Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fear of Life

As you may already know, my wife Shelby is pregnant again.  Needless to say, there is a new air of excitement going around as this new addition grows in her mother’s warm and loving belly Yes, that’s right, it’s a girl :-).  So far, the baby seems to be doing well with no noticeable health issues.  She’s very active in there, too.  Every time Shelby feels kicks and flips I can’t help but think about how crazy that must be.  There’s a little human being in there flailing about, learning how to operate their tiny little limbs.  It’s just miraculous.  I’m getting to feel and see the movements too :-)

It’s been a little over a year since we lost our first little girl, Stella Grace, and we’ve found ourselves on almost the exact same schedule.  Sprout (our nickname for new baby-to-be) is estimated to arrive on April 20, 2012, while Stella was estimated to arrive on April 17, 2011.  Pregnancies after a loss tend to be experienced a bit differently anyway, but having the same schedule makes it seem even more special.  After a loss, the innocence of what can go wrong is gone, and is replaced with the burden of knowing the myriad of things that do go wrong.

The loss of innocence can be painful, and may leave behind a permanent scar.  It also leaves behind a changed perspective on life.  In complete innocence there is no fear, and in a state of no fear there is peace.  After innocence is damaged, fear is born.  Fear wants to protect us from harm so that we may enjoy peace once again, but fear and peace can not coexist.  A return to innocense will bring about peace, but past experience has told us that it is dangerous to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable again.  We remember being hurt when we were innocent, and the mind can point to the painful experiences we’ve had when we lost innocence, thereby justifying the need for fear.

The mistake here is that fear would not have protected us from the pain incurred by a loss of innocense.  Fear can’t really protect us from anything, except maybe peace.  Though that makes perfect sense, believing it doesn’t make fear go away.  Experience tells us that there is no end to the things that could potentially go “wrong” in any given life, before or after birth, which is why many of us live in fear of life, or, put another way, we fear living a life without fear.  We “know” too much to be fully at ease all the time.  So let’s look at what we “know” at the root of this fear.

Life is Scary.

You never know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next.  Something bad always happens when I let my guard down.  If I don’t worry I won’t be ready when the worst case scenario happens.  If I allow myself to fully relax I’m putting too much trust in a life that can’t be trusted.  Life has let me down so many times I can’t even count.  I’m scared of not knowing what’s going to happen next.  I’m angry that I can’t ensure things turn out the way I want.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to have to worry, or keep my guard up, but trusting life might jinx the outcome.

Is That True?

Pain is unavoidable in this life, but what if it’s completely necessary?  What if our suffering is part of a master plan?  What if this master plan has our best interest at heart?  Is it possible to put trust in life’s plan?  How does it feel to let down your guard and trust life?  Sit with that last question and really experience letting your guard down about a particularly stressful situation.  What does it feel like to surrender?  Do you experience fear?  Loss?  Relief?  Joy?  Resistance?  Do you want to cry?  Laugh?  Both?  Just sit with that experience of allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable, without judging yourself or the situation. [I highly recommend Gina Lake’s book, “Trusting Life.”]

Looking Inside

An interesting thing about fear is that it typically has a bodily sensation that goes with it.  When you are experiencing some sort of stress or fear, check in with your body to see if there is any tension.  Once you locate it, direct your attention to that area of the body.  Feel that tension and allow it to be there, fully.  Give yourself permission to be tense.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with any physical or emotional response that you have.  Welcome it all and see how that feels.

At a recent satsang with Benjamin Smythe (, we were talking about the fear of life.  Benjamin is known for traveling around with a large sign that says, “You’re Perfect!”  He finds a public place to sit or stand and just holds the sign up to people walking by.  He gets a wide range of responses, ranging from gratitude to indifference to anger.  The thing is, he no longer cares what kind of response he gets.  As he will tell you, his fear is gone (enlightenment has a tendency to do that to a person ;-).

During the satsang I told him that I had some fear of life in me, and asked if I should go stand somewhere holding a sign like him.  We all had a good chuckle, but then he asked if I had any fear at that moment.  I admitted that I did have a little (sort of like a mild stage fright you might get if you were admitting a perceived weakness in front of a large group of people).  He told me to check in with my body to see if I could feel any tension.  I located some tightness in my thighs and my upper arms, and relayed that information.  He congratulated me and invited me to completely allow that tension to be there.  As soon as I did I started laughing.  I was able to see through the fear.  It was just an illusion.  Benjamin explained that dealing with fear may be more easily dealt with on the physical level because the mind is what created it in the first place, and it’s hard to get the creator of fear to alleviate it.

So What?

How does all of this serve me in my current life situation, dealing with a potentially stressful pregnancy?  One key is to take things one day at a time (remain present).  During a recent event that caused us some concern about the baby, my mind became a fear monger of “What if,” scenarios.  I could not shake the thoughts, but I could feel the tension being created in my body.  The tension was not localized, and could be felt all over.  This time noticing it and allowing it did not give me the same relief.  What I did instead is recognized the thoughts as just thoughts, not reality.  This enabled me to relax for brief periods, but I was unable to be fully at ease until we had our visit with the Nurse and learned everything was fine.

There will always be life situations like this that have the ability to engender fear.  Accepting fear when it occurs (instead of resisting it) is very important.  However, realizing that the root of the fear is believing our thoughts is even more important.  Once that’s realized, the thoughts can be looked at impartially as part of the human condition, not as if they were true.

As I was writing this up I felt moved to write a poem.

The End of Fear

In the end, there was the beginning
A circle brought to life, only not to end
Where am I to go?
Trapped in eternity
Scared to stop
Scared to move forward
Unable to do either
Unable to do both
Where am I to go?
No where but here
What about fear?
There is only fear if you allow there to be
Turn your attention toward it
See if that fear is real
Electrical impulses given a four letter word is all that’s really there
Being trapped, unable to move or stop, are just concepts
The domino effect of belief ends in fear
Fear ends in the recognition of its origin