Saturday, March 29, 2008
Fear of Fear
I really have to get over this elevator thing. Fear of elevators, fear of flying, fear of high places--three long-time, debilitative personal phobias.
Pema Chödrön , in The Places That Scare You, on page 103, also wants to know more about "no fear."
"To the extent that we stop struggling against uncertainty and ambiguity, " she says, "to that extent we dissolve our fear." (How am I struggling against uncertainty? Are my fears because I don't accept or embrace uncertainty or ambiguity?)
"The synonym for total fearlessness is full enlightenment--wholehearted, open-minded interaction with our world," she continues. (I try to act wholeheartedly and open-mindedly with the world. I can't say, though, that that qualifies me as being "fully enlightened".)
"By learning to relax with groundlessness, we gradually connect with the mind that knows no fear."
Aha! There's the crux of the problem: relaxing with groundlessness.
Is that like stepping into an elevator en route to, say, the 57th floor, in a state of perfect calm, knowing the cables won't break and you'll go crashing to your death in a mechanical box, unable to escape? Or sitting in a plane, in a state of perfect calm, knowing the plane won't crash, sending you to your death in a mechanical tube, unable to escape except in small, scattered pieces? Or climbing the steps to some high, high place, in a state of perfect calm, knowing you won't get dizzy and fall and hit the pavement so hard you break and die? Even when I'm grasping onto a bannister or someone "holds" me or prevents me from falling, I still feel ungrounded being in high places (4th floor balconies, rooftops, stairwells).
"Connecting with a mind that knows no fear" -- what does Pema Chodron mean by that?
I can see where one might overcome the fear of the Fear of something. Say you were once afraid of flying but somehow overcame that phobia and now no longer fear getting on a plane. That's not to say that if you were in an airplane whose engines suddenly quit or you realized your plane was headed into the side of a mountain during a storm, that you would necessarily be in a state of perfect calm, or "fearless".
I guess if one can accept and feel comfortable in total groundlessness (such as being okay with the fact that your time is up on this earth and this is the way you're going to exit, so you just shut your eyes and accept that it might not be quick and painless), then that is what Chodron means by "connecting with a mind that knows no fear."
Ha, easier said than done.
I realize that I am still very far from this mindset. Because look at my collective fears--they all occur when I am in a situation over which I have little or no control. I'm not "outside" the elevator or airplane, or "grounded" (i.e., I'm climbing up AWAY from the ground). I seem to have to be both grounded and free, able to move about without constraints, not in a mechanical box or tube from which I cannot immediately exit, or on a catwalk where I can't immediately step onto the ground again--otherwise I get claustrophobic, dizzy, or fearful.
And it seems intimately connected with the fear of death. Death is like going under anesthesia (which I also don't much like). Because it's the end of consciousness. You slip into a big, black Nothingness.
How does one let go of the need to be grounded? Of the need to know? to see and understand? to Be?
I have finally come to the point where I think I can relinquish the need to know--that if I arrive at the end of life without having found the truth of something, or understood the why of something, it would not greatly disturb me, as the journey was interesting.
It's that final "letting go", that willful surrender of the need to be able to control (or negotiate) the circumstances under which certain events might take place, that is hard.
It's like leaping into the abyss, without a safety net. I've "lept" before in certain situations where uncertainty was paramount, and was glad I did. I've yet to do it, unfortunately, with leaping past the Fear Monster when it comes to elevators, airplanes and heights.
Why is this so hard?