Thursday, February 26, 2009
Fear is something that we are all intimately familiar with.. everyone has, from time to time, confronted some situation or circumstance that has turned their insides to ice water, and their knees to rubber.
There are many different types and gradiations of fear, probably as many as there are individuals to experience them.
Fear can be debilitating. It can cause us to close the fist of our heart, close our minds, close our ears... withdraw...
It can result in a life that is not lived honestly, fully, and completely.
As human beings, we must experience fear... it is part of what it is to be human. We cannot escape this... and we cannot avoid it.
This journal, in its entirety, is, more or less an investigation into human fear. A very basic fear that we each share: fear of dying. I do not say fear of death, because once we are dead, I would imagine that there is no longer anything to fear. But, the actual process of dying is a different matter entirely!! Will there be pain? Will there be indignity? Suffering? These are things that we all face, sooner or later, and must therefore consider.
Fear can take many forms.. however, in its basic essence, it is fear of dying that is our greatest fear. Naturally, I am generalizing.. but, I don't think that I am so very far from the truth in making this statement.
Does this mean that we are all cowards? Because we have a fear of dying?
Well... I would have to say that cowardice is a refusal to acknowledge fear. How so?
Courageousness and bravery are not products of the reduction of fear, but of transcending fear... of going beyond fear... of acting according to our values despite the presence of fear!
Do you think that Jesus Christ did not feel fear during his long night in the garden of Gethsemane?
Do you suppose that Mohammed was not in fear when he entered the cave called Hira and was confronted by the Angel Gabriel and commanded to read? (recite).
Fear is something that can steal our resolve, or cause us to shut down ... the meaning of 'petrified' means to be turned to stone, and the true meaning of horror is to be rendered incapable of communicating with others... as when buried alive, or locked in to some place with some form of terrible person or creature or other fearsome thing and not able to get the attention of others, i.e, help.
The underlying purpose of both Zen practice, in general, and Dying practice, specifically, is to foster fearlessness in the practitioner.
To be fearless is to be free. To experience fearlessness, to make it an integral part of one's nature is to be at home wherever one happens to be.
What better way to begin to understand the nature of fear than to confront and examine one's own mortality, as well as one's responses and reactions to that mortality?
There are many situations that can trigger fear, not just the thought of dying... new or changing circumstances or people, pressure, attachment to loved ones (i.e., fear of losing them), attachment to belongings, attachment to status.. these are just a few.
I often see people begin to confront fears and anxieties when they first come to learn how to practice Zen; they very likely have never attempted to constrain themselves either physically or mentally in a similar fashion... or, if they have, there was no social pressure as there is an Zendo to 'stick to it'. There is no escape! (In the strictest sense, this is always true - for you cannot escape from yourself ((if you have one! HA!)) ). Sometimes they confront these discomforting feelings and learn to engage them and not to try to control them.. to 'let go' in essence of the illusion of having control over everything in one's life.. and we see them again. More often, they do not... and we don't see them again, or, perhaps not for a while. It isn't an easy thing to do. To sit quietly, in stillness, and in silence is a tall order for someone who has spent most of their life doing just the opposite... it can be like sitting upon an ant hill! The pain comes in waves.. physical, mental, and emotional.
I watch them as they begin to feel the physical discomfort set in.... and they struggle with that.... and then the anxieties and fears begin to gnaw at them; How long will this last? (we tell them at the outset... but time doesn't pass the same way when you are on 'the cushion'.) My leg is going numb! Will it fall off?! I shouldn't be sitting here doing nothing!! I should be [insert 'productive' activity here]. While I am here.. what is my husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/TV/cat/child doing?? I have been sitting here for nearly 20 minutes!! When am I going to get enlightened?!?!
For some, there are some very deep-set anxieties... perhaps the loss of a loved one that they have never yet found closure for... some 'failure' or what they view as a failure that crops up to fill the silence... lost loves... lost wealth... loss... failure... BOREDOM.
In our modern culture, boredom is to be avoided at any cost!!
I think that on some level.. this is a coward's attitude. When boredom sets in, anxiousness begins to rear its head. We are beginning to get closer to our fear. It is time to find some form of entertainment, and to banish any thoughts of death or of loss!
The truth is somewhat simple; you cannot control everything that happens to you, or around you. You DO NOT control most of what happens... more likely, you do not actually control anything other than yourself.. and perhaps that not so well without working very hard at it. So, why go through the trouble? Why not just live life with one's head in the sand and be content with that? Well.. most folks don't really ask these questions, and so there is no answer if a question has not been posed. For those of us who do ask... it is up to us to seek out the truth... or at least a truth that will suffice for now.. until we learn more.
There are many ways to avoid thoughts of death and loss... and most are probably not overly healthy on some level. No matter how much we avoid thinking of it... it is still a part of us. Not behind us... or out there... not in us ... simply 'us'. We *are* our own death... we *are* our own sadness and loss. It is not something that we can be separate from.
Fear has to be acknowledged. We have to realize that we fear, that we feel fear... and we must reconcile ourselves with that fear. We grow up thinking that it is somehow wrong to feel fear or to be sad or to be vulnerable to fear or to sadness. That is hogwash. We fear. So what? It is part of being what we are; human.
I think it is an act of cowardice to avoid acknowledging fear. I think it is an act of cowardice to live a life as though we have no fear, and nothing to fear. As though we will never die.
In times past, death was part of daily life. When a family member died, they were cleaned and prepared for their funerary rites by the family. (this is where we get the term 'parlor' for living room from... the dead were laid out in the parlor. This is probably why we call it a funeral 'home'.
Nowadays, death is hidden from view and it is taboo to discuss it openly. Nobody says that so and so 'died'... we avoid the point by using all sorts of euphemisms. But, this changes nothing. ... and it never has. The only thing that changes is our method of dealing with and of apprehending reality and truth.
I think it is better to acknowledge fear. To face it... to observe our behavior when in the grip of fear... even tiny fears. I have noticed how fear often manifests itself as a form of restlessness.
Acknowledging fear isn't a cause for us to be ashamed (another form of fear), dismayed or depressed. Only by feeling fear and by acknowledging fear can we ever hope to claim our legacy of being fearless. Fearlessness is not by any means the absence or the reduction of fear.. it is simply the ability to move beyond that fear.
Fearlessness begins when we stop... when we cease... when we are still.... and when we begin to examine our fear. To observe it, and to notice how it affects us mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is important to study and learn how we respond to embarrassment, shyness, loneliness, anger (another form of fear), prejudice, bigotry, (both forms of fear), anxiety, nervousness, concern... we will notice that these emotions are always 'moving' and creating energy in our bodies... making us feel restlessness and vamping up our breathing, our heart rate, and our blood pressure. However, when we stop... when we deliberately observe and control our breathing... when we examine these feelings that cause restlessness all the way to thier root cause; what we find is sadness, which is calm and soft.
When we find our sadness, there is a tight feeling in the chest... and in the throat... rather than in the abdomen, where fear is held. This feeling culminates in the production of tears from our eyes.... and we release the sadness.... like a gentle rain in spring... or perhaps like a fierce winter gale... but, we are able to find release nonetheless.
Only by working with and discovering the softness and the openness of the human heart can we hope to find the beginning of fearlessness. There is nothing so strong or so powerful as gentleness.
This may seem awkward at first for some... that is okay... awkwardness is fear in another guise... but, eventually it becomes very apparent at how appropriate and proper it is for a human being to be tender, open and compassionate. And, perhaps, a little bit sad. Sadness is soft, and pliable... it gives, and it bends. Bravery by itself is brittle and hard - and easily broken.
When we are tender and open, we learn to become fearless... when we are gentle and compassionate, we accept the fear in others... and we learn to communicate honestly and directly... both with ourselves, and with others.
In Buddhism, this compassionate nature is embodied by the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Sanskrit: Literally "Lord who looks down and hears the cries of the world". ). Avalokiteshvara is known as Kannon in Japan, Kwan-Yin (Gwan-Yin) in China, Kwan-Sae-Eum Bo-SSal in Korea, Chenrezig in Tibet, and in Mongolia; Megjid Janraisig. The Dalai Lama is believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be an incarnation of Chenrezig. Clearly, the embodiment of compassion, tenderness, kindness, gentleness and love is a very important concept to Buddhists.
Clearly, it is a very important concept to all beings.
Whether you are practicing Zen, conducting your own dying practice, or following some other spiritual practice... whether you are not following some spiritual practice... regardless of who or what you are... I would like you to discover your fearlessness.
Fearlessness is the most profound gift that can be bestowed upon one. It is said that power corrupts... but I disagree. I would submit to you that it is fear that corrupts. Fear of losing power. Fear of what those in power may do. Fear corrupts the mind. Fear corrupts the heart.
Fear builds walls. Fearlessness builds bridges.
Sit still. Stand tall. Be fearless.