Saturday, September 26, 2009

"I don't like to be afraid, it scares me" -Woody Allen

I just got wacked upside the head last night by a large fear stick. It's interesting to me that my brush with the fear stick always causes the same reaction in me. I get terrified about something and have the same knee jerk reaction of not knowing what to do, of feeling overwhelmed, like I might drown in a pool of my own fear. No maybe this doesn't approach an accurate description of it. It's more like the spiritual temperature drops so far below freezing that I am immobilized. I become some inert brittle block of fear. I think I can identify with the catatonic.

The timing of some things was interesting. Tricycle's Daily Dharma proved to be whitling away on the fear stick this morning. It was a writing by Ezra Bayda, one of my favourite Zen teachers, called "The Three Things We Fear Most". How did he know this was what I needed to hear? It was interesting to be reminded of that neural groove that we all fall into, that our way of reacting to our fear is the result of deeply ingrained patterns in the brain. It was a good reminder that one of things that needed attention is this habitual reaction to my fear. He suggests breathing it into the heart, not running with the story; things I know it my head but are often difficult to do on the spot. He also suggests being curious about our fear, really exploring it, asking questions like how will it be this time? It's an entirely different way of relating to the fear that feels like it can break that habitual bond of terror.

Here's a section of his post that spoke to my particular brand of fear, one he calls the fear of helplessness: "We all dread the helplessness of losing control, and yet real freedom lies in recognizing the futility of demanding that life be within our control. Instead, we must learn the willingness to feel—to say yes to—the experience of helplessness itself. This is one of the hidden gifts of serious illness or loss. It pushes us right to our edge, where we may have the good fortune to realize that our only real option is to surrender to our experience and let it just be.

During a three-year period in the early 1990s when I was seriously ill with no indication that I would ever get better, I watched my life as I had known it begin to fall apart. I not only lost my ability to work and engage in physical activities, I also experienced a dismantling of my basic identities. At first, it was disorienting and frightening not to have the props of seeing myself as a Zen practitioner, a carpenter and contractor (my livelihood), a husband and a father. But as I stayed with the fears, and particularly as I was able to bring the quality of lovingkindness to the experience, there came a dramatic shift.
As the illusory self-images were stripped away, I experienced the freedom of not needing to be anyone at all. By truly surrendering to the experience of helplessness, by letting everything I clung to just fall apart, I found that what remained was more than enough. As we learn to breathe fear into the center of the chest, the heart feels more and more spacious. I’m not talking about the heart as a muscle in our chest, but rather the heart that is our true nature. This heart is more spacious than the mind can ever imagine." Bayda

The other interesting bit of timing that seemed to be offering me some direction was that I awoke at some point during the late evening to hear music my partner had put on. The song that was playing was an instrumental version of "Let It Be". It too was just what I needed to hear. And so the adventure continues. Can I breath in my fear today? Can I be curious about it? And can I just let it be?


  1. I'm in the middle of some of this "identity loss," or shift right now. It's a curious place: I'm trying not to fight it.

  2. Well, I'm having an Oh My God moment with this blog post, especially after writing my blog post for today. Talk about "uncanny." Wow. I can hardly wait to read Ezra's article! I clicked on the link and downloaded it for evening reading :) Sounds like it might just be what I need to hear too! I relate to your felt experience of fear: the overwhelm drowning sensation *and* the frozen immobilization. For me it's the sensation of stepping on the brake while the engine is still revving at high speed, and my poor body doesn't know what to do...

    I chuckled at the music you awoke to! Now that's a partner! Knows just what you need :) Think I'll get my Beatles music out and start whittling away on that fear stick myself! We seem to be passing it back and forth here. :) Thanks for this synchronous offering.. As Always - C