Fear and Fearlessness
Since November 8, I notice that I am living with a great deal of fear. There is some anger, and some sadness, but mostly what I recognize when I wake up in the morning, as I go through my day, when I greedily chase unconsciousness at night, is my old friend Fear, dressed in its Acute outfit.
Because we all live with some fear all the time, right? Sometimes it shouts at us a little louder than other times. It’s shouting, very loudly, at me right now. It’s distracting me from almost everything else.
I’ve been asked, by people I respect, to notice that my fear, in the wake of this national election, is perhaps not unsimilar to the fear people with different worldviews than I felt in the wake of the last couple of national elections. I confess that I struggle with equating fear based on prejudice with fear based on policy… (and yes, I hear the inherent bias in that statement. Bias is a hard thing to get away from, isn’t it? Like fear.) But I’m trying to focus on the fear itself, here, not what that fear is about.
For the moment, I am resisting the pull to stratify fears, prioritize and legitimize some over others (although I have and will continue to do so, sometimes, because that’s actually a process of discrimination that drives wise living). I believe that Fear, regardless of its provenance, is the root of almost all the suffering that we inflict on others and on ourselves.
Thing is, Fear specializes in heightened stakes. We are wired to over-react to it. Because Fear is very, very occasionally an intelligent early warning system. Feeling afraid? Ask yourself this question: “Is my life (or the life of someone else in my proximity) in imminent danger?” If so, take action. If not, reflect, analyze, dig into what it is that you’re afraid of that *feels* like it’s putting an actual physical life in danger, that is tap-dancing on your lizard-brain survival triggers. Because that’s mostly what Fear is doing, these days, in the relatively privileged lives of most of us. Mostly, our lives are not in danger. Mostly, our egos – our attachment to our own cultivated identity, to our own narratives of Self – are in danger. We are not dying. We just feel like we are.
It has always been important, and it’s going to be even more important, I think, to know the difference. Some lives are actually in danger. I don’t want to let my Fear confuse that real danger with uncomfortable challenges to my worldview. I need to know where, and when to take action, and where, and when, to stop, reflect, inquire into what’s pulling my strings. I want to pull my own strings.
A few weeks ago, I was doing some archival recording of a performance art piece that debuted right before the election. As I was reading this bit of that work into the microphone – a short meditation on fear and fearlessness, based on my Buddhist refuge name, Jigme, which means Fearless (ha!) – it suddenly became something really pointed, and timely, and that I needed to hear right now, in this place of Fear. I needed to be reminded about the teaching re: fearlessness – that it doesn’t mean the absence of fear, it means not being afraid of fear. Being willing to feel it, respond to it (appropriately and with clarity), not let it paralyze or catastrophize me. This is a teaching I need to learn over and over again, so I offer this version of it here (on our website), if it helps. The image is my dog Dulcie, taken in a moment when she was fearful (and kind of pissed off, I think) but, please don’t worry about her, she’s long since gotten over it.
This post was written by Laurie Dietrich