given up and settled for comfort or security or control.

Banksy in Boston: Follow Your Dreams (Cancelled). Photo by Joe Wolf on Flickr.

Fear contributes to pusillanimity, and Aquinas teaches that pusillanimity (little-souled-ness) is a kind of pride or arrogance insofar as a person settles for his or her bad opinion of himself rather than learning one’s gifts and what one might contribute to the greater community.

“Pusillanimity is a greater sin than presumption,” he warns. It leads to sins of omission, especially as regards works of justice.

It is important to be hunter gatherers seeking and hunting for examples of courage around us.  And among our ancestors as well–members of the communion of saints whom we love for their courage.  We can call upon such people, their stories and examples, at times of temptation to fear.

It is important to bring to mind the lives of people who have lived out of vision and courage and have not closed down their hearts.

“If Not Now, When? If Not Us, Who?” Protestor invokes Hillel the Elder and Black heroes at a Black Lives Matter march. Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

It is also important to fill up with a sense of the joy that cosmology brings (“wonder brings joy,” St. Thomas says) so that we can stand firm in the presence of struggle and doubt. It is important to pass on a sense of strength to our children and young people instead of a sense of dependency, a dependency that is baked into a consumer-driven economic system.  Or a sense of defeat, despondency and self-pity that pessimism breeds.

The great psychologist Otto Rank offers a profound observation when he says that pessimism is a philosophy of hatred that springs from self-hate.

First, that pessimism is a philosophy—it is a way of seeing the world and interpreting it while trying to find our place in the world. But that it deserves to be called a “philosophy of hatred” is very strong language—who wants to invest in a philosophy of hatred? Who would confess to believing in such a philosophy?

But here lies Rank’s wisdom and depth—that he dares to unmask where pessimism comes from. It comes from hatred. Hatred of life, hatred of possibility, hatred of the powers of imagination and creativity to recycle bad events, hatred of hope.  To be continued.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 295.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Self-judgment. From the documentary video “PTSD: Managing Your Mental Health” Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Rank that a philosophy of pessimism (and the fear it breeds) is born of self-hatred?   Does this shed light on a cure for fear?

Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

17 thoughts on “Searching the Roots of Fear and Pessimism”

  1. Avatar

    Is not a lot of fear, depression and pusillanimity brought on by self-talk? ‘We are what we think’ as Buddha has expounded. What, where and who are our thoughts directed when we first get up in the morning? Do we envision a confrontation, real or imaginary, that we may or may not have with someone or something that bothers and annoys us?
    We give away our freedom to experience the love, joy and peace of God with our constant and embittered internal chatter. So how do we turn that around ie generate a peaceful and joyful amount of non-thought, faithful thought, fruitful thought? Do we not look to Jesus and His actions, His presence and His Word, ‘the Way’ which becomes our way, His mind that become our thoughts and minds, His Sacred Heart that becomes our loving and merciful Heart? Look no further then. From sunrise to sunset, we look to Him that provides for us, feeds us with true bread of life, and mends us back into a loving wholeness on the inside, despite what might appear on the outside. And at the same time, ‘the world’ may be ‘going to hell in a handbasket’, as it does and will continue to do so until its current realm draws to a close.
    Access to the realm of the Creator is available to us now, today, presently. It is not escapism, it is realism, a consciousness beyond human comprehension alone. We merely act, think and mimic the Heart and Mind of the Creator, not out of self-righteousness, but out of humble love of self and community. — BB.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Hi Bill,
      I agree with your comment 100 %.
      In my work with older adults, I find most people have no idea how they present themselves, how they do themselves in. Before we can do anything about our thoughts and consequent actions, we need to know what we are doing to ourselves; What we are telling ourselves and that we are oblivious to the fact that we are listening to ourselves. In order to re-write the script, one needs to know he/she is allowing themselves to be controlled by one. I spend a lot of energy helping to raise this awareness and to help older adults avoid unnecessary suffering, pessimism, self hatred. Life is so beautiful, so awesome. Isn’t it a shame to miss it? My soul requires that I do whatever I can to open others to the possibility that s/he is creating their personal misery.
      I often suggest that s/he make friends with the person s/he sees in the mirror in the morning. I may even offer suggestions of how to do that.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  2. Avatar

    Hatred in this context I believe is too strong a word. Jesus expressed pessimism, realizing that all would not follow Him. As Children of God we must be aware of the evil in the world to grow and stay close to Christ, who will direct us where best to invest our gifts.

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    The words that capture me in today’s DM, spoken by Mathew is “How do we wrestle with pessimism? One way is through wonder!” For the past few months, I’ve been exploring this process through botanical watercolor painting. I’ve noticed that this particular art form is really opening my eyes to see the intricate details in creation, which do indeed awaken a sense of wonder, to the beauty all around me… in the simplist of things.

    I find myself engaging for hours, with a single oak leaf, the petals of a flower, the texture of bark on trees, the vibrant shades of green in the moss, the gentle movement of light dancing in the forest creating dapples of shadows here and there. It’s as if everything has become magnified and I’m beginning to really see for the first time, the wonderous beauty; that’s always been there, yet in the past I never really paid attention to in such an intimate way.

    For myself, this has become a joyful and creative way of wrestling with my own pessimistic thoughts and those of others that often circle around like mosquitoes, seeking to land and suck the life blood out of you.

    I’ve also noticed that engaging in this art form, is also an act of self-love and self-compassion, which is a new way for me to deal with the wrestling of my thoughts… in a much more gentler, positive, imaginative and creative way.

    1. Avatar

      A marvelous testimony to the wisdom of art as meditation and its power to heal! Thank you for sharing..

    2. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Thanks for sharing your inner process Jeanette. Reminded my of Forest Bathing. Are you aware of that practice. Sounds like you are already doing it.

  4. Avatar

    American capitalism and militarism is the epitome of pessimism regardless of what it says about itself. As it tries to dominate the population at home through austerity and abroad through militarism, we at home and abroad are left with a population that is materially, intellectually, and spiritually impoverished. Which is the way they, the billionaires, the militarists, the weapons industry, the oil industry, the financial industry want it. It is such a tragic situation. We need rely on joy to speak a new vision, way of life and politics. ❤️

  5. Avatar

    Our consumer driven economic system appears to be at the heart of pessimism and despair in so many young people. I don’t participate in much social media, but I do look at Reddit and follow several groups. There are so many posts by people, young in their 20’s through retirement age who feel defeated, disappointed, frustrated, hopeless. All of them refer to their economic circumstances… working at jobs they hate, that deplete them, not making enough money to make ends meet let alone to afford a house of their own. They post about feeling trapped, unsupported, comparing themselves to their “more successful” peers (and yet some folks post of earning $100,000 a year and STILL not able to make ends meet!) Those close to retirement despair that they will never be able to truly retire after years of hard work and sacrifice. There is anger, fear of insecurity, despair and hopelessness so thick “out there.” How can we change this consumer driven economic system when so many have their identities tied up in it?

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Matthew has been sharing about JOY..
      It seems that when we choose to be joyful others may find it contagious.
      We are beacons of our feelings. When I am at peace, those around me sense my peace.
      When I am depressed and pessimistic, those around me feel my low energy and can be
      influenced by it. When I make a conscious choice to be joy-filled, those around me see and
      experience my joy as well. Modeling joy is one positive step, a feeling that is contagious..Being Joy. Being Peace. Being Love… for others – the way to go….and you will be lifting yourself at the same time.

  6. Avatar

    Jeanette has introduced a practice that helps us envision ways to counter
    pessimism in one’s self. Recently, my friend showed up at our meditation
    circle with water color paints and asked us to paint our grief. Free of words,
    we were able to dive deeper into this topic. The Via Creativa is alive and well.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      thank you for bringing the Via Creativa to the spotlight.
      Sing, dance, paint, photograph, talk to a tree and hear him answer,
      create, create, create – fill yourself with new life, new possibility, and
      create some more.

  7. Avatar

    I repeat my Comment from yesterday that it is very sad that historically most of humanity has lost awareness of its divine nature, except for the many Indigenous spiritual peoples, saints, prophets, mystics, and unrecognized compassionate human individuals in human history up to the present day. The eternal spiritual journeys of our individual souls remain very important in the spiritual evolution/consciousness of humanity and sacred Mother Earth to help unite All of us to Our co-Creator~Source’s Loving Diverse Oneness in our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos Present within and among us….

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Yes, it is sad, HOWEVER, isn’t it fantastic that you and I have a choice to be sad or full of joy!

  8. Avatar
    David Lindmeier

    From my perspective, pessimism is born of doubt. Doubt is born of fear in relationship with the other.

  9. Avatar

    I was talking to a nurse recently and she was instructing me how important it was to drink water. To make a joke I accidentally uttered truth that my ancestors were amebas, Oh yes, that is Wonder.

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: