I want to share more about the kleśas, or those pains we all suffer, according to the yoga sutras. The stickiest one, abhiniveśa, is fear, attachment and especially the fear of dying. With the war theater revving up for another season, this kind of fear feels closer, palpable, like the grit I find in my mouth with my last sip of Turkish coffee. Yuck, I just wanted coffee.
Apparently, our lives of samsara include this same mouthful of bitter yuckiness. Where we might tilt toward our ingrained habit of turning away, or complaining in outrage, Wendell Barry offers a radical alternative as a response to fear. Here is an excerpt from A Timbered Choir
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles in water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them
asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings and I hear its song.
He is cultivating fearlessness. He begins by calming himself, getting still, taking refuge among his trusted companions, the trees. He settles his restlessness in this act, and honors this undertaking with his most valuable asset – his time.
Fear drives many of us into action. We race away, tuck into a closet or detonate our stockpile of verbiage, righteous conclusions and maybe even Ninja moves. The only stillness would be a frozenness as an unconscious strategy to escape from threat. Our bodies get flooded with hormones, and historically, these chemically induced reactions have saved our bacon. However, we have so many more options, more sustainable choices, when we can use our greatest human resource – the mind.
We can be calm if we practice this mind state. Most of us have the luxury to live in safe conditions, with locking doors and no immanent danger of tank treads smashing in. Can you designate a concrete place of refuge in your life? Can you locate supportive, quieting breath practices? (If not, please go to my website.) Would you consider earmarking some of your truly precious time to cultivating fearlessness and peace?
Once you settle, follow Barry’s lead:
“what is afraid of [you]” and
let it live a while in your sight.
Who or what would this be?
A non-English speaker?
A person of color?
A neighbor without a home?
This might take the form of someone or something you’ve actually seen, or it may be amorphous, more phantom-like. Just choose something/someone, and imagine them before you, looking into each other’s eyes. Acknowledge that their fear is real. What can you do to let “what it fears in you leave” you? Can you soften, the way you might if you wanted a horse to draw a carrot from your hand with its velvety lips?
Listen for the song of fearlessness, in another, that you helped facilitate. Feel it in your body, heart and mind.
Now do it in reverse: Contemplate someone or something that you fear. Does it have a form? A color? A size? Temperature, texture, smell, taste, sound? Calm yourself in your safe place, and allow this eye to eye communication again. Let your body feel the fear sensations, just letting them be. Can you tolerate these physical expressions?
Use long exhalations to allow the fear sensations to simply exist, without running or hiding. Imagine that what you fear in them can leave, once it’s been dignified a moment to be here, seen and felt. Can you listen to fear’s song? Then, can the sensations in you, the fear of it, also leave? Maybe only a part of these feelings can leave and maybe you decide you don’t want them to leave after all. You might have many encounters before things feel ready to shift. You may choose to work with a friend or therapist.
We all have real or imagined enemies. While we can never change another’s behavior, we can do our part to bring more peace into our lives and into this world we share.
I will close with a quote from the bible, the way I learned it, from a song, “And everyone beneath his vine and fig tree, shall live in peace and unafraid. And into plough shares beat their swords, we shall study war no more”.
There is actually an organization that will transform guns into gardening tools, called RAWtools https://rawtools.org/
For today, let’s just study war just enough to learn, then get to the gardening!