Monday, June 04, 2012
Healing from Fear
Healing from Fear
"A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up saying, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' He woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ' Why are you afraid? Have you still no Faith?' " Mark 4:35-41
In this passage from the Gospel of Mark we have a central story of fear and Faith, danger and safety. In this story as the followers of Yeshua believe they are on the verge of annihilation, Yeshua awakens in the middle of the storm. They voice their fear and their dismay by saying, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" How often has that been our own complaint! We are in the middle of crisis and disaster and sometimes even in anger question God's concern for us. In this story the relaxed Yeshua calms the storm and says, "Peace, be still!" He then challenges his friends by saying, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no Faith?" I should say when I have heard this Gospel passage my own response has been, "Well, that's fine for you to say! You're Jesus and I'm just explosed and on the receiving end of whatever life brings me." The question I ponder here is what it is to be vulnerable in life and at the same time to live from a place of profound interior peace and courage.
Each of us carries within us amazing levels of dread. And as we grow in our practice we may gain some awareness of how deep the fear runs in us. Sometimes our immature Faith among Christians can be based on a misplaced idea of insurance. We may unconsciously "cut a deal" with God that if we can just be "right" with Him, then the misfortunes that befall other people won't happen to us. We see people emerge from a life-threatening situation and they piously proclaim that their Faith saved them, that they were saved from death or injury by God because of their religious Faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. That belief is magical thinking and not religious Faith. The practice of authentic Faith helps us be **with** the tragedies and traumas of real life, it does not protect us from them. Faith helps us to recover and to find a well of peace and security when losses befall us.
Live in the World-Abide in Christ
When we sit down in our silent practice of communion with Christ, we breathe Yeshua. We observe first hand the onslaught of mental obsession that leads to behavioral compulsions to "save" us from harm's way. The ego-mind develops such habits to try to guarantee us a false sense of control. And we believe if we have just the right strategy, we can have control over events in my life. These whirlwinds of obsession are like the storm in our practice of interior silence. They only are stilled at Yeshua's hand and His healing touch to connect us with real interior safety, not a false escape from life's problems and traumas. For neither Yeshua nor his followers escaped the afflictions and tragedies of life. Rather His promise to us is not that we will not escape from the pain and misfortune of life, but we will find refuge in His peace and His unfailing love in the middle of all that afflicts us. Yeshua says to us in the Gospels that we can live in the depths of life in such a way that we have a foot in both worlds, the realm of impermanence and vulnerability, and in the realm of peace and ultimate safety in Him.
When I speak of dread I have to remember my own dread as a parent that one of my children might die. This is a fear that came true for me as I had to face the loss of my young son from Leukemia. I experienced at that time the paradox of the beatitudes, that when we grieve, when we accept our vulnerability in Faith, is the moment when we can have a foot in both worlds, the world of human fragility and the Kingdom of God, and that there is no separation. To experience both simultaneously is not a contradiction, but it is where our Prayer of the Heart practice takes us. We can breathe Yeshua, be anchored in the Heart of Christ, while still experiencing the fullness of the human journey in both joy and sorrow.
Acceptance of Vulnerability- the Path to Healing and Compassion
Yeshua does not deny the reality that the human journey is filled with attachment, risk, and loss. He warns us the rain falls equally on the just and unjust. To lead the loving life is to accept it, and be with it with inner peace and security. In the Christian path we understand that this peace and security arises from our communion with Christ. And like Sr. Antoinette, the Benedictine Amma, we may realize there is not much in life over which we have control, but we can always "sit and breathe Yeshua," be grounded in Him and therefore be present with every human experience the best way we can, in the most loving way we can. Brother Roger of Taize says of our "Yes" to Christ. "This "Yes," leaves you exposed, there is no other way.” ( Brother Roger, p. 46)
There are many fears we carry in life, existential, spiritual, and psychological. I have worked for 34 years as clinical counselor. Much of my work has involved helping people manage or cope with psychological fears. As long as we are human we will have psychological fear, and there may be times when we are overcome with them. Our vulnerabilities do not go away. We are called in the spiritual life to find our ultimate security and safety where it can be found but not escape the human state. In my early life the range of financial, physical, and emotional insecurities which affected me so deeply, later in life were the fuel of my spiritual seeking for a true source of security.
It is important to distinguish in our discussion the differences between those fears that are natural attributes of our humanity and therefore assist in our survival, and those fears that impede our spiritual growth. We have a natural fight-or-flight reaction in response a perceived threat to our survival or that of our loved ones. Natural fears can be activating and helpful. These fears exist on the psycho-physical level. Fears of physical death are natural and help us stay alive. Fears of violence help us to mobilize our resources to stay safe. Fears of physical pain help us to seek medical help or take care of our bodies and not take undue risks. Fears of social rejection and humiliation may help us avoid undue psychological risks. And I have seen in my professional work how often old age and disability trigger a natural fear of dependence on others. And as we reflect about fear on the spiritual level we must confront our fears of annihilation and abandonment. To be consumed in the grip of these fears is to be paralyzed in our capacity to open and surrender to the One Life that enfolds and sustains our life.
We can learn to find peace and acceptance with our mortality and the impermanent nature of human life. We can open to a deeper Life in Christ where we can always rest and find our safety. In the Way of the Heart we can find our ultimate love and acceptance and never fear that we are alone, separate, or abandoned in this universe. When we breathe Yeshua in this sanctuary in the Heart of Christ, these fears subside and heal, and we find the place of our abiding.
Our culture does not help us with these fears. Rather it seeks to avoid or distract us from facing them. Death is a taboo subject. Yet confronting our fears of non-being will lead us to seek for the connection with the Source of Being. The poor, the vulnerable, the dependent, are seen as unworthy and a burden to those who see themselves as self-sufficient. Yet our compassionate connection to the vulnerability in our selves and others opens us to love all beings more deeply. Too often we may be overcome by fear, but spiritual practice is not an antidote to ward off the range of fears humans are heir too. Yet human fragility and vulnerability and the fears that arise from them can be the doorway to finding true healing and safety in the touch and love of our practice of communion with Christ.
Rooted in Christ
The Prayer of the Heart does not take away our vulnerablity. Rather it roots us in an acceptance of our vulnerablity and the healing of our fears in a way that we open to love instead of "circling the wagons" in self-absorption. The praxis of Breathing Yeshua roots us, moment to moment, in our communion in the Heart of Christ. A question we can always ask ourselves as fears arise in the middle of life? Am I taking refuge or seeking safety in a relationship, in an attachment to a situation, a person, an outcome, a circumstance, a role, an identity, a habit pattern, that cannot truly give to me the ultimate peace and security that every human being needs?
In the Christian journey being rooted in Christ is the sole source of the "peace that surpasses all understanding." Refuge in Christ, a continual return, is a praxis, an actualization of our ontological belonging in Him. In His Heart we find the only relief from our preoccupation with control, and release from the mind and its obsessions and compulsions.
Being rooted in Christ we learn to be fully present in the circumstances, persons, relationships, tragedies, joys, and all outcomes and experiences with the equanimity and love only oneness in Christ can give. This makes possible a kind of living I would never have thought possible. Each circumstance, each relationship, is a gift, a means to open us more deeply to this deeper Refuge. We can return to our grounding in Christ with our prayer of consecration at intervals of the day, and the ceaseless return to our prayer word in Breathing Yeshua. The ego-mind wants to create other refuges, and will easily bring us back into the habit patterns of worrying. Yeshua keeps telling us in the Gospels, "Don’t' worry!" And He reminds us it won't get us anywhere anyway. The obsession of worry won't deliver the power and control over external things our ego-mind seeks.
In our practice each day we come to realize that Christ is our Beloved, the true spouse, companion, and friend who never abandons us. In the practice of Refuge in His Heart, we come to fulfill the purpose for His coming into the world that He promised in
John 10:10, “ I came that you might share in My Life, and share in It fully.” His Life is limitless, Divine Life, the Life of Love, the Life that births and sustains the Universe, Life that cannot be taken from us, Life that is indestructible and transcends all fear.