« It's Christmastime in the city | Main | If you don't know what is wrong with me, then you know don't know what you missed »

December 30, 2006

And if I shed a tear I won't cage it, I won't fear love

This is just the month for living with fear, it seems.

I've been feeling pretty rotten, emotionally speaking, for a few days now. Near tears at the slightest provocation, a bit jumpy and prone to distraction. I haven't been able to get a grip on what the trouble is; coming down with a cold? Hormones? Crisis of confidence? Solstice?

Last night I sat and meditated and got at the heart of it: Fear. It's all fear. When I hold that lens up and look at the last few days through it, everything comes into focus. Today I've been trying to figure out where all this unbounded fear is coming from, and why it's got such a hold on me, and tonight I finally observed something: Feeling all this fear doesn't mean I'm failing at my homework (on dealing with fear) -- it means I'm succeeding. I'm letting myself feel things that are uncomfortable, upsetting, downright terrifying -- and I'm not running away.

Over the last few days there are a lot of things I haven't done. I haven't looked for easy distractions. I haven't poured a single glass of bourbon. I haven't shut down and slept for days on end. I haven't begged my partners to make it all better (although I have told them how I've been feeling, and they've said very insightful things). Let me tell you: Not running away has sucked.

But as I am coming through it, I feel very brave and powerful and calm. And that feels amazing. I'm still a bit shaky; as I'm writing this, I'm even actually weepy. But I'm present. I'm okay. I'm abiding. And I know what the deal is.

Here's what's been going on with me fearwise.

As I said before, falling in love so hard has been a challenge. There is a whole maelstrom of fear with its center right there. I feel very caught up in my needs, my desires, my hopes. And I feel so afraid that something terrible will happen; that everything will go wrong; that we'll be torn apart by fate or life or death or SOMETHING I HAVEN'T EVEN CONSIDERED.

He's been further away than ever this week, and that's one thing fueling my anxiety. Berlin isn't so much more distant than San Francisco, and yet: It is. It's another two hours, and he's off at a conference, and I'm just in my regular, everyday life, and I find that a batch of fears has sprouted here. Everything there is much more interesting than I am, right? And when I don't hear from him it's not because of time differences and net connectivity and unmanageable crap like that -- it's...I don't know...something I've done. Or something I haven't done. Or is a sign that the whole thing is unsustainable. (This is the BIG FEAR, the hindbrain ur-fear: That we cannot sustain our long-distance romance, that there isn't enough energy and love and strength in the two of us to manage it, and we'll just sort of drift apart and that will be that, and I'll have let myself be vulnerable again, and in recompense my heart will break again, and it will all end in failure.)

Feeling so much fear around the relationship, though, has let me be open to all sorts of other fears, and they are paining me as well. I find myself afraid my mother will die. (I also find myself afraid that she WON'T die, and we'll have each other another twenty years or so -- but that's not really this week's fear.) I'm afraid for everyone I care about, that any of us could get a crazy illness and die on the spot or just not wake up one day. Or, yes, the canonical: Anyone I know could be hit by a car, any day. I'm looking at YOU, bike riders. Oh, and pedestrians. *sigh*

I'm afraid the enormous number of lovely, tiny, incredibly precious children I know could fall ill from things I can't even imagine. And I'm afraid my friends who want to get pregnant will have dangerous pregnancies or die in childbirth or their long-awaited children will be stillborn.

And I'm afraid my husband will have a heart attack. Or worse: He could have a stroke that would steal his personality and his talents and his knowledge and leave him trapped in a shell of flesh.

Shhh shh shh, Rosie (I have tried saying to myself) -- that's soooo much fear for one person to bear.

But these fears getting so wildly out of control is the thing that has finally tipped me off to what's going on, and why it's actually VALUABLE and OKAY and NOT a sign of mental illness.

It's bodhichitta. It's the spot in my heart that I've worked so so diligently at keeping hard and strong and impenetrable, for so many years (35!), melting and softening and opening.

To quote Pema Chödrön:

Under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.

She also says:

Tapping into that shaky and tender place has a transformative effect. Being in this place may feel uncertain and edgy but it's also a big relief. Just to stay there, even for a moment, feels like a genuine act of kindness to ourselves. Being compassionate enough to accommodate our own fears takes courage, of course, and it definitely feels counterintuitive. But it's what we need to do.

See, what I have discovered is that my fears are not suffering. They've felt like suffering -- I've been crying, shaky, anxious -- but they are not. These things I fear are NOT HAPPENING. They are, in fact, a sign of the incredible riches my life holds. There is so much love in my life, in my heart, that I find myself afraid of losing any of it -- but I cannot keep it by holding onto it, and I cannot keep it by weeping over its eventual loss.

The only way for me to keep the love in my life that I've been so blessed with is by rejoicing in it and celebrating it and sharing it and welcoming it. And when I feel these fears again (because I know it's not like I'm done with feeling fear), now I see that I can use them, I can lean into them, I can let them teach me.

So after all these days of pain and uncertainty, I've come back around to feeling peaceful and lucky. And wiser. Buddhism is turning out to be hard work, but it's so fucking rewarding. I am continually blown away.

Posted by Rose at December 30, 2006 12:51 AM


Oh, don't I know this. I get terrifying heart flutters at the most inappropriate times which lead me to feel as though cardiac arrest is seconds away. I cough to stop it/hide it, as it usually happens in public situations. Anxiety, much? Weird how it hits, though, isn't it. Like: you don't grieve a death when a person dies, sometimes. It swarms you all over when you're selecting butternut squash at the supermarket months after the fact. Fear. Huh. You and I should hang out more.

Posted by: dianna at January 19, 2007 03:42 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)