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Thread: Fear

  1. #1


    Hello everyone,

    I'd be interested to know how zazen might have transformed your relationship with fear. And what kinds of strategies you've found useful in your practice to cope with fear.

    For me, fear has been one of those 'big' issues to work with. Here are some of my key learnings so far:

    1. For a long time, I was 'conditioned' to either fight it or run away from it. This has a number of inherent judgements within it - primarily that fear is something that's 'negative' and has to be removed. Of course, one cannot 'get rid' of this conditioning, but I just notice it, notice that it's there.
    2. One can work with the branches or work with the root itself. There is fear of various objects (branches), and then there is 'fear of fear' itself.
    3. All the so-called emotion states that we have - 'happiness', 'sadness', 'fear' etc are all part of the same continuum. They are just different bundles of thoughts & sensations. Judging one to be particularly 'good' or 'bad' creates problems. Thus, judging 'fear' as 'bad' usually leads to me judging some other state as 'good'.

    Thus in a certain sense, to 'solve' the problem of fear, I realize i have to work with literally every other emotion state that's out there, i.e. as long as 'being happy' is judged as 'good', 'being fearful' is judged as 'bad'. As long as I continue to categorize my experience, the 'problem' continues to exist.

    Anyways, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

  2. #2

    Re: Fear

    Hi Zeta,

    Funny you raise the issue for I did spend yesterday in a kind of funny space. Received the visit of many beloved ghosts.

    Fear? Vast problem. Everybody is different. Different triggers. Fear is a very solid fiction, any attempt to manipulate it, as with any emotions, makes it look more real, seems to give it more power. Acceptance is one of the teachings of shikantaza. To stay with it, to get closer and closer, as you would with a wild wounded animal. Embracing fear with the dance of compassion and loving kindness is the most liberating experience, not to redeem it, not to suppress it, just because because. No because. Fear is calling the boddhistava in us, it brings you-me-Kannon into our flesh-bones-speech-silence, makes it so intimitate that you can hardly notice it. But it is here. Here. HERE! Fear has never ever been. For who is behind? please read the Wizzard of Oz again and again. Look at this castles of sand called childhood, teenage years, look at things that did or could happen. Nothing there. Yet we may notice a strong sound in the body, from time to time, the scared child, abused victim, seems to come back again, out of the blue. Deep dark blues. It is triggered by a situation. Fear seems to overwhelm us. Ghosts. A very believable fiction. Then, sit. Act. Sit. Make a Buddha of flesh-bones-speech-silence. In the mudra, the breath, the open-minded simplicity, resting there one can play with demons and ghosts. In this, we are not haunted anymore. We can be friend with all things, beyond the pair of opposites, beyond the idea of good or bad, past or future, beyond even the beyond.



  3. #3

    Re: Fear

    Sometimes you get what you need, and I needed that, Taigu Sensei. Thank you.

  4. #4

    Re: Fear

    Crap. I'm getting forgetful, negligent and nearsighted.

    Thank you, Zeta and Padre.

  5. #5

    Re: Fear

    Thank you for that, Taigu.

    I have seen that fear is rarely what we think it is. A simple example- one is not afraid of spiders, or spider bites, but of pain. The pain may be caused by spiders and spider bites, or we could even blame the body for reacting to the venom. The point is one says "I am afraid of spiders," when in truth they never actually looked at what they were really fearing. It often boils down to a fear of suffering. When we sit we cast aside the illusion of spiders, spider bites, auto-immune systems, and even of pain.

    While sitting and the fear comes, don't fight it but also pay it no special mind as you would any other thought during zazen. In my case it was hard not to fight the fear. I had built my illusion of me-ness on being fearless and I was perceiving a weakness in myself for feeling fear. Once I penetrated the illusions I had built around it, the fear was no longer something to be afraid of. I would not say I have no fear, just that the fear is all that it is- just fear and nothing else. Fear and not-fear, as Jundo would say :wink:


  6. #6

    Re: Fear

    Thanks guys, for your responses.

    Taigu - interesting that you mention that. A few days ago, I had one of my old ghosts come and visit me, and immediately had a 'fight' reaction. Instinctively, I began to plot a strategy to 'confront' it. However, 'sitting' through this reaction, I come to realize that a 'fighting/confronting' reaction is but just another way to get rid of fear.

    Jen - it's funny how we sometimes judge some fears to be 'OK', and some as 'not OK'. For me personally, there were some fears that I would classify as 'normal', and some which I wouldn't. And perhaps it was the classification that was the source for a lot of the suffering.

  7. #7

    Re: Fear

    "People who comprehend a thing to its very depths rarely stay faithful to it forever. For they have brought its depths into the light of day: and in the depths there is always much that is unpleasant to see. " - Nietzsche

    "Nothing has power except what you give it." - Vivekananda [ google this one just for kicks! ]

    Fear; something that builds the longer you ignore it. As a teenager I spent years in fear of a bully who promised to kick the sh-- out of me. As a child at age four I witnessed the skinning of a bear. That scared the living daylights out of me. I had a recurring nightmare of being chased by a man with a lantern; only to be run into a body hanging in a doorway. As an adult, I encountered a bat in a darkened hallway; knowing fear to the point of not being able to speak and fogetting to breathe. In my second career I confronted the overriding fear; that of death. I studied to become a funeral director, not specifically to overcome the fears but in retrospect, I was ready. I was trained to accept whatever came. Acceptance is the quintessential quality of a compassionate/non-judgemental attitude toward life itself. I graduated with honours and became a first class embalmer as well. My fascination with antomy and physiology helped to transcend the grossness of the physical; nine hours to restore human likeness to a 90 year old cut in half by a train, accepting the gratefulness of a young widow whose husband's body I had restored after a motorcycle accident, being praised for properly readjusting the rings on a loved one's hands. All this became the stuff of my existance. I provided a service to my fellow travellers but, at the same time, I learned to confront my fears; no longer to suffer the anxieties that build in the dark depths of the mind if not accepted.

    This I share in faith that it sheds light.

    gassho, rj

  8. #8

    Re: Fear

    Thank you for sharing your story. With acceptance comes correct action or no action. What is amazing is how we replay the same old fears and anxieties. What is also amazing is how sitting lets us see them and accept them as they are.

  9. #9

    Re: Fear

    Wow the responses above are great!

    I would say let fear be fear. I like to think that trying to change any emotion is like trying to change the weather on a nice rainy day.

    I have a rather large fear of flying... come to think of it if you want to get technical it is not flying but crashing. Once I realize that the fear is exclusively of crashing in a fiery wreck and not of flying then the fear of flying is relaxed a little.


  10. #10

    Re: Fear

    Hi everybody and thank you for your teachings. Here is another way to put it if I may, in a clumsy poetic form, and it is very late, time to go to bed, anyway...

    With what kind of mouth do one swallow this big sky and spits it on the spot?
    Who if not this skin-bag of ours is a path, a break, a joy?

    Bodhisatva in rags, blues and lonely tunes,
    dirty looking guys
    heroes, heroes in the fields of dust
    sometimes lost in lust
    sometimes not
    plain heroes
    in streets, kitchens, wherever,
    my friend and shadow
    birds of all kinds will come
    and eat out of your hands
    forming the neither one nor two mudra,
    hungry ghosts will feast of your flesh
    invite them closer, closer

    you may then see
    behind the veil, the mask and the mirror
    that used to frighten you
    the dance itself

  11. #11

    Re: Fear

    Myoshin - In a certain sense, the fear probably isn't about crashing, but about facing a set of unpleasant mental and physical sensations.

    Thus, isn't any fear really just a judgment against certain types of mental & physical sensations? i.e. you have your fear of flying, i have my fear of snakes, fear of certain people etc. But ultimately, are we afraid of the same thing?

  12. #12

    Re: Fear

    Quote Originally Posted by zeta
    In a certain sense, the fear probably isn't about crashing, but about facing a set of unpleasant mental and physical sensations.
    That is what I meant. I am not afraid of the flight but the crash which includes physical and mental pains. So to answer your question, yes I believe people do not fear a certain subject (spiders, people, snakes, clowns and open spaces) but our association of that subject with physiological or psychological pains or sensations.


  13. #13

    Re: Fear

    Hi guys, Let me insist. Because I simply think it is very important. As long as we maintain for whatever reasons the belief in the illusion of I-me-mine, then fear arises. It seems that as soon as we see through the empty, impermanent self then the clinging and what Myoshin calls association will fade away. Yes Zeta, we fear the display and set up of fear itself, objects, situations and ideas should be seen as mere triggers. Going to the other shore has for us also a very hidden meaning, hidden because so very obvious, it is to go through the body of appearances and beliefs, when we sing go, go beyond, gyate gyate in the Heart invites us to go through fears themselves, to dive into the sea of Samsara, embrace our own weakness, we may wake up now to the reality that the very essence of what was frightening us is made of nothing but clear vast mind.

    A single flower blooms, five petals open,
    and fruit ripens by itself.

    Invistigate Dogen s Flowers in space, have a look at it. Well worth the reading. Wonderful stuff. Very challenging for a dull head like mine. A life long study :P .

  14. #14

    Re: Fear

    One of the truly greatest pieces of advice I ever got in my whole life was told to be by a Native American woman, so it's not Buddhist related (or is it?). What she said was to lean into fear. When you find fear, lean into it. Don't run away, and don't dive into it. Just lean. This is the middle way. I have found this small/huge bit of wisdom incredibly helpful. What I find when I lean into fear is.. well, lots of things that were not the thing I thought I was afraid of in the first place.

  15. #15

    Re: Fear

    Taigu - perhaps fear is exactly the doorway that some of us need to go through to see through the illusion of 'i-me-myself'. Will look up Dogen's 'Flowers in Space'.

    AlanLa - thanks for the tip. It's interesting how sometimes the mind can use 'zen' as an excuse to avoid confronting it's fears, i.e if I stay with the sensations for long enough, the sensations will go way. i..e we are staying with the sensations with a certain expectation.

    Perhaps what we have to do is stay with the sensations, but notice our expectations. Consciously manipulating our expecations really doesn't work either. The Middle way - leaning into fear sounds exactly right. If you can expand on what you said, I'd love to hear it.

  16. #16

    Re: Fear


    Thank you for your patience.
    Alanla suggestion sounds great to me. But please, don t make it a tip. Our path is not made of tips.
    Manipulating expectations when they actually manipulate you? Of course not. Dropping expectations is needed. Noticing them is a good start but not enough. How do you do it? Who is doing it?
    It is funny to read that you will look up Dogen s Flowers in space, seems you ll do some sightseing. Enjoy the view, then. What I am talking about is not a holiday trip, or a collection of tips, it is the practice of a lifetime.



  17. #17

    Re: Fear

    Ezra Bayda, a student of Joko Beck, has an article in a recent Tricycle that I recalled. It is very much on this theme ...

    We’re often not aware of the extent to which fear plays a part in our lives, which means that the first stage of practicing with fear requires acknowledging its presence.


    Eventually, we all need to be willing to face the deepest, darkest beliefs we have about ourselves. Only in this way can we come to know that they are only beliefs, and not the truth about who we are.


    When we can feel fear within the spaciousness of the breath and heart, we may even come to see it more as an adventure than a nightmare. To see it as an adventure means being willing to take the ride with curiosity, even with its inevitable ups and downs. ... page=0%2C0

  18. #18

    Re: Fear

    Thanks Jundo, excellent article. Sure, Zeta, fears can be the doorway, the portal, the gate. Great doubt is part and parcel of our practice, and becoming friend with the fears I had about many things is a great inspiration. So i am not saying we should not stay with fears, I am just telling you what is the outcome of my butt touching the cushion for a few years and the discovery I made, nothing extraordinary really but because i wrote it already, I have no intention to sound like an old man :roll: .
    And really, Flowers in space is mind blowing account of the nature of delusion and clarity.
    Take care



  19. #19

    Re: Fear

    "Flowers in space is mind blowing account of the nature of delusion and clarity."

    I will read this again. Thanks.

    "Dropping expectations is needed. Noticing them is a good start but not enough. How do you do it? Who is doing it?"

    This is my practice. How? don't know how but just do it. Who? don't know but its different than I-me-my.

    "The Middle way - leaning into fear sounds exactly right. If you can expand on what you said, I'd love to hear it."

    Noticing, feeling, accepting, dropping, over and over and over moment to moment, breath to breath.....
    Just keep trying, that's most important.

  20. #20

    Re: Fear

    Thanks Taigu, that's exactly what I needed to hear. I have a tendency to seek out 'catch phrases' and use them for my practice. It's actually a mind pattern now. A disturbing thought comes up. Almost as if in cue, I'm conditioned to bring up a slogan, be it 'be here now' or 'lean into fear' or 'bring attention to the current moment' or whatever. All I do is sit and notice the slogans that come up, dropping them as well.

    I haven't found a suitable source for 'Flowers in Space' online. If there's anything you'd recommend there, let me know.

    thanks again.

  21. #21

    Re: Fear

    Jundo, thanks for the article. Enjoyed reading it.

    thanks again.

  22. #22

    Re: Fear

    Hi zeta,

    Thank you for your kindness. You ll find a very fine translation of Kuge just here: ... 3_2008.pdf

    Nishijima Roshi and Chodo Cross joined forces to make Shobogenzo heard in the West. Anzan Roshi's version is great too. ... lowers.htm

    Carving slogans is great practice, letting go of them is even greater.
    Thank you for your patience.

    deep bows


  23. #23

    Re: Fear

    Leaning into fear can be a slogan or a practice. I advocate for it as a practice, but whether it is practice or slogan, or both, is up to you. In any case, you need to find your own way to lean into your own fear.

    A generic silly example: If you fear the shower water is too hot you don't jump in, nor do you avoid taking a shower. Instead, you test it by putting a hand or foot in there to find out the temp. Then adjustments are made and you take your shower. A more serious personal example: I, like many people, used to be afraid of people that are mentally ill. What I, like most people, knew about them from the news and media is mostly pretty scary, so I avoided them. Then one day my boss signed me up to work with a mentally ill caseload. Yikes! But I tried it, I leaned into the new job and the new people. It turned out to be one of the best professional (and personal) experiences of my life. If I had jumped into that job all its difficulties would have had me jump right back out again, thus reinforcing all that negative stuff about the mentally ill I had been silently accumulating. Leaning into the job of working with these wonderful and deserving people was the only honest way for me to proceed. It was good for me, and maybe more importantly, it was good for them. So, in this case, behind fear was a Great Experience I would not trade for the world, all because I leaned into it. Leaning into fear has not always lead to great experiences for me, but it has always been better than the standard fight or flight options. I always grow from it somehow, someway.

    Finally, sitting with fear during zazen could be a way of leaning into it, but unless you take that practice OFF the cushion and out into real life, there is no point. I could have sat with my fear of mentally ill people forever and it would have made no difference. What made a difference was the physical/emotional/existential, etc. act of leaning.

  24. #24

    Re: Fear

    Thanks for the link Taigu.


  25. #25

    Re: Fear

    thanks for sharing your experiences, AlanLa!

  26. #26

    Re: Fear

    "Let yourself be in the emotion, go through it, give in to it, experience it. You begin going toward the emotion rather than just experiencing the emotion coming toward you. A relationship, a dance, begins to develop. Then the most powerful energies become absolutely workable rather than taking you over, because there is nothing to take over if you are not putting up any resistance. Whenever there is no resistance, a sense of rhythm occurs.....

    Nothing is rejected as bad or grasped as good. But everything we experience in our life-situations, any type of emotion, is workable."

    - Chögyam Trungpa

  27. #27

    Re: Fear

    Thank you Brock for this great quote of Trungpa Rimpoche. He is, although I have never met him or received any direct teaching in his lineage, one of the major teachers in my life. As everybody might guess, this is very advanced practice, by advanced I really mean tricky, sitting on the razor edge, and it has a definite tantric taste to it. Yes, I often see through emotions and obeserve them, sometimes I dance with them but then they may make me dance too :lol: ... There is no rule, but a set of techniques and practices that can be very handy. Shikantaza is the king of Samadhis, and we can also do Tonglen, observation and a bit of rock and roll here and there. Whatever we can work with.

    The very core of Trungpa s teaching is that one should meet whatever comes and that the emotional mess at its core is nothing but a beautuiful field of playful wisdom. Basically you may look at emotions in three different poisons, pointers or wisdom itself. To take the metaphor of a cloudy sky, the dark cloud obstructs the blue, emotion as poison, make the blue really blue and noticeable, emotion as a pointer, is part of the sky itself and therefore another form of the very blue expanse where it originates and returns. To be almost caricatural, it boils down to Trungpa s vision of the three Yanas, Theravada is aiming at controling and getting rid of emotions, Mahayana is caring and loving, watching and listening to the fied of confusion, bearing witness to the core of suffering, Trantrayana is embracing, making love with confusion and transforming it. The three yanas are valid, none is better, and they can all be practiced. In a tiny nutshell...

  28. #28

    Re: Fear

    Hi Zeta and all in this wonderful sangha,

    I wanted to express how much I appreciate all the kindness expressed on the list (from everyone to everyone).

    All the posts are lovely although my little brain has trouble with so many words!

    I had a very useful experience a few years ago. I noticed that just because I am afraid, it doesn't mean that there is something for me to be afraid of.

    That being said, if I am feeling something, first I look to see if there is a phenomema/situation that needs to be dealt with (often when I am afraid or angry there is a situation that needs attention and/or more overt external action).

    I think maybe fear for me might be different than for other people who have posted (at least from what has been expressed). I live with mild post traumatic stress disorder. Which means that I live with fear all the time. There are no breaks. This is fairly exhausting and probably leads to other minor physical problems. I shake all the time, and going to work (which is a very difficult situation for me to deal with, since my physical existence depends on it) each day is very tough for me.

    I will eventually live a life of leaving home (not the pseudo leaving home of a monastery but the real leaving home of living outside). Buddhism has (and continues to give) me a foundation, a warm pull-over and sleeping bag - that of being a wandering monk. I have occasionally expressed that zazen is all I really have and is the only thing which can never be taken from me.

    So I sit with impermanence which is what we all sit with since it is all there is (I want a NEW smiley that is smiling with it's eyes closed so it looks like it is sitting zazen!)


  29. #29

    Re: Fear

    Jinho, hardly any words left. Brother-sister brokenhearted monk...

  30. #30

    Re: Fear

    Well, I hope that you always feel safe here, Jinho. Please do.

    Gassho, J

  31. #31

    Re: Fear

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    Jinho, hardly any words left. Brother-sister brokenhearted monk...
    Dear Taigu,

    I hesitate to interrupt the poetry, but I have to ask - which of us is brokenhearted? I don't think I am and I do hope you aren't.

    (I had a sudden thought that the "brother-sister" might mean that my gender might be unknown to you? I am female, always have been, i.e. I am not a transgender person - although I think perhaps mentally I do transcend gender a bit, it just doesn't usually seem an issue. Although the idea of having ones genitals hanging on the outside of one's body seems like it would be a very odd experience).

    who really must get her ass to work (fortunately, as long as I get the books done, they don't care when I come in).

  32. #32

    Re: Fear

    Dear Jinho,

    Thank you for the reminder, I think I noticed . I would have no difficulty to see a sister side in me, for no sexual resason, just because I always had a sensitivity so close to the feminine. But that's me. And very much like you I prefer what is down there to what is not.

    Nevertheless, I kind of disagree with the brokenhearted thing. The more I look around me, the more I see it in everyone. It is something that we take everywhere espeially when we are not aware of it. It is worth invistigating.

    Take care and may you experience safety.


  33. #33

    Re: Fear

    When we are down, our big brother/sister lifts us up. When we can stand, we help in much the same way.

    sister/brother yells, disappoints, laughs, offers, gentle, harsh, but most importantly there with us at every step.


  34. #34

    Re: Fear

    We Are Broken
    Bob Schieffer, CBS News

    I have some thoughts for this season of reflection that began with Passover and ends with Easter.

    Last summer at the Aspen Ideas Festival, I interviewed a minister named T.D. Jakes. He is an African American pastor of a Dallas megachurch of more than 30,000 people. He said something that day I shall never forget.

    He reminded us that no one is perfect, that we are all broken somewhere.

    But he said that is not all bad. A key is broken in all the right places to fit a certain lock. When that key is placed in that lock, there is a quiet click. When we meet a person who is broken in the right places to accommodate our brokenness, there is a click.

    It can happen in other ways: An introverted person hears that click when he finds a job that can only be done by a person who works well alone; or when we face a life-altering decision.

    Whether it is a job, or a relationship or even faith, something clicks when we find the place that accommodates our uniqueness, or brokenness.

    Some religions teach prayer — some call it meditation — but there is within each of us some mysterious, inner thing that tells us when something clicks — we don't know how or why, we just know.

    We are all broken. But listening for that click can help us to unlock many doors. The voice is always there — we have only to listen. ... 1242.shtml
    Or it doesn't have to be that mysterious...we can just sit with it.

  35. #35

    Re: Fear

    Cannot agree more, Will. Thank you. Even alone. Not always so.

    And Frjames, thank you too. Being broken is important for our practice, a key thing. First noble truth.



  36. #36

    Re: Fear

    Quote Originally Posted by Jinho
    Buddhism has (and continues to give) me a foundation, a warm pull-over and sleeping bag - that of being a wandering monk. I have occasionally expressed that zazen is all I really have and is the only thing which can never be taken from me.
    Your words profoundly touched me!
    Maybe because sometimes I feel exactly the same... for different reasons, we all have got different experiences, but I never have been able to express it...
    Thank you !

    Gassho to all,


    ps: sorry Zeta, I don't answer about fear... But so much has been said, How to fear the fear after all those advices

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