This week we have a special guest post from Gaylon Ferguson, PhD, a senior teacher (acharya) in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. He has led meditation retreats for thirty-three years. As core faculty at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, he teaches Religious and Interdisciplinary Studies. His first book, Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With, has just been published by Shambhala Publications.
This morning I started a list of things I am afraid of:
fall-out from the ongoing financial meltdown (was it greed? ignorance?);
violence and armed aggression in the face of increasing economic uncertainty
(gun sales are up); devastation from climate change (see above: the social and
environmental consequences of greed, ignoring?); a runaway influenza epidemic;
the threat of nuclear holocaust. I’m afraid of dying, and I’m afraid of the
deaths of my friends and loved ones. I’m
afraid of the power of my own deeply ingrained habits of ignoring, reacting
defensively, distracting myself day and night from reality–including the
reality of anxiety. It’s like there’s a giant billboard that screams: GOT FEAR?
The times they are a-frightening?
I remembered a quote from my first Buddhist meditation teacher, Chogyam Trungpa: “The current state of world affairs is a source of concern to all of us: the threat of nuclear war, widespread poverty and economic instability, social and political chaos, and psychological upheavals of many kinds. The world is in absolute turmoil.” Yes.
So then what? What does spiritual practice offer in compassionate response to our fear-filled times? Well–for some of us it offers a way of denying our fear, of turning away from the realities of a careening world. We are most fearful when we manage to deny our fear. In a temporary fix-it, we manage to apply bright spiritual band-aids proclaiming “it’s all good.” For others, spiritual practice offers a way to face our inner and outer worlds–and bring these two realms into living, loving dialogue.
Making friends with our fear–tasting it, chewing it, becoming intimately familiar with it–opens a doorway. We can see clearly what needs to be done, what we can do to be of helpful service in the free-fall of apparent groundlessness. In an ongoing disaster, who is not our neighbor? We can develop an inner strength and confidence not based on the ups and downs of our contemporary world with its 24/7 rhythm of getting and spending. In the midst of outer and inner famine, violence, intolerance, cowardice, cultivating courage and courage-in-action can become our offering.
May it be so.
Gaylon’s new book, which Traleg Rinpoche calls “a rare blend of subtle scholarship, readability, and practical use,” is available now–check it out.