Friday, June 10, 2016

Living with Fear

"The Sun also Rises"
- Dawn in the Desert -

I was literally shaken out of bed at about 1 o’clock this morning when a fairly serious earthquake rolled through the desert valley where we live. Our house was located only a few miles away from the epicenter so I woke up to see everything furiously shaking and I was sure the windows were about to break as our dogs went scampering around seeking shelter.  While our home didn’t suffer any significant damage, several homes in the neighborhood did, and the quake was severe enough to be felt throughout a good portion of Southern California.

The thing that made this particular earthquake even worse was that several additional smaller quakes could be felt throughout the entire night (eight to be exact), and so just when I thought it was safe to go back to sleep another earthquake would erupt and I couldn’t help but wonder if the new one would be the long-predicted “big one” that would devastate all of Southern California.  

Awake throughout most of the night, it came to me that the earthquake and the ongoing fear of yet another was probably quite emblematic of how many ordinary people live their ordinary lives every day.

My guess is that lots of people live with an underlying sense of ongoing fear, always on-guard, waiting for some foreboding danger that may happen at any time. People fear the big earthquake or some other impending natural disaster that may strike. They are afraid of getting on an airplane or going to the mall or even going to a restaurant because this might be the scene for the next terrorist attack.

This prevailing sense of fear is especially insidious because it keeps us from living our everyday lives in joy and with peace. A sense of prevailing fear holds people in its grip and forces them 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.

This morning when things finally settled down, 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.

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 egos 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. I remember another line from another Buddhist essay, 

We try to control things because we are afraid of what will happen if we don’t.

So, when seemingly unshakable mountains crumble in an earthquake and when everyday life seems chaotic and out of control, we become fearful. But the truth is that we can control almost nothing and everything in life is impermanent - a process of endless change.

We can certainly be aware and watchful of impending danger (we have an earthquake kit in our house) but there is little sense in constantly living with fear of a danger that “might” perhaps happen at some time. 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. 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.

Today when I woke up I went outside to see if there was any damage to our house. The sun was rising and a gentle breeze was blowing at the dawn of a beautiful day in the desert. So I opened my arms and I opened my heart, ready to embrace whatever comes my way.

I am not afraid.

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