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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 70 Meditation wasn’t the great panacea Susan Piver had hoped for, because fear and the other negative emotions didn’t just go away. But it did lead her to a surprising discovery—to fear less you’ve got to open more. Out of WHEN I BEGAN PRACTICING BUDDHISM in 1995, I hoped it would help me cope with depres- sion, make me more loving, and, mainly, decrease the level of fear that seemed to always accompany me—fear of financial ruin, war, my own unlovabil- ity, and who could be calling me on the phone. And it really helped with these things; I calmed down a lot. But it also happened that even deeper fears and unresolved pain surfaced, presenting themselves for consideration. The more I meditated, the shakier I felt. Was this what was supposed to happen? Any- thing could make me fall apart. Suddenly it was like I had PMS all the time. Was I going crazy? Where was the famous equanimity alleged to be associated with Buddhism? In the meditation tradition it’s said that when one begins to practice, it’s like all the dead fish at the bottom of the harbor suddenly float to the top, bloated and stinky. It seemed like this was what was happening to me. The more I practiced, the harder everything hit me and the more afraid I became. The barriers that had kept emotion at a comfort- able distance were coming down. No longer pinned by the weight of complete ignorance, fear bobbed up. There was no choice but to look at it. This may not be the greatest time in history to begin reckoning with fear. Forget about being afraid of too much debt or of not finding true love. Now you can fear meeting a terrorist on the sub- way or that one of us will eat the last fish in the sea. It’s unbearable, isn’t it? Yet my Buddhist training tells me to be a warrior, and that’s something I des- perately want to be. But I don’t know how. Oh wait, I do. I do know how. I’ve been instructed to allow my heart to break in the exact way it already does, for those who suffer in war, for the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, for everyone who be- lieves they’re right and someone else is wrong, and for the devastating vulnerability of those I love and those I don’t. This vulnerability is real, and with its recognition comes an equally unbearable sense of preciousness and gratitude. At a certain point of immersion in the spiritual path, you can no longer pretend that everything is going to turn out OK, nor can this hope be tolerat- ed. You can’t step back into false security or go for- Fear ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDRÉ SLOB