Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sitting with the fear

I just spent the past few hours feeling unbelievably afraid.  In the past few weeks I have heard of a number of people getting food stamps.  I have heard of two suicides, both having to do with financial problems. A friend just told me about a documentary she just saw which is about the financial crisis "Inside Job." She said it was really good and also very depressing.  A professor from Columbia University was paid $124,000 to do a study about Iceland's supposedly fabulous economy right before it melted down.  All of the Wall Street players who helped get us into this gigantic mess are still out there - not one of them is in jail.

I know that Friends In Deed and many other non-profits are struggling to stay afloat.  FID has been my lifeline this past year.  I can't imagine where all of us would go if they closed their doors. A close friend of mine is about to have yet another round of radiation and oral chemo and she goes there often for support and a good place to just talk about her feelings. I cherish the times I can volunteer there, just so I have a chance to give back.  I think I would try to have meetings in our living room if they ever closed and probably half of their clients would offer that too.

I made myself some dinner tonight and as I was reading an article about a couple who broke up after six years of living together ("opposites attract, but then ultimately they can drive each other crazy).  She wrote about how challenging the past year has been. I suddenly had the thought, "Okay, well, sit with the fear and the sadness.  Stop trying to block the feelings, just welcome them in."  I have done this numerous times in the past few years, but I often forget that by not pushing it away or fighting it, sometimes the anxiety does get relieved, even just a little bit.

This morning I went to a breakfast meeting at an apartment in one of the most desirable buildings in Manhattan, on Central Park West, filled with unbelievable artwork.  There were Warhols, a Calder, everywhere you looked there was amazing art.  These people are not struggling right now.  I don't know if that triggered my anxiety, but I was there to hear about Project Kesher, a wonderful organization that enables Jewish women in six countries of the former Soviet Union, Israel, and the U.S., to get organized and become more economically and politically empowered. 

I think that the desire for economic empowerment is definitely something that I can relate to.  As I read these past few months for the United Nations about women all over the world learning trades and earning a living, even if it is small at first, I could really relate to that feeling of accomplishment and independence.   We are in an economic crisis around the world and though there are millions of people in this country who aren't feeling it, it does seem to have touched so many of us.

So I will do what I particularly love to do in times of fear:  I will open my small Pema Chodron book and look for something to read.

"Gain and victory to others

There is a classic Tibetan Buddhist teaching that says, "Gain and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself."  These words, defeat and victory are so tied up with how we stay imprisoned.  The real confusion is caused by not knowing that we have limitless wealth, and the confusion deepens each time we buy into this win/lose logic: if you touch me, that is defeat, and if I manage to armor myself and not be touched, that's victory.

Realizing our wealth would end our bewilderment and confusion.  But the only way to do that is to let things fall apart.  And that's the very thing we dread the most - the ultimate defeat.  Yet letting things fall apart would actually let fresh air into this old stale basement of a heart that we've got.  

Saying, "loss and defeat to myself" doesn't mean to become a masochist: "Kick my head in, torture me, and dear God, may I never be happy."  What it means is that you can open your heart and your mind and know what defeat feels like.  

You feel too short, you have indigestion, you're too fat, and too stupid.  You say to yourself, "Nobody loves me, I"m always left out.  I have no teeth, my hair's getting gray, I have blotchy skin, my nose runs."  That all comes under the category of defeat, the defeat of ego.  We're always not wanting to be who we are.  However, we can never connect with our fundamental wealth as long as we are buying into this advertisement hype that we have to be someone else, that we have to smell different or have to look different.  

On the other hand, when you say, "Victory to others," instead of wanting to keep it for yourself, there's the sense of sharing the whole delightful aspect of your life.  You did lose some weight.  You do like the way you look in the mirror.  You suddenly feel like you have a nice voice, or someone falls in love with you or you fall in love with someone else.  Or the seasons change and it touches your heart, or you begin to notice the snow in Vermont or the way the trees move in the wind.  With anything that you want, you begin to develop the attitude of wanting to share it instead of being stingy with it or fearful around it."

Pema Chodron, "Start Where You Are"

Last week I had to go back for more root canal and my lovely friend Maxine's husband, Dr. Paul Rosenberg, did the root canal for a small fee and told me to pay him when I can.  We thought that it might be an extensive amount of work on the tooth, but it turned out to be rather simple. Then, last April I filed for an extension on my taxes and found out last week that I had to file them by October 15th.  I talked to the accountant and within a day they were filed, for a very small fee.  As scared as I am sometimes, I do feel grateful that someday, one day at a time, things come together.

And right now, I'm sitting with the fear and I honestly think it feels a little bit better than fighting it.  

About an hour after I wrote that post, I picked up Melody Beattie's book, "The Language of Letting Go" and this is what I read:

"What do we really want to do? What do we feel led to do?  What are our instincts telling us?  What do we feel guided to do?  What are we excited about doing? Seek to find a way to do that, without worrying about the money."  

I can do that. I can try to do that.  

1 comment:

Zen Mama said...

It is one of the most difficult things to do, sitting with fear. I've been stripped bare and letting myself sit with it for some time now. Thanks for the Pema lesson. I know if you lean into this pain, it will carry you to the place you are supposed to be, much like when you lean into the wind. Blessings to you friend.