Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Meditation On Fear

It's wise to have fear when driving through blistering snow on a twisted mountain road in the dark, don't you agree? Or to run east, when surrounded by fire north, west and south?

The young often lack this kind of fear, to their own demise. They drive with abandon and the statistics reflect it. Yet I do admire those without fear, I aspire to become like them. So is fear is a useless thing? Should I attempt to abandon it altogether. Some think so. Others do not...

Tsong Karpa, a Tibetan sage from the 10th century, once commented: "Those who fear death, when death comes will have no fear; yet those who have no fear of death, when death comes, will be very afraid."

I have often mediated on this concept—imagining my own death, or the premature death of my children. Some call me morbid for it, I say I am realistic because it counters sloth and redundancy. Who knows when anyone will die? My brother-in-law was told by doctors he had only 6 months to live. That was over 5 years ago and he's in better health now! Who else doesn't have a story like that?

Then I wonder - can fear be harnessed as a positive force for change, by motivating me to act, as opposed to an oppressing force to remain the same? Can it be that, used with wisdom, the same energy can render either outcome?

So now I have fear as a subtler force to comprehend. The fear that motivates my work - because I will be condemned if I do not do it well - is it wise or stupid? If I get the work done, but only because of that, is it beneficial or not? Well, I got it done didn't I? How bad is that?

Here my fear is not of my self, but of the opinion of others. Then who decides who I am? Me or them? In the case of others, fear is impotent. THEY decide me, not me. This impotent fear is bound to exhaust me, in the same way that trying to bottle a smell is exhausting - it simply can not ever be satisfactorily done; aiming for totality is living in impossibility…

So what would a constructive fear feel like? How would it be different? For a start, as with death, it must arise from an outcome that possesses a stench of inevitability. If it is not inevitable, then to live in fear of it is to hallucinate on outcome, then react as though that outcome was real.

That has to be a working definition of insanity, don't you think? I hallucinate the worst, then start reacting as THOUGH IT ALREADY EXISTED. Which of course, by behaving thus, makes me the agent of its creation. Hmm - that sounds like stupid fear to me. Yet I am sure, in small doses, it is constructive too.

If the only way I can motivate myself to act, is a fear of what others will say - this is a very human quality. We call it shame, and shame, like fear, can be healthy or not. It seems many "negative" emotions are double-edged swords. To thieve from another person generates shame - it if doesn't, we definitely think you are sick. So shame, fear - are they two sides of the same coin?

It comes down to this: do I know who I am? Do I know what I want to do? Do I know what I stand for? Answer those with clarity, then fear becomes transformative.

If I have no clarity around that, then I look to others to help define me. We all started that way - we looked to Mum and Dad for appropriate behaviours and ways of being. At some point - puberty I guess - I started to make my own decisions. Did I complete that process, or is it still interrupted by my vacillating need to seek the approval of others?

When I have the later, then fear and shame start to crush me; when I have the former - that I know who I am and what I want - then fear and shame become healthy devices that prod me back towards the path of my choosing when I start to stray afar…

So the question is not about the fear, it is about WHO I are fearing: my own judgements, or the judgements of others? If I make who I stand for as inevitable as my own death, then fear gives me energy to act towards the outcome that generates joy, for no person stands for gaining more pain.

Ahh… to not have joy - now THAT is something to fear!