Series on Fear-ll:The Buddha of Fear
marty is scheduled to present @ the July 10-15, Dallas Texas Before I relay the story of the Buddha of Fear, there is some background information important to the context. It has to do with Mindfulness, and how this word is used and heard.
For the purpose of this story, and for that matter of this site, the source of the word Mindfulness is from an ancient Buddhist practice of training the mind to be fully awake to all its activities as a means to know oneself. From this place we can then recognize all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and sounds without the need to overlay additional meaning to them or to deny their source. First hand, with this practice we can discover that most of our reality, if not all, is but a mind construct. Knowing this point can be very helpful as we live in a consensus reality that the collective mind of our modern world has created.
Like the thresher’s screen, the practice of Mindfulness helps to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is not used for us as a means to live in another world—it is used for us to be fully awake to this one and to provide further access to what also lies beyond.
A person need not be a Buddhist to practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be applied to everything without distorting the origin. Therefore it can be practiced throughout all religions, philosophies, and belief systems without concession.
In Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, this practice is highly successful in lowering the effects of stress. Medical doctors recommend this to their patients, and research studies show that its use is highly effective in reducing the symptoms of numerous illnesses and conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and anxiety, naming but a few. As this New York Times article reports, Mindfulness has also been instrumental in assisting children to lead a balanced life.
After over ten years of regular Mindfulness practice with the use of additional tools I acquired in the area of subtle energy practices, and given that my training also included the applied psychology of phenomenology and somatics, I felt that this background would allow me to further explore the phenomena around my accident trauma using Mindfulness as a center pole and anchor point.
In all my years of Mindfulness practice and training I learned that no matter what aspects of doubt or fear I experienced, there was one thing that remained true—that being the knowledge that however awful I thought I was or that things were, I understood that none of it was the sum total of my life, but that this too was a mind construct passing on its way through my awareness.
Many times the darker doubts and fears overwhelm the lighter aspects of our being. What I have also learned from my observations is that if I ride only on the light, it can be a very shallow body of energy to surf. For at its edge and below it all resides a depth that by its very nature is dark. The point is to not give a different set of values to either one, but instead to see each as part of the total picture and acknowledge them for the valuable contribution they make to the whole. Simply put, it is the Tao, the yin-yang symbol in real-time.
To further describe the practice of Mindfulness in as clear and concise a way as I can, it consists of sitting quietly and paying acute attention to the breath in all its aspects. Once that is established, then the practitioner moves on to recognize thoughts as thinking, noises as sound, and different inclinations of the body and eruptions of emotions as feelings.
Despite the brevity and apparent simplicity of this explanation, it is a lifetime of work. When a person undertakes this challenge, he/she soon learns that the mind has a will of unbridled energy that resists being trained to pay attention because it believes that it already does pay attention, and that it needs no one else to teach it anything. So this person is surprised to learn that while they believe they are paying attention to their breath, they suddenly discover their mind has wandered off to other pleasant pastures of remembering the party last evening or some item in their appointment book set for next week. In this practice, the training is to then very gently turn the wandering mind back to the attention of the breath and begin all over again.
This is Mindfulness practice, both at its most rudimentary and it highest form. I have often remarked to myself that this practice is fueled by a lot of beginnings!
Armed with these tools I allowed myself to further explore the regions of trauma-induced emotions, taking my lifeline of Mindfulness with me. So there is no misunderstanding, I must also say that some of what I did is counter to the practice of Mindfulness as described above.
By this time, my breath awareness was well ingrained and I used Mindfulness to dwell longer and deeper in these states of emotions that overtook me in order to observe and study them as they swept through my body. In the pure practice of Mindfulness, a person would let go of the emotion on an outbreath and immediately return to pay attention to just the breath, thinking, etc.
As a phenomenologist, I took advantage of my long-term practice to move through the immense amount of trauma my body endured from the accident and to also investigate deeper into the darker realms of the psyche to those places where the most recent trauma event cracks open old wounds that have been scarred over and armored so that we can no longer feel them. Old wounds, for all their armoring continue to effect our lives because regardless of all the armor, they remain unhealed.
If I ever doubted the power of unhealed wounds of the psyche, my encounter with the angel soon dissuaded me of that belief as in one single swipe of the blade the angel unleashed all my past unhealed wounds. It was so apparent that as I saw them come forth I did not need to be given an explanation.
I knew then that if this is what was happening to me then according to the statistics, there were millions of other people who were experiencing similar phenomena in their lives; the difference being that I had a unique set of tools to work with to identify and sort through the terrifying aftermath of such trauma.
This then is what I set out to do; determined to learn the substance and structure of my own trauma, to map it like an explorer maps new territory using the practice of Mindfulness as my compass.
Be forewarned that I am not recommending this for anyone without a well-trained guide in Mindfulness practice, just as I would not even consider going into the dessert without the presence of a seasoned tracker who has not been there before. In my observations, the mindscapes of trauma present difficult ground to navigate. The landscape of the desert, much like the mind is forever changing as the winds shift the sands across the terrain, and illusions appear as myriads of mirages that can fool even the veteran tracker.
In my attempt to map out this environment, I do not profess that all I saw and learned is all there is to learn—it is only my experience of it. I have tried to document it as accurately as I am capable of so that those who come after may recognize themselves and know a way through the desert of the mind.
For a person who has had a recent trauma event, it is important to know that there are both appropriate and inappropriate times in which to initiate the practice of Mindfulness. A person who is in combination both a long-term practitioner and one who is trained in experiential psychology can determine this. This may or may not include credentialed professionals. Not every licensed professional is qualified to undertake the position of guide. The individual who has experienced recent trauma must recognize this and choose as wisely as they can.
I have laid out the criteria for making the choice to begin. This said, I know there is something I have left out—that will come in due time. Let me get on now with the Buddha of Fear.
The Buddha of Fear
Beginning the year 2001, six months after my accident, I began to come to terms with the trauma that was buried so deeply that I had yet to truly acknowledge it. Instead, I had hid in the recesses of the safer more palatable thinking that my accident had been an opportunity for spiritual awakening. Society listens more to those who turn a tragedy into an inspiration. It is easier to look only at the successful outcome of a tragic event than to dwell in the agony it took to get there.
Friends, and family seemed to withdraw and not want to be around me if I appeared wounded, sad, and depressed. They acted guarded, as if sadness might be catching. There is some bitterness that comes with the territory, especially once I realized that this would be a lonely path to travel. Except for one friend long distance, I could not count on company. It is not that I blamed anyone for it, it is only that I was not in any position to ask for that kind of steady commitment for support, and that I realized how much others were trying to deal with their own lives and had to appear to be doing so successfully. My senses were very open to detecting others’ emotions.
Reflecting on the accident and the ensuing result I began to recede from the experience of living. I had no verve for it. I was afraid to experience anything that resembled passion, or enjoyment. Not only was I afraid to be alive, I also feared to let it show — terrified that if I were to do so, that it would again be taken away. The effects of the accident had robbed me of my professional dreams and aspirations just as I was at the take-off mark.
More and more my life reflected the aura of fear. Soon, I could sense and also see a dark cloud around my head. I was reminded of the Charles Schultz character of Linus in the Snoopy cartoon. Linus is always depicted holding onto his security blanket, sucking his thumb, and having what looks like a cloud of dust swirling around his head. My cloud was dark and I desperately wanted a security blanket. I did not appear with my thumb in my mouth — I was too traumatized to put it there. It might have had some benefit.
As I went through my days, I became more and more aware of this dark cloud around me. It went with me everywhere. When I sat in meditation I could feel it more clearly. It became more and more evident to me all the time, not just some of the time. Many days, I pretended that it wasn’t there, but it was not something to be denied.
Finally, I realized that the cloud represented fear, my fear, a dark shadow of myself that was still unknown to me, and that I wanted to keep at bay. Yet it stayed. For months and months, it was my companion. It would not leave me. It would not go away.
Like those acquaintances and friends who withdrew from my sadness, I did not want to get too closely acquainted with this dark presence. It was very intimidating. What terrible secret about myself would I learn if I allowed it to get too close? Just having it hover around me was enough to deal with.
Over time, the dark murkiness began to thin out and I detected a vague form within the dark mist. Positioned in front of me at my forehead level as I sat in meditation, it never moved to threaten me more than to just be there. Using all my previous training, my shifting back and forth in awareness allowed me the freedom to move closer to it; not a lot, by no means, just to the edge of my comfort so that eventually I did not feel quite as fearful of its presence. I began to get used to it and to my feelings about it — after all they were with me twenty-four hours a day. Most comforting was that I could get as close as I wished and it did not move toward me. It seemed to allow me to be as close or as far from it as I chose. This process continued for months.
Then one day, a form began to emerge, and I saw what looked like the shape of a Buddha. It was still vague, but the outline of the body was becoming more defined, the head, shoulders, and apparent figure in a sitting meditation position. Now that I could at least identify what I considered a compassionate being, I did not feel as much fear about it, but I was aware that there was still so much fear present in my life in other ways: fear of going out socially, fear to be with others, fear of being injured again, fear of not knowing who I saw in the morning mirror, fear of having missed the point of my life, and afraid to get too close to the truth of knowing it. Within it all, I began to see the figure as a being willing to embody my fear, to hold my fear for me, and it became my Buddha of Fear.
I was so grateful that something was willing to be with that dark tormented part of me. Whether or not this figure was a made up figment of my tortured mind, I did not care. My observation was that it helped me to relate to my fear and I was not stopping here.
Finally, after almost over a year, one day the darkness cleared, and the Buddha became more and more defined. I began to see the folds of cloth draped across the shoulders and down the still body falling as they did over the bent knees of the meditation posture. I saw hands resting on the thighs, and could feel breath moving in and out of the body with the chest rising and falling. The lips were gently curved and the eyes softly closed against its cheeks.
I explored, getting to know it in greater detail. One day, as if sensing my perusal, it raised its chin a bit higher and slowly opened its eyes. The figure looked at me directly with eyes of infinite love such as I have never felt before. I looked back, our eyes meeting in that way where pure communication is transmitted. Like the refugee rescued from the freezing cold, unabashedly, I soaked up the warmth flowing from those eyes and did not waver from them. We were indelibly linked for an interminable time. Neither of us retracted, there was only an infinite allowing of each other to be as we were without the need to hide anything for fear of being judged or rejected. The mutual acceptance was unequivocal as we were here, now and for all time. There was a mutual exchange of breath and beating of hearts. Its breath was my breath, its heart beat in sync with mine, our thoughts were as one.
Time was not present, it had ended as if a great noise had finally ceased its cacophony. I had stepped into a space that was beyond time, where the figure resided. It had patiently waited for over a year for me to move through my fear, to see through the darkness. Infinite understanding blossomed, and now I realized that the compassion streaming from the Buddha’s heart and love from its eyes was simply a reflection of myself. My Buddha of Fear was not only holding my fear, all my dark shadows as well as the light of me — it was me.
I was overwhelmed by the realization as I looked at myself gazing back at me. The streams of love overtook me as I sobbed in overwhelming comprehension and dawning realization of the infinite love and compassion that some part of myself had for the rest of me.
The fact of how all comfort and security had been wrenched from me by the accident became totally clear. All the repercussions of the absence of feeling loved and secure were made known to me. I had felt like a coward all that time — as I cringed from life and myself. The difference between fear and courage took on new dimensions in my life.
The Buddha of Fear transformed into a benevolent guardian who has stayed with me as a symbolic companion and helped me to advance self-compassion.
Until next time when I will be back with the next part of this series on fear.
May everlasting peace prevail in all our lives.
Labels: Buddha of Fear, children, education, fear, Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, stress reduction, trauma recovery