Adventures In Meditation: Sitting With Fear

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My favorite spot is a rocky point of land overlooking the Atlantic ocean. There is an old, white lighthouse which coos and beams at the choppy waves. Recently I drove there for a brief visit by myself.

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It had been a stressful week. I carried heavy, inner turmoil I couldn’t name, but from which I longed to free myself. I got it into my head to sit and meditate on the cliffs for a bit.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may have caught on that I am attracted to Buddhism, and the concept of mindfulness. There are many fancy, eloquent, and poetic definitions for mindfulness. I think of it as being 100% aware of my surroundings, body, breath, thoughts, and urges and how these factors influence me at any given point in time, then accepting these factors without trying to influence them.

In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron writes, “We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is. . .  This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it is always with us.”

When I am mindful in a situation, whether it is painful or pleasant, I can be present without trying to block or diminish what’s going on.  Here’s the thing:

I’m not very good at it.

But as someone pointed out to me, it is called “practicing” Buddhism because we aren’t perfect at it. We are always practicing.  (Thank you to Shannon from Game of Diapers for that gem!)

I probably would be a lot better at this gig if I meditated more.

Most practitioners of Buddhism meditate, or sit, for a period of time in quiet space to alter consciousness, gain enlightenment, develop compassion, or for relaxation among other things. Some meditate daily, others do it a couple times a week.

Meditation-wise, I compare to Christians who go to church devoutly on Christmas and Easter.

Time, space, and lack of privacy are among the hollow excuses I have for not meditating more.   Also, I just don’t really like it. The perfectionist in me becomes confused and overwhelmed by all the different types of meditation and if I am doing it “right enough.”

Anyway, there I was with some hurt in my heart, at that beautiful spot. I got out of my car and trundled down to the cliffs, noting that clogs were not really made for traversing shaley rocks. I got my body safely to a spot and sat down.

Assuming a comfortable position, I took some breaths. I chanted om tare tutture ture soha, a chant for Green Tara and compassion.

The view before me.

The view before me.

My gaze was gentle and calm on waves that flickered and danced in the sun. Ten minutes passed easily. For the most part, my mind was clear. When occasional thoughts came up, I remembered Pema Chodron saying to simply notice the thought, label it “thinking” and return to the meditative state. I did this several times.

Oh, yeah, look at me! I am totally rocking this meditation! I should do this more often because I am kicking meditation’s ass! 

Then I realized despite the spring chill in the air, and the breeze off the ocean it was quite warm on the rock. I smiled, feeling content as a cat in the sun.

Panic smacked me full-frontal like an icy wave.

Snakes like warm stuff. 

What if a snake crawled out of his hidey hole and was attracted to my warmth here in the sun? 

My eyes snapped open. I twisted my head around and sure enough, there was a hole in the moist earth behind me.

And the view behind me.

And the view behind me.

Rationally, I know any number of things could have crawled out of that hole– a skunk, a mouse, or some other warm-blooded, furry critter. I live in a part of the world where there are barely any dangerous or large snakes, and any reptilian creature that may or may not have crawled out of that space was likely small and harmless.

But phobias are not rational. The breeze rustled the branches a bit and I leapt from my spot, scampered up the cliff like a mountain goat, and ran back to the safety of my car. Even then, my legs felt creepy crawly and I shuddered.

I felt goofy and embarrassed.  Once again, I failed at the meditation, wannabe Buddhist thing.

Or did I?

At home, I consulted Chodron’s book.  I read, “In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal– quite the opposite.. .   If our experience is that sometimes we have some kind of perspective, and sometimes we have none, then that’s our experience.  If sometimes we can approach what scares us, and sometimes we absolutely can’t, then that’s our experience.”

So, is she saying, in a sense, I totally nailed that meditation, (even though I literally ran away from my irrational fear) because it was exactly the experience it was?

I like to think so.

Of course she is probably speaking of metaphorical fears within us with which we may or may not feel companionable.  That we may not have enough compassion.  That we may be judgmental.  That we may be angry or even hostile.  That we may erect walls to insulate ourselves from becoming vulnerable.

Or, we are terrified of nature despite the fact we would like to present ourselves as an earthy-mama-goddess who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty.

As I sit here trying to figure out how I will wrap up this post, I realize I could write an entire series about my fears.  Even as I laugh at myself for beating feet from an imaginary snake, I am struck by how fearful I have become.  A decade ago I had a delicious sense of safety, but now life feels precariously balanced.   I think it has to do with “stuff” in which I am stewing over turning 40 in a couple months, my fears of growing older and death.  In my work as a clinical social worker, I am also exposed daily to horrendous acts of humanity which have certainly tainted my world view and inner monologue over the past ten years.

I feel like if I lean only slightly to the left I will become terrified of bridges or bees.  Lean forward and I will become one of those people who never leave the house.  To the right and I will spend every second of every day cleaning for fear of germs.

What would happen if I just let myself fall back in a trust-fall into the universe?

Well, those are all matters for other posts.

What purpose did my adventure in meditation serve?  Did it further my awareness?  Did it help dispel fears?  Was it the silly punchline to a cosmic joke?  Or was it simply my experience?

I like to think so.

 

 

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