Sunday, June 19, 2016
Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson
My fears are strongest in the morning, and they arise when I do. I know while I’ve been sleeping, they’ve been exercising, doing push-ups and crunches in the basement, gathering force and potency in the predawn hours. I often wonder if the insomnia I’m currently dealing with may have taken root because of them. If I don’t close my eyes, I won’t wake up fearful. At any rate, when I sleep, by the time I’m back among the conscious, the fears are flexing their massive biceps and taken on unfair proportions.
They run the gamut. Financial insecurity; Alzheimer’s, cancer, automotive breakdowns and air conditioning failures. Age, loneliness, diseases I have never heard about, fear of failure at what I’ve been doing for a long, long time now—writing—and the belief that no matter what I put together, I will not be published or recognized or worse, paid. Fear that I will lose my home through lack of income, that I will not be playing the lottery the very week I would have won it. Fear that the people I love will move away or vanish as many have already; fear of life and of death and of whatever lies in between.
I don’t know whether this is normal or not and I don’t remember harboring such qualms a few years ago. I speak with people who exude serenity and have no uncertainties about what may—or may not—come to them. They believe their Higher Power somehow is aware of their every twitch and desire and will come through for them, not matter what. I have no such confidence. My largely faceless higher power is too busy laying environmental waste to the Sudan or loosing floods in Pakistan to pay much attention to me. Or at least, that’s the way it seems.
Call it a step back from faith. I’ve always believed that faith is not leaping from A to B, it’s leaping from A without knowing what you are leaping to, and lately I’ve been unwilling to commit myself to such a jump. I don’t see the safety net below and don’t trust the rescue squad to get there in time.
Buddhists believe that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Judith Lief, a noted Buddhist teacher, writes, “The essential cause of our suffering and anxiety is ignorance of the nature of reality, and craving and clinging to something illusory. That is referred to as ego, and the gasoline in the vehicle of ego is fear. Ego thrives on fear, so unless we figure out the problem of fear, we will never understand or embody any sense of egolessness or selflessness… part of the undercurrent of fear is the fear of being found out, of being exposed as a big fat phony who is creating a solid illusion out of thin air.”
Hm. Maybe. Certainly a basic fear is having my insecurities, my shortcomings and character defects exposed. If I am seen in what I’m afraid is my true light, I am probably not being viewed as I would like to be.
Another teacher, John Daido Loori, writes, “Fear arises the moment you ask yourself, what is this all about? Inevitably, it has nothing to do with right now. It has to do with the future, but the future doesn’t exist. It hasn’t happened yet. The past doesn’t exist. It has already happened. The only thing you’ve got is what’s right here, right now. And coming home to the moment makes all the difference in the world in how you deal with fear.”
That makes sense too, in both a simplistic and horrifically complex way. Of course I am what I am now, but isn’t that only the present tense of what I was? And how can I not be concerned about the future! It looms; it threatens. It’s scary.
What I would like it to become is illustrated in a story told by Sylvia Boorstein: “A fierce and terrifying band of samurai was riding through the countryside, bringing fear and harm wherever they went. As they were approaching one particular town, all the monks in the town’s monastery fled, except for the abbot. When the band of warriors entered the monastery, they found the abbot sitting at the front of the shrine room in perfect posture. The fierce leader took out his sword and said, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know that I’m the sort of person who could run you through with my sword without batting an eye?” The Zen master responded, “And I, sir, am the sort of man who could be run through by a sword without batting an eye.”
Um. I may not have such equanimity, but perhaps this is something to which I could aspire.
The one good thing in all this is, I’m pretty sure most of the fears are temporary. Over a lifetime, in spite of some wretched events, I’ve had far more good things happen to me than bad ones, and there’s no reason to think the trend will stop now. There’s a lesson here somewhere but I’m damned if I know how to apply it to the anxieties that come with the morning.