Imagining Freedom From Fear
Last night, Melissa and I began teaching a four-week class here at the Temple on the Four Abodes. These are the teachings of the Buddha concerning cultivating the qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. As the entry point into exploring loving-kindness, we led people through three-step process of becoming aware of fear and/or anxiety that may be present, noticing the resistance that may arise around this fear, and imagining what it might be like to be free from fear.
So waking up this morning, I decide to try it for myself.
First I notice the usual soft but disturbing quiver in the region of my solar plexus. The sensation of slight contraction in my chest is so familiar that it feels more like a quality of the world rather than a feeling I am having. Some mornings, the sensation is stronger and sometimes it appears to be connected to a particular situation occurring in my life. But as I wake up this morning and turn my attention toward the fear, I am aware that it is almost always present.
As I turn my attention toward the sensation of this discomfort, I am conscious of how much I usually resist feeling this. I most often just try to ignore it. My internal (not-so-kind) voices say: ‘This is just the way it is. There’s no use in paying attention to it. Why don’t you just get over it?’ Other times I try to reason with myself to make it go away: ‘You know you have a wonderful life. There’s no need to feel this way,’ Or I try to fix it: ‘If I can just work out a solution in my head, then I’ll be fine.’
But this morning, I just notice this subtle sensation of fear. It’s not really painful, just deeply unsettling—as if there were some urgent message of impending ill that is being broadcast in my heart – something bad that might happen, or some essential thing I might forget to do, or some way in which I will not measure up and be abandoned… I notice my urge to resist this feeling by moving away from the sensation so I don’t have to feel it or by trying to fixing it so it disappears. I choose to do nothing.
My usual practice of loving-kindness begins with the phrase ‘May I be free from fear.’ I often repeat this and other traditional phrases, with the intention of tapping into my genuine desire that I (and others) might be free from fear.
But this morning, I turn toward imagining what it might be like to be free from fear – free from this ancient quivering of the heart. The direction is not about arousing my longing to be free (and have others be free) from fear, but is the more neutral exercise of imagining.
I gently ask myself what it might it be like to be free from fear. What would it be like to lie here in the dark of the early morning in a place of ease and spaciousness? I don’t try to make myself feel this or try to change how I’m feeling—but in the act of imagination, I enter into the space of some new possibility. And I simply allow that possibility to be present along with everything else.
Turning my attention back to my internal state, I still notice the contraction in my chest has diminished. Now barely perceptible—held within the softer space of the possibility of ease.
What if it’s true that we live in a world that is filled with the possibility of grace? What if we don’t have to continually struggle to prove our worthiness? What if what we long for has already been given—given in such abundance that we can’t see it because it is so near?