"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

January 3, 2013

Looking Into Fear — A Simple, Skillful Practice

My dharma worked today is focused on noting when I act or think or move or feel out of fear. Fear is not always blatant, but subtle, and if we have become habituated to our own special, private fears, then they can become invisible to us, except for their constant drain on our energies and freedom, and even that we may come to accept as "normal."

Becoming mindful, looking into what might lie behind some impulse to act, or not to act, I can begin to see the causes, subtle and blatant, for acting out of fear.

Do I do, or not do, something because I am afraid of another's reaction? Do I do or not do something because it triggers hurtful, painful memories? What's going on? Can I become present, using the breath as an anchor, and pay attention to the arising of thoughts, feelings, and actions?

When I become mindful and pay attention, and note some fear behind some thought or impetus to act, or not act, I simply note: "fear." And then, I with that gentle touch, I come back to the breath, smile, and welcome the presence... of presence.

At times I may feel it's skillful to pursue some fear deeper, to dig at roots, or it just may be enough to note "fear" and go back to the breath. We have to determine that ourselves, and there's no skill in re-traumatizing ourselves when we are not ready to gently, compassionately, and yes, bravely, explore some fear. If we dig deep, and "monsters" arise, then note "monsters," and come back to the breath! Lol!

Note, perhaps, also, "aversion," and come back to the breath. Aversion is as much a "stuck" place as "clinging" is, though they might seem to be opposites. We can define a fearful self with what we are adverse to as much as by what we cling to. No matter! Just pay attention, note, "aversion," note "fear," and sometimes, yes, note "monsters," and gently come back to the breath, smile to yourself, and return to presence, or sati, as the Buddhist terms it.

I've been doing this work this morning and afternoon, and it's been a good work, and I'm amazed at how much of what I do is motivated or governed by various subtle forms of fear. By working on mindfulness, presence, sati, I am able to note cause and effect -- which is all "karma" really is -- and see how I bind myself, and how I can unbind myself. The practice is simple, but profound, and of course, one could just as well focus on some other kilesa (hindrance) like anger -- i. g, noting what is done out of anger, or feelings of worthlessness, or self-hate.

Whatever we decide to take note of, the big thing is to have a "safe place" one can return to again and again, and for me, and many in the dharma, that safe place is the breath as an *anchor* for something even bigger and more profound -- attention, mindfulness, *presence* itself. (People sometimes must think Buddhists are "Breathologists," with all the emphasis on the breath!  But actually, the breath is merely a kind of reference point, an anchor, a re-orienting place, a finger pointing at the big "moon" of presence, openness, sensitivity, itself.)

I hope these ideas from my practice today are helpful to you, and that they encourge you to look into fear -- or any other abiding subtle or blatant presence or mental state -- in order to "unbind" and to breathe into, relax into, being itself, which is really quite fine and happy and at peace, just as it is. And that's the ground, the meeting place, the true home, of you, and me, and all of us.


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