Monday, October 11, 2010

Abandoning the Most Basic Fears

"Some, especially those in spiritual communities, may imagine that the jewel of life never has conflict, argument, or upset--and of how little we know or appreciate it..."
-- Nothing Special, Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck

I have a dream," said Martin Luther King;
even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth; we must become the change we wish to see in the world,"
said Mahatma Gandhi;
blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,"said Saint Matthew 5:9;
"let one see one's own acts, done and undone,"
states the Dhammapada, verse 50.

Becoming the "tomato fighters," as Charlotte Joko Beck calls them in her book, Nothing Special Living Zen, is as important as death itself. How so?
It is the fear of death itself, and of impermanence in general, that is the most basic of all our fears; it is, she writes, the basis of all our fear-based responses. When in fear, we are not free. We cannot respond in the "here-and-now" because fear most often is fueled by the past about something which has not yet occurred, and may not ever.

Oh, what a place to be--neither past nor present; caught in the dream of self, a self which is not present in this moment, living this life. Rather it is fearing, fearful of what has yet to come, fueled by memory, of past; a past which may include argument, competitiveness, conflict, pain and of course, anger. Thinking that life is necessarily free of such experiences is "a great mistake, because if we don't understand how conflict is generated, we can wreck our lives, and the lives of others. First, we need to see that we are all afraid... [there is] the effort to protect our self-image, our ego. Out of that need... comes anger. Out of anger comes conflict," writes Beck.

Yet anger and conflict are part of human existence.
However they need not destroy our relations with others. To suppose that a good community, or to imagine that a "good life has no heated arguments, no disagreements; that's silly." Like neighbors she knew as a child, Beck writes that they competed, argued loudly over the produce of their summer gardens. Each proclaimed his tomatoes to be the best. And they argued some more. Yet these neighbors were friends. After the competition was over, there was no bitterness. Their example of a positive exchange, was in the end, when their loud bickering was done, that they were still friends; they still exchanged their ideas and opinions without rancor.

If we find that argument with persons close to us, connected in one way or another, leaves us bitter, angry or sad, a closer view may be in order. Arguing, clearing the air, resolving and respecting differences can be positive to practice. Suzuki wrote that he had never personally experienced "anger, pure as the wind." Perhaps because it is so frequently tinged with fears and disappointments.
Beck writes about our efforts to be honest, "Honesty is the absolute basis of our practice. But what does that mean?... Often our efforts to be honest don't come from real honesty... As long as we have any intention to be right, to show or "teach" the other person something, we should be wary. So long as our words have the slightest ego attachment, they are dishonest."

True words come from deep looking, clear seeing, and understanding. Understanding what is our anger, our fear; knowing that we must sometimes wait. Can you wait, patiently, observing all of yourself and the world around you? Can you wait attentively until the answer presents itself? Will you force an answer with false words or actions?

Waiting until the right words or actions arise in the present moment is not easy, but it is very important if we want to be peacemakers with ourselves, and others. Then we may speak with honest words, words that do not cut, that do no harm; speaking words that reflect who we are, honestly, in the clearest, best voice we have-- our own.

This article appeared here previously September 24, 2009

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