Posts Tagged ‘fear’

A couple hours ago, I enjoyed talking with a young man who was under 25. He expressed a fear of growing older, and my friend who’s just over 25 suggested it’s better than the alternative of dying young. I also pointed out that growing older is pretty awesome. You get to learn so much more about yourself and how wonderful you are, and gain privileges of age and experience.

I also suggested picking up yoga, as you are only as young as your spine is flexible. The main thing though is keeping the right perspective. The whole point of life is experiencing it as fully as you can, and learning how better to experience as the years go by. There’s no reason to dread the trip, and also no reason to rush it.

You carry your life inside you. So long as you live, you can’t lose it, and nobody can take it from you. You can just choose not to enjoy it, or you can choose to let it live you to the fullest.


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I’m sitting here processing the news that a loved one has lost a loved one whom I didn’t know well, but treasure for his place in my loved one’s life. I’m too far away to be able to offer my direct support, so I’m putting extra focus in my heart to give the indirect support I can.

It’s putting my mind on how we each process sorrow. I’m turning to my own spiritual gumbo of “Christian Zen Taoist” and so on and so forth… and realizing how tough it can be sometimes to communicate exactly how I experience the world and the people who share it with me, particularly in times like this.

I know I’ve written before that when I consider the Buddhist ideal of “non-attachment”, I view it similar to how Alan Watts spoke of “not getting hung up about things”. It’s not that we don’t develop deep and meaningful connections; rather, we practice holding in our hearts and minds the interconnectedness of all things when those individual connections are severed.

It can be a pretty painful practice while we recover from a severed connection, though.

In a well-lived life, there will be people, places and things we will love. We will treasure when they are near, and miss them when they are gone. We will feel bright joy and tranquil comfort, and if we practice we can even feel those warmths deeply while we are within them. We can also feel hot anger and cold sorrow, and it’s important to practice feeling those consciously as well. We need to not fear painful emotions, nor get caught up in the idea of them. We need to develop the strength and courage to walk through the fire and ice of our own soul, without imagining that they are anything greater than any other step on our journey to becoming skillful, powerful human hearts.

Tougher, yes. But not greater.

I think that’s part of the practice, too. Letting it be tough. Letting it feel senseless. Letting the emotions wash right over us and even carry us away for a little while, if that’s the path we’re on. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Take care things don’t get too carried away, sure, but there is nothing to fear in letting ourselves feel anger, or sorrow, or fear. We have these emotions because we’re trying to tell ourselves something, or work through something. So by sitting with ourselves and letting these lessons flow through us, we can get where we’re headed and set the baggage aside once we’ve gotten all we need out of it.

I think I’ve talked myself out on this for the moment, so I’ll just share a bit from Alan Watts’ words from his Lecture on Zen:

Jon-Jo said ‘the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.’ And another poem says of wild geese flying over a lake, ‘The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, and the water has no mind to retain their image.’ In other words this is to be–to put it very strictly into our modern idiom–this is to live without hang-ups, the word ‘hang- up’ being an almost exact translation of the Japanese _bono_ and the Sanskrit _klesa_, ordinarily translated ‘worldly attachment,’ though that sounds a little bit–you know what I mean–it sounds pious, and in Zen, things that sound pious are said to stink of Zen, but to have no hang-ups, that is to say, to be able to drift like a cloud and flow like water, seeing that all life is a magnificent illusion, a plane of energy, and that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Fundamentally. You will be afraid on the surface. You will be afraid of putting your hand in the fire. You will be afraid of getting sick, etc. But you will not be afraid of fear. Fear will pass over your mind like a black cloud will be reflected in the mirror. But of course, the mirror isn’t quite the right illustration; space would be better. Like a black cloud flows through space without leaving any track. Like the stars don’t leave trails behind them.

– Alan Watts, in “Lecture on Zen”

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I’m listening to my baby babble happily to his mobile as he’s taking his time getting to sleep, and it’s a beautiful sound.  He’s one reason I’ve devoted myself to getting my focus together to create things that feel important to me, since I want him to own his voice and use it wisely and well.  I figure the only way I could hope for that through him is to first try to make it real through myself.  Example is the strongest teacher, especially when it contradicts the words.

I was just responding to the patient and poetic J. A. Jordan about creativity, and it set my mind on the topic.  I keep meaning to get back to themes and values in When Atlas Shirked, but I want to close out the week by talking about why I think it’s important to continually participate in conscious creation.  And I don’t just mean what people normally think of as creation, as in inventing things or writing or creating other types of art.  I also mean the creation and re-creation of ideas, and values, and emotions, and understanding — continually creating who we are.

Here’s what thoughts rambled off the tips of my fingers:

I always need to be creating something.  To me, that’s what life is, a continual act of creation – either we work to create consciously, or are created by the haphazard influences of our subconscious internalization of our environment.

Someone once said something to the effect that “To be alive is to experience constant change, a continual farewell to who and what we have known. So we can either participate in constant creation and truly live, or cling to the past in stagnation. Only the dead do not change”

I then went to go look up where I had last read something like that, and found it was an old philosophical text I was working on at one point, modeled after the Hagakure.  I only got three chapters in, and it’s in a pretty dry style since I was modeling off a pretty dry translation, so I’ll have to think about whether it’d be worth y’all’s time posting it here.  Especially since that would seem to me like an inherent dare to finish it.

Regardless, I know I’m not the only person to have thought this way, so I think you’ll have some understanding of how I feel.  Stagnation brings a heavy, frustrating feeling of stuckness, and has the same general effects on our health and psyche as being physically caged.  (In my own observation)  And the longer we feel stuck, the more we feel being lost to or drained away by a bad situation, the harder it is to pull ourselves out of the mud and move on.

What’s worse, we can feel so invested in our stuckness, it seems like a bad investment to let go and move on.  I think that ties in to our fear of death, which to me seems like a fear of losing what we know to face what we can’t be sure of.  But to me, that’s what life is all about.  We are continually losing the present into the past, to face the future for all its hopes and fears.  In order to make use of the present, we have to let go of all that and free our hands up to create every single moment as best we can.

I thought I shared this thought here already, but I couldn’t find it, so here goes:

Be careful that you don’t become like the gambler who bets what he can’t afford to lose on a hand that just can’t win.   He’s lost so much already, he can’t bear to cut his losses and walk away.

I hope that conveys what I’m trying to convey, because I’m finding this difficult to pin down.  I think I’m going to accept that as the nature of my thoughts right now.  Rather than try to force them into a particular shape, I believe it’s best to let them go to be as they are.

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The courage to face your mistakes

As more people start to cast an eye to my work, I find myself wondering again just how much it will need to improve based on their feedback. I’m trying to remember that it’s better to do your best and make mistakes, than to hold yourself back in fear.

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A while back I got to thinking about how we can have a habit of resisting changes, even ones we already know are inevitable.  I came down to three primary reasons we resist: happiness, inertia, and fear.

I then thought of three answers to these causes…

  • Happiness: So we’re happy now and don’t know that we’ll be so happy in the new situation. There’s two things we need to realize here. First, there’s no way of knowing how happy we can be until we’re there. Second, there’s no way of knowing we’d have as easy a time staying happy should we not take that path!
  • Inertia: Okay, this one’s tough. A static body has a much harder time getting moving than one that’s already in motion. However, that alone is reason to start going in any good direction. Easier said than done, but once started, it becomes easier done.
  • Fear: Okay now this is just the biggie. So much of life gets ruled by fear, left to its own devices. It’s the most powerful phantom I know of. However, like any phantom, it’s also the easiest defeated once we go to punch a hole into it and find we can reach right through. The trick is to get as many facts as we can, identify which unknowns still give us the willies, and find the bolstering needed to cross our fingers and take the plunge.

Of course, change becomes easier with practice. Pick something you know you’ve been meaning to change, but start with something small and easy.  Stick with that, and try something just a bit harder. Don’t get discouraged when you slip, just nod at yourself and start again.

You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.


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In trying to get everything caught up for the early weekend, I almost forgot to think! Then I came across a quote by Bertrand Russell, “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

This weekend, let’s keep an eye out for the big and little fears that might hold us back from our wiser judgment, and from following up on wonderful opportunities for beauty, community, and joy.

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That’s one of the places I was going with my thoughts yesterday, and thanks to the dear Marsha, this one came into focus. I know from my own experience that deep love carries with it a warm sense of happy well-being, which is part of what makes the issue so sticky. She brought up the question as to whether there was such a thing as too much happiness / contentedness in the world. I say, despite soooooo many voices one may hear to the contrary: Absofreakingtively NO.

I’ve heard, seen and felt all the maaaaany reasons people would urge caution against too much happiness. I’m going to zip through a few of them:

Some say that it means you’re out of touch with sorrows/pains if you go on being happy, to which I reply, “What’s so great about sorrow and pain that the world wants more of it from me? If I can learn wisdom and compassion and strength and perspective without it, won’t the world be a better, more balanced, more abundant place if I just go ahead and choose not the constricted, but the open-eyed joyous path?”

Some say that it makes the crash harder and the sadness deeper when you don’t have perfect happiness, to which I reply, “Balderdash! Once you can sit within yourself in pure joy, you learn that blissful peace that can carry you through the darkest nights. Imperfection and ‘crisis’ are just more bumps on the road, and needn’t spoil the ride!”

More perniciously, there’s a cultural training that happiness, like love, must be earned and doled out, and that you’re “jumping the queue” or “abandoning the suffering” if you run off all happy and loved. The only reply to that is a great big, “Pffft! What a way to keep people all collectively miserable and downtrodden all the time. You just wait until more people see through that scam, and the whole brittle house of cards will just crumble to dust. Meanwhile, I’m going to go about lessening the collective suffering with as much happiness and love as I can possibly stand.”

Not my most coherent, but I’m at my 7-minute time limit (padded up from five!), so I’ll let that simmer out there and see what boils up. 🙂


P.S. ~ This is not to say that the quiet fulcrum point of joy is something we can always call up, especially without practice. Nor is it to say that we can’t learn an awful lot through the times we’re feeling horrid. It is, however, to say that none of those points makes happiness any less beautiful and worthy of us.

It’s all about perspective.

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