Sunday, December 14, 2008

Placing the Mind of Fear in the Cradle of Lovingkindness

The practice of meditation allows us to see that our feelings and thoughts — even (or especially) the powerful, negative ones like attachment, anxiety, and fear, from which we may have spent much of our lives running — are not really the big, solid bogeymen that we habitually believe them to be. In the process of observing our minds we watch thoughts and emotions arising and vanishing again and again, and so we learn to stop taking them quite as seriously as we used to. We begin to realize that they are fleeting, insubstantial, and empty; we become increasingly able to recognize the projections of our minds for what they are and to let them go rather than being swept up and carried away by them. Thus, we can return to the authentic experience of being present for whatever is actually happening in our lives — as opposed to whatever may be happening in our hope- and fear-driven fantasies about our lives.

Of course, what's actually happening in our lives is not always pleasant, and it may provoke emotional reactions in us that are difficult to sit with. But again, by calling upon our own innate resources of mindfulness and patience, we can learn to see through our demanding and unrealistic projections onto our experience, and simply be present with life, on its own terms.

Fear happens, whether we want it to or not — and we might say that our fear is “not good,” but saying that doesn't make it go away. The fear is there, for whatever reason, and telling ourselves we shouldn’t be afraid doesn’t make us feel unafraid — in fact, if we were to keep going in that direction, we might begin to feel ashamed or inadequate because we can’t just wish our fear away. Yet, even within our experience of fear, there is still the possibility of being present with it, without being paralyzed or blinded by it, or trying to run away from it. That possibility arises through the application of mindfulness and patience. We might even find that, in being honestly present with it, our fear begins to dissolve, like a fungus that only grows in the dark and dies when exposed to light.

Allowing ourselves the space to be present with our fear, rather than spinning out in our habitual patterns, is an act of tremendous honesty, and a great kindness to ourselves.

No comments: