Dear Still Water Friends,
To me, meditation practice has always been an exercise in fearlessness. It offers the opportunity to look squarely and not crumble in the face of what is present—however, horrific or beautiful. It does this by, among other things, providing tools for letting go of worry and thus not fixating on dreads or anxieties. It also helps us unclench those parts of ourselves that grasp tightly to what is comfortable or predictable.
Thus, after many years of practice, I find myself puzzled and, frankly, frustrated at newfound fears arising in my life. For inexplicable reasons, as I’ve grown older, I’ve occasionally found myself feeling more vulnerable and fragile. Although not much has changed physically in my life, I find myself more anxious about my health. The bumps and scrapes and illnesses that have always visited me now do so with greater poignancy. They take on unnecessary meaning and include anxieties that rarely used to bother me. Likewise, although my work and personal life have changed little over the past year or so, I presently find myself emotionally more fragile and, at times, downright nervous. Despite a luscious morning sit, the day and evening quickly fill with cogitations that border on dis-ease or worry. Yikes! What is going on?
I share this out of puzzlement. Although the sages have all said otherwise, I have usually experienced the way of awareness as a linear path of greater sensitivity, insight, compassion, and, yes, fearlessness. Through the years, a combination of maturity and steady practice offered increasing elements of self-understanding and even self-control. I always thought I was making “progress” even if all the books and teachers warned that “progress” was the wrong measure. (In fact, measurement itself may itself be misguided when it comes to spiritual life.)
So, what do I do now that I find myself in a new place, a place of confused awareness, greater vulnerability, nervousness, and uncertainty? How does this fit into the character of spiritual growth?
This Thursday, I invite us to reflect collectively on the nature of fear and the terrain of the spiritual path. Our conversation can revolve around two sets of questions. First, what is our relationship to fear? Have maturity and practice provided us with greater perspective and equanimity around it? Does fear seem to change forms over the years? How do we respond to fear when it creeps into our lives? Second, what about the path and our sense of progress along its trajectory? What does it mean when we experience old discomforts, forget or at least fail to practice deep lessons learned, and otherwise find ourselves seemingly off the path? Does this mean we’ve slid backwards or, as Dante puts it, gone “astray”? Might the path be hidden in the steps we are always about to take? Does the idea of “path” help or confuse us as we seek to understand our journey?
I hope you can join us,
Mitchell Ratner, Still Water’s Senior Teacher, will be traveling with the Plum Village Sangha in Japan and then to Malaysia from April 23 to May 25. Follow his blog here: https://smileofthedandelion.wordpress.com/