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Mindfulness: Facing Fear
by Susan Sensemann

 photograph by Susan Sensemann

photograph by Susan Sensemann

We face tests of one sort or another many times a day, some of greater consequence than another: the driver in front of us turns without a signal or our dog pushes through the gate. Other situations are more complicated: a family member wrongly casts blame, a partner gives us the heave-ho, an opportunity for a promotion requires a move to another city. Some decisions are met with a turn-on-a-dime reflex - our brain stems takes care of that.  Others require clear communication as well as thoughtful and skillful means to best sort through possible outcomes. 

When met with the unexpected, we might be flooded with fear. Will I make the right decision? What if I don’t? Why doesn’t the pro and con list add up to a clear answer? You hear a voice in your head “This is a TEST!” You panic and cringe away from the circumstance with a cold, grey feeling of dread. A possible response is to flee from the situation, to fill our time with more television, sports, food or drink. Carbs are good for distraction as we avoid our fears and push our sadnesses and discomforts onto the other end of the sofa and hand them adult beverages. Hiding from fear is not unusual. We don’t like the sweaty palms that accompany uncertainty. 

A mindfulness meditation practice trains us to be proactive rather than reactive. We take time to sit. Spine and head are tall as we breathe into the fear. We bear witness. We Name that Emotion like a 50s television quiz show. We breathe into the reality that our fear is not real. It certainly feels real. So, we name it again: Fear. Big old Medusa-headed Fear. What is the trigger for that basic human emotion? Do we need to recoil from a snake? Take shelter from a tree that’s about to topple? Or is our fear based in mental projections that the worst is bound to happen. We catastrophize.  A mindfulness meditation practice reminds our body to sit still as we count our breaths. And, within our stillness, the monsters in our mind’s eye head to the hills.

It is within this pause of sitting and breathing that we have the opportunity to become a Spiritual Warrior. Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche wrote that the term Warrior refers to one with open-hearted courage; one who embodies basic human wisdom that arises through relaxed confidence, joyful awareness and gentle, ever-loving generosity. Being an open-hearted warrior can hurt, but we bear that pain with gratitude, too. We are alive. Spiritual Warriors embody the courage to face fears and very possibly, to dance with them to the edge of the forest. 

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302