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  • Writer's pictureMetta

Fear

A new suggestion from meditation teacher Tuere Sala. To just be with the fear and anxiety. Just being with it and letting the body speak. Making space for what is underneath the fear and anxiety. Asking what my body is trying to share through fear and anxiety. Most importantly, not seeking to make the body sensation of fear and anxiety go away. This is not letting the intense stories around fear roar like a wildfire.


Tuere reminded me that many of the emotional and body responses I have to stimuli aren’t fresh. I’m responding to new moments with old conditioned responses and heading down well-worn pathways when new events occur. There is an opportunity in the present to have a fresh response.


So much of my 20 years of meditation have been about trying to make the fear and anxiety to go away.


I’ve practiced with every other sensation (or so it seems) in terms of acknowledging, but not getting caught in the story. But fear and anxiety are so powerful for me I had never questioned them, nor my habitual response, other than being aware of discomfort. Pathways that are so worn that I head down the slide without even pausing.


The suttas, when talking about fear, have much to say about how fear goes away with uprooting greed, hate, and delusion. It was part of the Buddha’s awakening. He vanquished greed, hate, and delusion, and as a result, no longer felt fear. But in my seemingly endless desire to make the feeling of fear and anxiety go away, I know I’m far from uprooting greed, hate, and delusion. My very desire to make fear and anxiety go away is craving. I have been disheartened. This has felt like e a seemingly impossible task overall.


I’ve said at times that if I could connect my anxiety up to an electrical grid somehow, I would provide a massive amount of sustainable energy. Being in the many wonderful moments of just being alive, just breathing air, just seeing the sunrise, just going for a walk, really anywhere anytime, I can be consumed with the feeling something horrible is about to happen and I have to brace myself. And I can backfill that feeling with all the possible horrible things that could happen.


After listening to Tuere’s words, fear came up, telling me of all the things that could possibly happen. I was just sitting on the couch. My mind was like a cart on the tracks of a roller coaster heading for the top of the first big hill. The list of the ways I could be harmed, the ways I could die, the list of all the things that will be lost. Soon the night seemed menacing outside, the unknown. However, this time, instead of meditating until the fear sensation dissipated, instead of seeing if it would just bloom and get loud and fade, or going in a series of practices of compassion or R.A.I.N., or any other way of my trying desperately to make it stop, I just said “oh, you are here” - “yes, I know you are here”.


You are right here fear. I feel my jaw tighten, I feel my heart tighten. My forearms feel tight. I feel the fire in my belly. Instead of getting in the kayak and heading down the white water where I see all the horrible things in my mind, a million possibilities, thinking of all the horrors of the world, I just say “hello, I know you are here”. Each time I feel the fear surge coming up I say “hello, welcome, I know you are here”. I don’t spin out the list of possibilities. I even eventually do other things while I’m feeling the fear. I get a cup of tea, and say “yes, you are here with me”. I check that there is water in the humidifier, and fear comes with me. Over and over. “Hello, you are here”.


Finally, I put on a jacket and shoes and go out into the night. My fear screams not to. It screams of all the things that could happen. But I’m tired of being trapped by these emotions, these stories, tired of the trance.


The silence outside is delicious. It fills in, so silent it’s loud. The black night sky is glittering with stars. I step off the porch in surprise. Everything is full of wonder. The moon is almost full. It is blue-white and piercing in its brightness and it illuminates a few fast moving clouds in the sky, pouring cold light over the snow. The icy wind races through and then stops, and I plunge back to deep silence. The lights are on in the cabins where people are practicing meditation, and the lights are warm and bright spilling out from the windows. When I’m inside, I too am in that kind of space, I no longer need to have the longing for something calm and safe in the night. I’m living my dreams, even if there is a big part of me that can’t seem to arrive. I look at glittering warm lights across the hills, thinking about this arbitrary night that was decided by one group of people to be the end of one year and the beginning of the next.


I look up and Orion is there, a strong and constant sense of direction for me.


I let the ice-cold air burn at my skin on my face. I breathe in deep. I look at the white lights on a little tree up the hill, so many nights and a never knew they were there until now. I listen for the chirp and conversation of coyotes, but tonight things are quiet. My feet crunch on the ice and snow.


The fear and anxiety come bubbling up in waves over and over as I stand in the dark. I just stay with the fear and the anxiety. “Hello, you are here”. It yells “but what about this? What about this horrible thought?”


“Hello, you are here.”


In the morning, I go for a walk, the sunlight bright and pouring in everywhere, around everything. The snow is sparkling and smooth. I look at the tracks of all the relatives - mice, rabbits, coyotes, birds, showing a whole world of events that have gone on while I’ve not been out here. I feel excited and I feel joy, and my heart also feels kind of shattered. It’s a new journey. My teacher is right, my body is telling me something through this fear and anxiety. Much like how hungry ghosts operate, I’ve been feeding the fear in various ways, but that hasn’t been the answer. As I rest with the fear, the fear slides away and new sensations come up, like sorrow. Much quieter than the loudness of fear.


The waves of fear and anxiety when they arrive may never stop. But how I relate to the waves can be different. I don’t have to have shame about this, or some sense I’m “broken”. This is just something I carry. I also don’t have to do everything these waves tell me to do, I don’t have to go into the trance over and over again. I don’t have to go along with the winding out of every terrible story of the future. I also don’t have to try to outguess the future, like a long endless unwinding spool, as an attempt to avoid what I fear.


I trudge up to the top of a hill and take in the warmth of the sun. I stop at one of my favorite trees. I think she is a Grandmother tree. I call her that in my mind whenever I see her. I don’t know why I use the pronoun “her”. I just feel it. Today I wanted to hug her. But I paused, not wanting to get too close too fast. I first asked her forgiveness, as she is one of the many beings ultimately harmed by my existence, my impact on the air and the climate, and the ground, and the water. I asked her forgiveness, for all of my actions that have been harmful to her, knowingly and unknowingly. It felt ok to approach. I walked up carefully to the base of the tree and gently placed my hands on the gorgeous orange-brown trunk. And gently leaned my head in close. It felt like the Grandmother was all around me, hugging me, holding me. The Earth is my mother, she is Quan Yin, she holds it all. This Grandmother is a part of all of it. I crumble. I break more. But the breaking is like something mobile that’s been trapped in ice. The ice melts and cracks, there is more movement.


My final morning, I go through the process again. I awake in fear. My body clenches in fear. Fear of the drive, the road conditions, many other things. I say “hello, you are here”. The feelings want to be untethered. Part of me is warning myself that I must listen to this yelling inside to stay safe, that I MUST let all the thoughts unwind. But I just say “hello, you are here”. I gather up bags and step out into the dawn. The moon is visible but the sun is also rising, illuminating the trees. The sky glows fuchsia and deep purple. I stop in wonder. I hear an owl call, and then another owl responds. Back and forth they speak to each other. I watch the remaining stars fade.


I drive down the hill, and along the mountains and come to a vista overlooking the desert valley below. Tears slide down my face in relief as I practice. I hold the sacred AND. These internal thoughts and feelings, and this wonder in front of me.


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