Friday, October 22, 2010

Staring Down Fear & Its Partners

Claude Monet, Haystacks, Art Institute of Chicago
Every twinge in my shoulder starts a little fear reaction that I can see coming. I feel the twinge and I see the fear right there. Then I stretch out the shoulder and know that even if some day I can no longer stretch away the pain, I do not need to succumb to the fear. The changes we go through can teach us a lot about our attitudes of attachment, judgement and fear.

Loss is a very distressing aspect of caring about other people, or about objects, or about systematic ways of doing things. Loss enters into a deep partnership with fear. It can be as simple as mourning that glove, now abandoned in the gutter having fallen out of the pocket, once treasured as a souvenir of a wonderful trip to a beautiful place. It might be the sorrow and denial while sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one, knowing that even these moments of tortured breathing are marks of a presence that will be taken and gone. Perhaps it is just that lapse in memory of how to make that origami figure so familiar and easy from childhood, but now beyond memory's reach.

So here we all are, surrounded by our desires for things, our craving to have the next moment go the way we want it to go, to control the level of pain for our loved ones, and to avoid pain ourselves. We live in a web of our attachments to people, patterns, behaviors, and preferences. Every part of our existence has potential to threaten us with something we fear to lose, or make us feel we must defend against loss. Sometimes it boils down to fearing change in those persons, things, systems. The relationship is not what it used to be. This hip is not how it once was. Vision and memory, endurance and strength, digestion, clothing size, the very voice with which we sing, all these aspects can and do change. It is our attachment to them as though they were or ought to be permanently a certain way that causes so much suffering and fear of loss. We measure and judge, hold tight and lose.

We can practice being okay just as we are. We can practice accepting that we are okay just this moment. Maybe we are not the same as we "used to be" and perhaps we can not hang on to that which we once treasured, but in this very moment, yoga can help to return our focus again and again to the conditions in this moment. We can let go of comparisons to past and stop threatening ourselves with diminished conditions of the future. We can release the attachments that corner our loved ones or erase the genuine moment for the sake of the role being played in a context set just so. There is enormous freedom from the ordinary pain of fear, when we can take things as they are, and let curiosity open the possibilities available now. Perhaps they are not the same possibilities of a few years or months, days, or moments ago. Who is the judge of what is loss and what is gain? In visiting my family recently I was struck by how very much everyone still has in the way of possibilities, regardless of what might seem like limitations. The biggest impediment to those possibilities seems to me to be the fear of loss and its partners, attachment, judgment and grasping. When those lose their grip, there is so much more time for happiness and joy.

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