In my last blog I mentioned that a meditation practice provides us with an opportunity to notice how dominated we can become by fear, especially when our external culture is so fear based, as ours seems to currently be.
As you deepen and strengthen your sitting practice, fears, which you may not even know were present, may gradually show themselves. I have found over the years that it can be very healthy to bring an attitude of curiosity toward this type of experience.
Being alert and curious allows fear to become your teacher. “Curiouser and curiouser,” cried Alice in Wonderland as she saw her body grow larger and larger and larger.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” said my student Wendy, who had the courage to see the depth and breadth of the fear within as she persisted in her meditation practice. Wendy’s persistence in this process resulted in her coming to realize that none of her fears were absolutely true and most of them were memories from childhood or adolescence that were deeply buried in her psyche and body.
I had another student who I will call Jethro who was about 6’6” and very gangly. He looked very placid during his sitting in the meditation hall day after day, but gradually he let me know that he lived in a frozen, fear-based state. He sat and walked with his shoulders slightly hunched, something he had learned as a kid to continually avoid drawing attention to his size and to help armor himself against verbal blows from other kids’ teasing. My support for him was very simple, helping him bring attention to all of the sensations in his shoulders. Jethro spent two years noticing and being curious about tightness, unease, or numbness in his shoulders and how these sensations manifested themselves in fear-based thought and emotion. Eventually, his shoulders relaxed and opened up. His sense of separation from the world around him diminished, and fear lost its grip. During the time Jethro worked with me he began and ended each sitting with the following loving-kindness practice:
“May I find freedom from fear in my life. May I also help others find freedom from fear. May I meet the fear with the courage of the open heart, acting with decisiveness rather than divisiveness.”
By doing this practice over and over and over, he not only let go of his fear, he liberated the natural happiness, which is the bedrock of our existence- his so-called Buddha Nature, or T.S. Eliot’s “still point of the turning world.” If Wendy and Jethro can do this, so can you!
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher