Sweet and Empty

How about we reflect on our relationship to fear? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reform our vision and understanding of it, by contemplating this very moment how it frightens us?

The ultimate bully, fear is a hotbed for suffering. Chronic or acute, always sneaky, and masterful at hitching rides on as many instances and thoughts as it can, this feeling really gets around. Ironically, in its frenzied travels, fear brings our innate capacity for movement and growth to a heaving halt. It is too, so powerful at times, that it can flash forth from the dead, like an enormous flame teeming out of a seemingly burnt out heap. This is how sensitive and refined fear can be, how self-resuscitating.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of fear. For close to four years, I thought of fear as a malady in its own right, debilitating as it was in conjunction with the dysentery that had stricken me down late in 2006. So unable was I to digest anything, I heartbreakingly developed an enveloping terror of food, for fear of getting infected from it all over again, and of sparking more equally frightening neurological abnormality and dramatic widespread rash response. Obviously, because we must eat every day, I was forced to face this fear without recess.

Though I was given everything from medicines to homeopathics to flower essences to help abate it, the most palpable epiphanies with fear happened in diligent sessions of seated meditation. Some days I was braver than others, more victorious, and would perch on my meditation cushion and literally talk back to the fear that haunted me. On other days I felt utterly beaten by it. Still daily, I would sit, courageous enough to be there and to slug it out with fear. Slowly, quite astonishingly, I began to understand in my bones that distinct from the original food that had sickened me, fear was simply fear, and unable to do me any harm.

When we really take the time to examine it, and to isolate fear from its cause, we realize fear isn’t made of any substance at all, but is merely an illusion, a mirage. Like the finest flimsiest cotton candy, fear is simultaneously nothing and bursting. Just like that tacky spun sugar, fear will glue its wispy self to our fingers and try not to let us go. Remember, despite all its cloying high-jinx, fear is just one more strong feeling in the vast human repertoire, one with lots of volume and undulating pizzazz. We will always be exposed to the possibility of it.

Best to let gravity do its thing and get anchored in our limbs when intensely afraid. Counter-culturally, we can embrace and inhabit our weight, our earthliness. Instead of leaving our bodies, we sink into them and really tether down, like roots casting themselves into the center of the earth. From this deep, grounded place, we can forget about sounding or looking insane, and literally begin to speak out loud to the fear that has assaulted us. We can address it like a person, saying or shouting, I’m onto you fear! Fear demands that kind of auditory strength. Right then, instead of choosing to live in it, we choose to live beyond it, to fully live.

I receive this lesson daily from our 9-month-old who is teaching herself to balance on her two little legs. Inside the unclouded globes of her eyes, shines the treasure of fearlessness. She embraces life over and over again, with a willingness to dare, to taste, to meet every single moment, without the faintest interest in erecting anything at all that could bar her from her glorious freedom. If she does get afraid for the split second when she falls, she pulls right back up again, banging joyfully on the hinge of the door or tugging delightedly on the skirt of the bed before letting go with both hands and clapping for herself, solid and connected into the earth beneath her.

I of course, still have a great deal of steadfast work to do on fear. The work however is not to break through it, but instead to see through it. At least now I know that fear is by no means a malady, nor very scary at all. It is just sweet and empty, a wonderfully clever trick mirror, giving onto beauty and limitlessness.

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