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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 89 It felt like the ground had been pulled out from under me. My fear was palpable. In spite of my ten years as a hospice volunteer and my many years of practice, I couldn’t deny that I was still somewhat caught up in the illusion that we had endless time. This illusion, which we all hold to some degree, leaves us convinced that our life will continue indefinitely into the vague future. We are rarely aware of the extent to which this belief keeps us skating on thin ice, oblivious to the very real fact that our lives can end or be drastically altered at any time, without any warning. Yet as we baby boomers get inexorably older, it becomes in- creasingly difficult to maintain this illusion of endless time. We hear of more and more people we know being diagnosed with cancer or some other serious condition, and it is no longer un- usual for someone close to us to die. My former wife and very close friend for over thirty-five years died of breast cancer last year. And many students whom I work with are dealing with the very difficult circumstances surrounding aging and dying par- ents. We can continue to try to ignore the evidence, but the cracks in the thin ice seem to be getting bigger as each friend passes. We may think it’s not fair, but that’s just the point of view of the small mind of ego—the sense of entitlement that life should go the way we want it to go. In historical perspective, our times are relatively safe and comfortable, and perhaps that fortifies the illusion of control. Yet, it can seem daunting when this illusion gets shattered, as it did with Elizabeth’s diagnosis. As we become aware that our loved ones have limited time, we are bound to feel alone and disconnected, which can manifest as fear of abandonment and loss. On some basic yet very deep level all of us feel fundamentally alone, and until we face this directly, we will fear it. Most of us will do almost anything to avoid this fear. Many, when faced with the fear of aloneness, get extra busy, or try to find some other escape. Ultimately, however, the will- ingness to truly feel the fear of aloneness and loss is the only way to transcend it. It’s also the only way to develop intimacy with others, because genuine intimacy can’t be based on neediness or on the fear of being alone. When we need people we can’t truly love them, because we see them and relate to them through the small mind’s filter of neediness. It’s a given that we fear disconnection when faced with pos- sible loss. I certainly felt it when I was told Elizabeth had cancer. But we can’t forget that true connection comes when we’re willing to acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings that are part of our Thoughts such as “I need Elizabeth to be happy” are based on self- centeredness and fear. These thoughts prevent me from really being with Elizabeth, because they’re not about her, but about me.