Hide and Seek (written 2018)
The weather has been moody lately. A few days back, blazing sun and buzzing mosquitoes greeted me on outdoor excursions, now it's a sky layered in clouds, with brooding purple on the horizon and a chill wind making the tree branches dance. That's in the outside world.
The weather inside has been equally temperamental. I've been paying attention to what kind of weather greets me as consciousness returns in the morning. There is sometimes a brief moment of lazy pleasure. Light already filtering in even in the early hours when I'm accustomed to arising. I stretch the time it takes to decide to begin the day because just lying here it feels as if I'm living in a welcome pause. Other times, while still inside my dreams, I swear I feel myself hunkering down, making an effort to stay there where the world is more friendly, where scary things disappear when I open my eyes. I can't blink fearful things away in the waking world. I have to face them.
As the day progresses this wavering between lassitude and immobility will arise and pass away several times. It's something relatively new. So I've been investigating.
Both, I think, are versions of fear. In one, for the moment, I've happily disregarded certain truths for the desire is to make that moment last, to cling to my delusion. In the other, I know what's out there and I've taken to hiding, freezing like a small mammal in the woods when a predator is nearby. Surely my immobility will make me less visible, less vulnerable.
So fear is what I have to work with. The important distinction in Dhamma terms, is that I work with “this is fear” and not “I am afraid”. For in the first rendering, I am taken into the sensations in my body and I'm able to identify what is going on. In the second, I make this all about the stories in my head: I want to find the reasons, the causes, I want to rationalize and explain. These justify fear and it grows. Each time I just remind myself, “this is fear”, it is a relief. Fear is one of the faces of aversion I've had lots of practice with. It's strong and persistent, but even fear is dissolved when I simply say its name and make space.
It's a kind of game of hide and seek. A game where I take away the power of fear by not trying to hide, whether within an alternate version of reality or by closing my eyes and pretending I'm safe. Hide and seek, a game of anticipatory trembling and adrenalin rushes, cannot be played if I follow different rules. An instruction teachers often give is to disengage from the negative emotion. Not by pretending it isn't there but by not owning it. Knowing “this is fear” moves me to the role of observer; what I feel is the knowing, rather than the fear.
These experiences are difficult to describe, but have a felt quality to them that is immediate. If I make an effort each time I am tempted to ignore what life holds or to hide from it, and instead deliberately look at it directly and know it's nature, my body responds differently. I see the fear for what it is, an emotion that arises and passes away, not a trap or a villain that threatens me. The place of knowing has a different kind of stillness to it. Not the temporary lazy stillness of my bed nor the uncomfortable tension of the frozen moment in the dream. This stillness is peaceful.