IN-FEAR-STRUCTURE & FREEDOM FROM IT
SMILING AT WILD FIRES & WILD FEARS
OCCUPY HOME THOUGHT & FLOWERING ASHES
COURAGE TO GIVE NO FEAR
“When Max came to the place where the wild things are
They roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws till
Max said “Be Still” and tamed them with the magic trick of staring
into all their yellow eyes without blinking once.”
– MAURICE SENDAK, Where the Wild Things Are
SNAP, CRACKLE, POP. Wild fire season long past, wild fears rage worldwide in the forms of floods, earthquakes – even around Santa Fe, NM; assorted conflicts, floods, and famines; unspeakable atrocities; inclemencies and calamities; and crazed political discourse. Spooky faces all around: this Halloween, I’m thinking it’s time to bring down the firewalls and face my own fears and sadness directly.
BOO–O-WEEN! WITH MAX-LIKE BOLDNESS, staring down one’s fear, sadness, and despair over the spectral of today’s spooks requires discomfiting due diligence in detecting and acknowledging these gros and subtle critters in the first place, assigning to them a genus and species–then in unmasking them.
MASQUERADING AS WHAT? So many wild fires and wild fears snap, crackle, and pop in the soft folds of consciousness. Hobbeldy-goblins gambol about undetected in the living rooms of our minds, till one of them trips a loud thought or a big emotional bang in our waking or sleeping dreams.
WHAT SPOOKS ME MOST: Institutionalized In-Fear-Structures and imbedded ideologies masquerading as presidential candidates hell-bent on obliterating the already invisible Separation of Church and State; beliefs that separate–my own and others; reversal of women’s rights and offenses to civil liberties; deliberate distortions and obfuscations that fly for political discourse; lies, lies, and moral insanity; ongoing deconstruction of literacy and the humanities in our educational system; and the constipation of creativity in our culture across the spectrum. There’s more…
FEAR, SADNESS, AND DESPAIR occupy the hearts and minds of many these days. Honest conversations with friends reveal that they suffer from chronic fluctuations of FSD Syndrome. This condition often includes a lack of clarity as to one’s own agency–capacity to step-up and engage in any useful way–in the world.
DILIGENT AGENT OF INFORMATION on the Santa Fe scene is KSFR radio newscaster Ellen Dupuy. She allows that: “Yes, I do feel a deep visceral sadness for the overwhelming mess on our planet. I love this earth and the beauty that one finds in our natural environment. My concerns are endless: environmental degradation, endangered and extinction of plant and animal species, overpopulation, the local/global political scene, et al. I dream I am facing an enormous dike with so many leaks springing forth. I (society) can not keep up with the relentless flow of water. This is only a metaphor for the problems we face where I find so little action and rational thought.”
OCCUPY HOME THOUGHT
BELOVED BUDDHIST TEACHER Pema Chodrun speaks of mental health and the deep need to deconstruct firewalls in order to Occupying the Living Room of our Minds: “Our consciousness may be in a state of bad circulation. We may have a block of suffering, pain, sorrow, or despair; it’s like toxins in our consciousness…(uninvited guests) always want to come up in our mind consciousness, into our living rooms, because they’ve grown big and need our attention…So we try to block there way…We don’t want to face them, so our habit is to fill the living room with other guests.
RATHER THAN PLUNKING ourselves down in our living room of reflection, prayer, and inquiry, we seek avoidance and dispersal. Pema Chodrun continues: “Whenever we have ten or fifteen minutes of free time, we call a friend. We pick up a book. We turn on the television. We hope that if the living room is occupied, these unpleasant mental formations will not come up. But all mental formations need to circulate. If we don’t let them come up, it creates bad circulation in our psyche…”
FIREWALLS & SMILING AT FEAR
SMILING AT FEAR MAY SEEM a supercilious spiritual conceit. It’s an interesting practice, I find, to witness spooky faces transform before my eyes, and sense what becomes of my mental living room home under the influence of this exercise. This includes the not-so-OK-ness of life.
BEING OPENHEARTED TO ALL conditions is a fundamental Buddhist practice of self- awareness. In SMILE AT FEAR (Shambhala Sun, March 2011), Pema Chodron writes of being on friendly terms with fear and discomfort: “What produces a genuine person is NOT feeling okay. It means to be open to everything…When we wall ourselves off from uncertainty and fear, Trungpa Rinpoche said: ‘We develop an iron heart. When someone develops a true friendship with themselves, the iron heart softens into something else. It becomes a vulnerable heart, a tender heart. It becomes the genuine heart of sadness, because it is a heart that is willing to be touched by pain–and remain present.’ “
CHARNEL GROUND & GREATFULLNESS
VULNERABLE HEART MAKES a soft bed for fear and sadness – like lying down in the ashes of the charnel ground of one’s own home. Without concern for self-conflagration, breaking down the firewalls of resistance between oneself and practice, I find that when I am most resistant to zazen, to my personal meditation practice, it’s because I know I’m vulnerable to spot fires of fear and sadness flaring-up in my own home heart. So what is it that grounds me?
GREATFULLNESS IS THE GROUND of fearlessness and freedom. I’ve found that expressed and explicit greatfullness practice is an antidote to fear, sadness, and despair. Especially for zazen novitiates like me, it’s not enough to assume that “just sitting” will send all our spooks up the flu in a jiffy with only a few breaths for a tailwind. But gratitude inspires and softens fear, I find.
AN INSPIRING READ on fearlessness in the face of fire is FIRE MONKS: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara (The Penguin Press, 2011). Author Colleen Morton Busch quotes Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who established Tassajara in 1967. Suzuki affirms: “In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire…Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes.”
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE
EARLY FALL, I HIKED WITH FRIEND Clare Rhoades down the Middle Fork of the Gila River in Southern New Mexico’s rugged Gila Wilderness. We breathed the transporting scent of fall wilderness flowers and decomposing leaves crunched underfoot–all delicate and vulnerable to imminent frosts. With stirings-up of sand and silt each of the twenty-six consecutive crossings of the rushing sidewinder river–swinging around each time to meet us–we caught a whiff of old smoke still ambient after the summer fires.
THERE’S FIRE & FLOWERS
WHAT AMAZED US MOST was the bursts of Four O’clock flowers emerging from shinny jet-black branches of recently burnt-out trees felled in summer wild fires. The ground around, surrounded by aureols of whitish ash. Clare and I wondered at the confident magenta Four O’clock blooms bursting from the charred branches, robust in scale regardless of conditions on the ground. Flourishing: No fear. Like the Four O’clock flowers, it is an imperative to bloom and thrive in all conditions. Moreover, to stay awake in home consciousness–no matter how anesthetizing and hypnotizing the worldly ashes-to-ashes scene may be.
FEARLESS ENGAGEMENT & LEADERSHIP
WOMEN, LIKE THE FOUR O’CLOCKS arising from the Gila Wilderness ashes–in increasing numbers–are awakening and fearlessly engaging as activists and leaders on all fronts. Women of all ages are emerging worldwide: The female Butterfly Effect is taking flight.
HUFFINGTON POST’S ARIANNA HUFFINGTON is conspicuous and vocal among them. She writes in ON BECOMING FEARLESS: In Love, Work, and Life (Little Brown & Company, 2006): ”We need women leaders to take us beyond the world of fear…We undervalue the internal qualities of leadership that made outsiders like Dr. King, Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Teresa such powerful leaders…Internal Leadership compels us to try to make the surrounding world–whether it’s our family, our community, the entire nation–a better place.”
COURAGE & AWAKENING
“AWAKENING IS THE COURAGE TO GIVE NO FEAR.”
This is the response I got when I asked Roshi Joan Halifax, Co-abbott of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM to share her defense against the In-Fear-Structures surrounding us these day.
THIS HALLOWEEN, LET’S SIDE with Maurice Sendak’s Max in staring down the beady-yellow-eyed faces of Wild Fear: down-regulating reactivity to the frightful beasties all around. And with Roshi Joan Halifax in “Awakening is the courage to give no fear.” Join Arianna Huffington in womens’ engagement and leadership–transcending fears on all fronts. LET’S NOT BE POSSESSED – OCCUPY OUR OWN MINDS.
UPCOMING WOMENS’ RETREAT–UPAYA ZEN CENTER, SANTA FE
STORYSHARDS for WOMEN in the WORLD
Visions of Engagement & Leadership through
Personal Story, Complexity Science & Creativity
September 14-16, 2012
LISL DENNIS, Visual Artist & StoryShards Guide
MERLE LEFKOFF, PhD, Complexity Scientist & Facilitator