- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
In light of the recent shooting rampage in San Bernardino, today’s New York Times reported on a new wave of fear that seems to be sweeping across the country: a fear of the ordinary. People are afraid of going to work, fearful of eating a meal at a restaurant, afraid of sending children to school or going out to watch a movie, afraid of the office holiday party, even afraid of going to church.
Today’s news story reported interviews with a wide range of different types of people from all over the country, different ages, different ethnic and religious backgrounds, different economic classes, people in cities and people in rural areas- the one common factor among all these differences is that everybody seems to be afraid of their ordinary, routine lives, wondering if the next inevitable act of terror will happen to them.
Commuters talked about the fear that grips them when they get on a subway. College teachers talked about being afraid of their own students- fear that they might agitate or anger a pupil who might get riled up enough to go for a gun and come back shooting. Other teachers reported being constantly fearful “for” their students- afraid that a crazed gunman might walk into their classroom and spray it with bullets. Still others talked about being afraid of simple everyday gestures that at one time would have been overlooked or considered to be unremarkable: the guy in the corner looking nervously at his watch, the woman in the restaurant reaching into her bag too quickly. One woman confessed the wave of fear she experiences as she walks into her church for an ordinary Sunday service- will her church and her congregation be the next victims of a shooting rampage?
As I think about it, the underlying and ongoing fear of the ordinary that seems to be holding so many people in its grip nowadays is especially insidious because it keeps us from living our everyday lives in joy and with peace. The ongoing fear that some foreboding danger may happen at any time and in any place forces people to withdraw into isolation, into their own self-barricades, within the confines of guarded egos cut off from others- a sure way to poison the spirit and destroy the soul.
After reading the story in today’s paper I looked up an article in one of my books of Buddhist essays. It provided a very helpful insight and an antidote to the fear-filled poison that seems to be so profoundly infecting so many of us as we live in a time of terror:
There is no secure or unchanging ground
and we make ourselves safe only when we see and accept the truth that life is
utterly spontaneous and impermanent.
When it is time to laugh, we laugh. When it is time to weep, we weep.
We are cheated of nothing in life except that from which we withhold ourselves
by ego's narrow bounds.
These bounds were made to break if we ever hope to be whole again.
As I see it, lots of people fool themselves into thinking that life on this earth is never ending, stable and permanent, and that we are able to control everything that happens. So, when life seems chaotic or out of control, we become fearful. But the truth is that we can control almost nothing and life is a process of endless change.
We can certainly be aware and watchful of danger in our midst in these troubled times but there is little sense in constantly fearing some danger that “might” perhaps happen at some time and then withdrawing into a protected isolation. We can only find peace and know joy when we embrace life as it happens.
Interestingly enough, there is no phrase that is used more often in the entire Bible than the words: Do not be afraid. “God” is always telling people not to be afraid. The Bible never says that there are no problems and all the danger is gone. Instead the Bible constantly teaches: Do not be afraid! The spirit of God abides among us in the midst of all the chaos and we have one another as companions on life’s journey. Love is the energy that rules the universe. Do not be afraid.
Where there is fear, there can be no relationship, and where there is no relationship there is is no spiritual life.
Today as I sit in my garden and watch the sun rise on a beautiful ordinary day in my ordinary life, I open my arms and embrace it with all my heart. I am not afraid.