Posts Tagged ‘Fear’

freedom

July 4th, 2012    -    5 Comments

Every now and then I talk to groups of nervous parents. All parents are nervous. Under the surface of relative calm and confidence, we worry ourselves sick. I try to take some of the doubt and turn it into trust.

Remember when you taught your child to eat, I ask. Some people nod. Yes, yes, I remember that ordeal.

Remember when you taught them to walk? Hands shoot up. Frankly, I wasn’t sure he’d ever get the hang of it!

How about when you taught your kid to talk: to move their jaw, lift the tongue, purse the lips and push the breath past the teeth? By now, some are beginning to get the drift.

We don’t teach our children any of this. We show them. They follow. Whether they follow our lead or the impulse of their own intrinsic genius is anyone’s guess. The grass grows by itself.

Those things we don’t teach are the greatest teachings of all. I hope your children have that kind of teacher; I hope mine does, too.

True freedom is freedom from fear.

encryption for a new society

April 22nd, 2012    -    12 Comments

friend: no one you know
community: no place you live
connect: disconnect
interact: isolate
engage: distract
like: click
click: touch
touch: screen
screen: reality
stream: data
streaming: live data
live: not living
comment: type
chat: read
follow: ignore
social: alone

Last week my landline rang. You have to be of a certain age to even have a landline. I almost never pick it up. But I saw the name on ID. It was a friend—someone I’ve seen in my small town every week for 15 years. We have a sentimental history but don’t talk much anymore. Seeing her name I thought the worst.

That’s how it is these days. The phone rings and you think the worst.

She was calling to ask me to have lunch with her. For no reason. Just lunch. An hour sitting face-to-face, chatting. The whole event was such a shock that it made me realize how far we’ve drifted from what words used to mean: words like friend, face, and chat.

We have a new society, and it has corrupted the vocabulary of the old.  A society that isn’t social, with a language that is completely silent. I write this here so that one day the archeologists will be able to decode the encryption, and imagine what it used to mean to be alive.

This is why I will never stop inviting you to meet me face-to-face, and why one day you will.

The Art of Non-Parenting, Central School, Belmont, CA May 31.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, Los Angeles, June 10.

talk to strangers about the weather

January 4th, 2012    -    10 Comments

Whenever I see something I’ve written reflected back this way, I know the message is for me. That’s the case with this excerpt from Hand Wash Cold, which is being recirculated right about the time I’d rather hole up with my own precious self, doing what I want, when I want, how I want. So right now is a good time talk to strangers about the weather, especially since it’s 88 degrees on January 4.

Do you want to live in friendship or fear? Paradise or paranoia? We are each citizens of the place we make, so make it a better place.

At the grocery store, give your place in line to the person behind you.

Ask the checker how her day is going, and mean it.

On the way out, give your pocket money to the solicitor at the card table no matter what the cause.

Buy a cup of lemonade from the kids at the sidewalk stand.

Tell them to keep the change.

Roll down your car window when you see the homeless man on the corner with the sign. Give him money. Have no concern over what he will do with it.

Smile at him. It will be the first smile he has seen in a very long time.

Do not curse your neighbor’s tall grass, weeds, foul temperament, or house color. Given time, things change by themselves. Even your annoyance.

Thank the garbageman. Be patient with the postal worker. Leave the empty parking space for someone else to take. They will feel lucky.

Buy cookies from the Girl Scouts and a sack of oranges from the poor woman standing in the broiling heat at the intersection.

Talk to strangers about the weather.

Allow others to be themselves, with their own point of view.

If you judge them, you are in error.

Do not let difference make a difference.

Do not despair over the futility of your impact or question the outcome.

Do not pass while the lights are flashing.

Trusting life means trusting where you are, and trusting where you’ll go, and trusting the way in between, as on a bus trip, the driving left to someone else. It’s bumpy but remarkably reliable.

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the map of faith

November 14th, 2011    -    20 Comments

When my daughter was born prematurely, they said she might not breathe. Then they said she might be in a hospital for two months. They said she might need a year to catch up. Soon enough, she was at the top of the charts. Then they said she might be delayed. Then they said she was ahead. Then just last week someone said she might be slow, and need an extra year to catch up.

I no longer have faith in these pronouncements. My daughter has never been anything but completely herself, no matter what they called it.

All parents struggle with fear, hope, and expectations for their children, so I wanted to respond publicly to a mother who contacted me last week.

I’m totally unqualified to give guidance in her circumstance, so I’m only going on faith. That’s all any of us has to go on.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my mail. I feel a bit silly for writing to you, but I decided to get over that because my need for relief is so great.

The willingness to feel foolish is the first step on the path. It’s also the last step on the path. To be honest, it’s every step on the path.

I am mother to two children: a less ordinary boy of just 5 years with a mild disability; and a girl of 2 1/2.  I have noticed that having a non-average child complicates matters in a way I never saw coming.

Give yourself credit for what you didn’t see coming. Most of us think we see much farther ahead than we really can. We anticipate outcomes and draw foregone conclusions. Then we leap to either a false sense of security or a false sense of insecurity. Anything we conclude about the future is false. All that we can ever see is what is right in front of our eyes, and so I encourage you to keep that focus. Then you can be sure that you are always seeing clearly, because you are seeing things as they are.

It takes strength to see things as they are without interpreting it to mean one thing or another.

I’m not one of those mothers who always knew that there was something wrong. It is rather the opposite. My son feels OK to me. I see his delayed development and the stress he experiences because of that, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I see a solid foundation in him and know that he will grow.

You’ve said two things here that are profound. First “my son feels OK to me.” This is the peace we seek: to be OK even when it is not OK. What makes it OK is the second thing you said, “it’s nothing we can’t handle.” This is the ground of faith. Not faith in a certain set of outcomes — the ones we want, wish, like, push, and prod for — but faith rooted in the reality of the present moment. The present is where we stand, and to stand upright where we are is the embodiment of strength. This is the strength we use to handle things as they occur, staying steady and aware without getting caught in the mind-spinning panic and paranoia of a future we cannot predict.

And let’s be clear: the future is unpredictable for everyone, no matter what. read more

under your hat

November 1st, 2011    -    11 Comments

This is not a post you might expect from me, but you’ve heard the likes of it before. I know I don’t need to write this, but I have been quiet so long.

Yesterday there was a stereotypical news leak about a political candidate. Stereotypical news engenders stereotypical responses — denials, blame, defense, sympathy, antipathy, and conspiracy theories.

Maybe the story is fabricated, maybe this didn’t really happen, and maybe it’s just another round of dirty trickery. Maybe the whole thing was a misunderstanding — the case of innocent friendliness being exaggerated and exploited for gain.

If you’ve ever experienced it, you know sexual harassment and discrimination is not an exaggeration.  It’s not exaggerated  because you probably didn’t even say a word about it. But it is a fact: a fact that is usually ignored, tolerated, belittled and then forgotten. Until it happens again. It always happens again.

The story made me remember things I’d forgotten.

When I was just out of college and working in my first job, a client invited me to dinner. He said he wanted me to come to work for him. When he started talking about sex, I excused myself.

Shortly after that I did some writing for an oil company. I flew to another state and spent an hour interviewing a refinery manager for an article in the company magazine. At the end of our conversation about industrial safety, apropos of nothing, he said, “I like that skirt on you.” I said thank you and left.

The day after I was hired to handle publicity for a financial services firm, the president of the company called me and asked point blank, “So, you wanna fool around?” I hung up.

Assigned to work with a regional vice president of a large beverage company, I was told by his assistant, “From now on when you come to a meeting, don’t say anything. We don’t mind looking at you, but we don’t want your opinion.” I resigned.

Everybody can tell stories like this. This stuff happens all the time. No one really gets hurt. It’s all a misunderstanding. Don’t take it the wrong way. Things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t be so touchy.

I’m an old lady now, and I no longer care how I’m seen or heard. I’ve left that conversation for good.

When you feel intimidated, accosted or afraid, what you really want to do is leave. But the people who say and do things like this rarely seem to go away. They’re still out there pulling infinite second chances from under their hats. To them I say nothing. But to you, I say speak up, even if it’s only here.

your child’s peril

September 26th, 2011    -    27 Comments

Dear Dr. Neuroscientist:
Please help us grow up to be safe.
Signed,
The Kindergarten Class of 2012

Last weekend I saw a story in the New York Times that made my head explode. Those of you who have heard me speak about “my head exploding” know that it is a clever metaphor for when my head actually explodes. The story in the paper was this:

Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril

I have a vested interest in this story, since I – gasp! ­– delayed kindergarten at my child’s peril. (Actually, she delayed it herself by refusing to go.) The gist of the story is that a couple of neuroscientists did some math and concluded that if you keep your child from starting school until he or she is a year older it won’t deliver a measurable competitive advantage. Boo hoo. Here’s the money graph:

In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age.

Say what? The findings, in my book, are benign and irrelevant. What mattered more to me was the word “peril.” Who in their right mind would put the word “peril” in the same sentence with the word “kindergarten,” provoking the subtle suggestion of child endangerment, ensuring that the article would be the number one e-mailed article for days after?

The answer is, someone playing on your fear that you are ruining your child’s life. And someone who wrote a book about it. Yes, these kind of grotesque generalizations and implied consequences are always about selling something you think you don’t have, telling you something you think you don’t know, and convincing you – by way of arcane statistics – of your worst fear: that you are a terrible, rotten and not very good parent, making the kind of irreparable mistakes that will condemn your child to second place, a lowly Von Winklevoss to a triumphant Zuckerberg. read more

doing good

May 22nd, 2011    -    16 Comments

I’ve pulled up one of those plastic stackable chairs alongside the humming hulk in the middle of the icy room. My daughter is lying inside the cylindrical chamber. We are both relieved that her head is peeking out at my eye level. A white fleece blanket covers her. Beneath it, she is holding a teddy bear handed to her at the last minute. She wears head phones tuned to Radio Disney. Her eyelids flutter.

From time to time the technician tells her something. I think he’s telling her what will happen next, but I can’t hear it. I only hear her answer. What she says is okay.

Neither of us is wearing metal. The clasp on my shoes, I was told, doesn’t matter.

The machine starts to make clicking sounds, then a growling heave and a sledgehammering smash. Over and over. On my lap is a New Yorker magazine opened to a story – I always read the fiction first. Three lines in and I look up at her, marooned. I watch her breathe. It’s beautiful.

She was anxious and afraid before we arrived for the MRI this morning. But this moment now is oddly comfortable and serene. I don’t mind the chill or the noise or the time. I know what to do, I know where to be, and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

I feel a kinship with every mother who has graced this station, parked in this plastic bastion of stillness, a steady eye in the tempest of uncertainty. We don’t know what will come of this – and there’s no reason for undue worry, it’s just a stubborn pain – but right now we are doing good. Right now is the only place we can ever do good, and this is as good as it can be.

Before we arrived I started to think about the difference between doing well and doing good. The “well” involves a subtle and insidious comparison of one outcome versus another, numbers and grades, finish lines, success, mediocrity, failure. Of course we all want our children to be well and to do well. We want the same for ourselves and our lives, as measured against goals and ambitions, as compared to others, always and ceaselessly compared to others. Sometimes I am far more concerned with doing well than doing good, and that’s no good.

Hours like these – so wholly purposeful and riveting – shift my sights away from my puny obsessions and toward the great immeasurable good, a single moment of undistracted presence. Over the din and out of nowhere I hear her say, like a benediction, okay.


Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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the song of your life

May 15th, 2011    -    25 Comments

This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.

He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.

the Ten Oxherding Pictures

When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.

I just heard the crickets.

I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.

I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.

I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.

That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.

Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?

When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.

When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.

Oh that – that’s just a cricket.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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2:24 a.m.

February 9th, 2011    -    9 Comments

We never need to make our lives more difficult than they are, but of course we do. Then one day life itself rises up with an irrevocable force and we suddenly find that there is nothing we can do. Here is a message I received from Rose in Amsterdam not long ago. Since then, I’ve been visiting her blog daily, where I’m struck by her elegantly sage and poetic posts about her family. What she writes is more profound than anything I can offer, and proof that compassion and wisdom are indeed self-arising. Please visit her and leave your kindness.

This afternoon I planned to write you regarding your last email almost a year ago. I wanted to tell you how grateful I was about your words and how meaningful they still are to me.

This afternoon the phone rang and my husband told me that he was called to the ER immediately. Something appeared to be wrong with his blood, which had been drawn that morning. He’s a normal healthy person who happened to feel very tired. But which parent isn’t tired? we thought. I found a babysitter for our boys (ages 1 1/2 and 3) and rushed over there. A couple of hours later he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He asked me how to cope with his tremendous fear in facing this disease and the road ahead of him. The pain. But mainly the fear. Of course I’m literally scared to death too, but it isn’t my body that has to do the fighting.

Is there anything I could tell him? Besides the fact that I love him, truly and deeply. We both aren’t religious and always try to take life as realistically as it appears in front of us. But now we feel swept from our feet, and at this time we know we need to be grounded to make the right decisions.

I read your blog daily and read how often people email you with their problems. At 2:24 in the morning, I’m one of them. I simply wish I could have sent you the email I intended to write this afternoon, when I knew my life as it was.

Love from Amsterdam,
Rose Stamet-Geurs

Letting the air out of fear

November 18th, 2009    -    16 Comments


Exhalation is the jump. Inhalation is the parachute.

Last week I spoke to a college class – an Asian philosophy class – about Zen. It is a gas to speak about something as simple and straightforward as waking up. The thing is, in this morning lecture to nearly 100 young people, a quarter of them were completely asleep and none of my antics could stir them. If it were an audience of middle-agers, the percentage in deep sleep would spike precipitously, so this was a chance to change the course of lives, to be sure.

Sometimes when I get rolling in a talk, the ocean swells, the surge accelerates and I finish up feeling as if I’d consumed all the oxygen in the room. Pens literally drop, and we hear them. Drop. Drop. There is a cushion of hush that follows, and hardly a murmur comes forth. I was not surprised that the horde rushed the exits, and only a smattering came to the front to see me.

A young woman waited her turn, eyes wide, and when the space between us cleared, I instinctively grasped her palm in one of mine and began tracing circles with my index finger on the top of her hand. She said she wanted to talk to me about something that had happened to her recently. She said, “You tell us to trust our lives . . . “

but I have a problem letting go. People tell me I am a control freak, and I wanted to do something to prove them wrong. Something to overcome my fear.

And so she dove out of an airplane.

She described the experience. The feeling of numb nonchalance, eerie disembodiment, followed about eight hours later by total shrieking hellish recall and paralyzing terror. She’d given herself post traumatic stress.

I said, “Don’t jump out of any more airplanes.”

I’m sure there are some for whom it qualifies as sport or playful pastime, but skydiving is one of those ridiculous things that fearful people do to prove they are fearless, humans do to prove they are superhuman, and mortals do to prove they are immortal.

“Don’t do that,” I soothed, still tracing circles on the back of her hand.

“Just exhale.”

This is what I tell everybody all the time these days, because I’ve finally realized that what all the ancients tell us really is true, and really is that simple, and really is that effortless, natural and ordinary. Just exhale.

Exhalation is the act of letting go, the release, the surrender, the trust, that otherwise seems like mumbo jumbo psychobabble coming from another New Age guru with a book and website. Just exhale, and you’ll realize that all this time you’ve forgotten to exhale. You’ve become tense and constricted in your fearful distractions and your anxious grasping. All this time you’ve been holding onto your breath, choking yourself, and now all you have to do is exhale.

Just exhale: there’s the jump. Just inhale: there’s the parachute. Land in one piece without ever leaving the ground.

You’re safe, you’re free, you’re fearless. You’re dismissed.

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Monsters are midgets

July 19th, 2009    -    No Comments


I kept my eyes open the whole time! Those monsters are midgets!

Faith is forward motion.

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