Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cultivating Fearlessness

One of the most important monastics writing today is undoubtedly Pema Chodron of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Today I happened to pick up her wonderful book entitled, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. Most of us experience the strong tendency to avoid going to the places that scare us so a title like that can be a bit off-putting. And yet, I truly believe that most of us also have a intuitive knowing within that will welcome going to those scary places when we are equipped with the skills of meditative practice. Pema Chodron writes:

[T]he tragedy of experiencing ourselves as apart from everyone else is that this delusion becomes a prison. Sadder yet, we become increasingly unnerved at the possibility of freedom. When the barriers come down, we don't know what to do. We need a bit more warning about what it feels like when the walls start tumbling down. We need to be told that fear and trembling accompany growing up and that letting go takes courage. Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego. So we ask ourselves, "What do I do when I feel I can't handle what's going on? Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust?"

Later she observes:

No matter how we get trapped, our usual reaction is not to become curious about what's happening.

The places that scare me are all political and I know that is true of many people today. But I want to stay curious - indeed to cultivate more curiosity about what is going on in the world. Since starting this blog there have been many times that I have wanted to post something from one of the newspapers that I read on line or just to comment on something going on in the world but I have resisted because, with one or two urgent exceptions, I wanted this site to be about meditation. Finally I decided that the only thing for it was to create another blog.

Child of Illusion is now up and running. I'm sure many will recognize the reference. One of the slogans from The Seven Points of Mind Training states, "In the post-meditative experience, become a child of illusion." This is an encouragement to engage the world as we find it - to take life on life's terms - all the while realizing that our perceptions are unreliable, that things are illusory in the sense that reality is not what it seems to be. Reminding myself of that slogan helps me maintain equanimity in the face of those many places that scare me in our world. Cultivating compassion for myself, for others, even for my enemies is the other crucial vehicle for maintaining peace and inner stability. And yet, I truly believe I need to stay curious and engage what I discover with authenticity. I hope those of you who are regular readers of this blog will visit the other one as well and engage in the conversation with me as we explore the issues of our day.

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