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Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Fearless Practice

Yongmaeng Chongjin, which means "Fearless Practice" is an intensive meditation retreat in the Korean Zen tradition that is similar to the intensive practice periods called "Sesshin" in the Japanese tradition. After completing a Yongmaeng Chongjin this past July, I have been thinking about the relationship between "fearless practice" and intimacy -- and how this all relates to spirit and the spiritual life.

In writing about intimacy last month, I spoke about the practice of constant questioning, "What is it?" This questioning helps keep one open to whatever is arising in the field of experience, not rejecting any aspect of our life as it is "just now, just here, just this." Staying open in the face of unpleasantness -- whether a physical discomfort or pain or an emotional discomfort or pain IS fearless practice.

What I used to think fearless practice was kept me from practicing fearlessly and intimately. I used to think fearless practice was only possible when one is completely free of, or from, fear. But several years ago I read a story recounted by Pema Chodron in her wonderful When Things Fall Apart. She tells of a young warrior who is told by her teacher that she had to do battle with fear. The warrior didn't want to do that. She felt it was too scary, too aggressive. But the teacher told her that she had to do it. It was her next task along her path.

So, the day arrived and the young warrior stood facing fear. She was feeling very small and fear was looking really big and quite scary. The young warrior stepped forward, and after prostrating three times, asked fear, "May I have permission to do into battle with you?" Fear responded by saying, "Thank you for showing me proper respect and for asking permission." The young warrior asked, "How can I defeat you? What's your strategy?" Fear replied, "My weapons are that I talk fast and really loudly, while getting right up in your face. Then you get unnerved and do whatever I say. But if you don't do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me and have respect for me. You can even believe me, but if you do not do what I say, I have no power."

Reading this the first time, I felt a huge weight fall from my shoulders. Of course! Again, the Dharma is revealed as being so simple. But not necessarily easy. But then again, at least it is something I can do. I may not be able to eliminate fear, but I can practice not doing what it directs me to do. And then I recalled a similar lesson I had heard from a very different quarter.

Years ago I was a big fan of NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto-Racing) and of Richard Petty in particular. I remember reading an interview with Richard Petty and the interviewer remarked on how he must not have any fear in order to strap himself into a 3000 lb car and hurtle around the track at over 200 miles an hour. Petty replied, "Are you kidding? If I heard any of those boys out there had no fear I wouldn't get in my car. You'd be crazy not to have any fear."

Petty, like Pema Chodron's story, is telling us that we need to have respect for our fear. We needn't think it "unbecoming" or "weak" if we have fear. The unknown is scary, and let's face it, except for the fact that we know we will die, the rest of life is pretty much a mystery. So why shouldn't fear be a part of our life? The practice question becomes, "How can I relate to fear?" Must fear dictate how we live? How we choose what to do?

We live a life of mystery, living and breathing the unknown. It is our very attept to deny this reality and try to control everything to meet our expectations and preferences that ultimately feeds fear itself. Fearless practice acknowledges that things change -- that there is no final resting place, that no "thing" will ever give lasting pleasure or happiness -- and that living as if we can "fix" things in place, as if we can concretize experience, leads inevitably to the very suffering we are trying to escape.

Pema Chodron's book is entitled When Things Fall Apart, but when don't they? The First and Second Noble Truths point out that suffering exists as long as we act as if things don't disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy and appease our deep hunger for security. (We can reflect upon how this is evidenced in the policies of our present administration). Fearless practice is learning how to use the situation when the rug is pulled out from under us to wake up. Just now, just here, in the midst of our groudlessness, is all we need to know what is needed to take care of ourselves and all beings. It is in not denying our fear, but acting from the place of radiant unknowing, with a compassionate heart, that we discover basic goodness.

As difficult as it may be, we can try not to get stuck in our notions of how reality is and how it should be. We can stay awake to what is, right now. Remembering that we don't know, that life is a (w)holely mystery, we keep our sense of wonder. In another book by Pema Chodron that I am presently reading to my Yoga classes, The Wisdom of No Escape, she writes:

"Questioning everything, we know we're never really going to find the answers, because these kinds of questions come from having a hunger and passion for life -- they have nothing to do with resolving anything or tying it all up into a neat little package. This kind of questioning is the journey itself. The fruition lies in beginning to realize our kinship with all humanity. (I would say with all life, with all that is. -- frank jude) We realize we have a share in whatever everyone else has and is."

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 11:53 AM

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