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Lions Roar : July 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2007 41 MINDFULNESS AS FEARLESS PRESENCE The art of listening is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive. — ALAN WATTS Sitting mindfully with our sorrows and fears, or with those of an- other, is an act of courage. It is not easy. Mary believed that to face her rage might kill her. John’s son’s cystic fibrosis brought terrifying images of wheelchairs and early death. Perry was afraid to face his infidelities and sexual peculiarities. Jerry could hardly bear to think of the carnage he had seen during his work in Bosnia. For Angela, facing the re-occurrence of her cancer meant facing death. With patience and courage, they gradually learned how to sit firmly on the earth and sense the contraction and trembling of their body without running away. They learned how to feel the floods of emotions, fear, grief, and rage and to allow them to slowly release with mindfulness. They learned to see the endless mental stories of fear and judgment that repeat over and over, and with the help of mindfulness to let them go and relax, to steady the mind and return to the present. In the Buddha’s search for freedom he too turned his mind- fulness to overcome his fears: How would it be if in the dark of the month, with no moon, I were to enter the most strange and frightening places, near tombs and in the thick of the forest, that I might come to understand fear and terror. And doing so, a wild animal would approach or the wind rustle the leaves and I would think, “Perhaps the fear and terror now comes.” And being resolved to dispel the hold of that fear and terror, I remained in whatever posture it arose, sitting or standing, walking or lying down. I did not change until I had faced that fear and terror in that very posture, until I was free of its hold upon me...And having this thought, I did so. By facing the fear and terror I became free. In the traditional training at Ajahn Chah’s forest monastery in Thailand, we were sent to sit alone in the forest at night to practice the meditations on death. Stories of monks who had en- countered tigers and other wild animals were part of what kept us alert. There were many snakes, including cobras. At Ajahn Buddhadasa’s forest monastery we were taught to tap our walk- ing sticks on the paths at night so the snakes would “hear” us and move out of the way. There were moments when I was really Sitting meditation at an April 2007 daylong group retreat with Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California (above and pages 38 & 39)