- I must not fear.
- Fear is the mind-killer.
- Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
- I will face my fear.
- I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
- And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
- Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
- Only I will remain.
- — Frank Herbert, Litany against fear, Dune
As things sink in post-sesshin, I’m realizing a few things—more like articulating what was seen:
- I am not angry. There is no bubbling well of anger deep inside of me, waiting for a chance to break through and erupt. It’s not there—I looked. I looked long and hard and deep and there is no well of anger.
- I am capable. Guess what, I can still practice Zen! My mental illness, my BPD, my malfunctioning brain—whatever you want to call it—doesn’t stop me from practicing strongly and deeply. I’m probably the only one who’s surprised by that, but it’s my realization, so there.
- Marijuana is medicine when used as medicine, a drug when used as a drug. This activity is my responsibility to be aware of and act accordingly.
- I am afraid. Fear is the undercurrent of my life, the overwhelming presence that pervades everywhere. I’m afraid of sitting, I’m afraid of not sitting. I’m afraid of smoking pot, I’m afraid of not smoking pot. I’m afraid of being a Zen fraud. I’m afraid I’m lying to myself. I’m afraid of being judged unfavourably. I’m afraid of getting it wrong. I’m afraid of fucking up my child. I’m afraid of what I feel. I’m afraid of losing control. I am seriously fucking completely overwhelmed by constantly arising fear.
But wait, this was a spiritual retreat, where’s the spiritual insight? That’s it, right there. Simply seeing the above points via the practice of zazen is it. It’s turning inward and seeing what’s there, and this is what I see.
I see how my fear mutates and is camoflaged as anger when Brianna behaves in a way that challenges her mother. I’m so terrified of getting it wrong and screwing things up that I become angry. Anger I know. I grew up with a very angry mother (and am now pretty clear that she too was utterly terrified and masking it with anger). I’m real good at yelling and screaming. I can throw things and break things and speak viciously and vilely. I can lash out at whatever triggers my fear with a torrent of anger and hatred that literally makes me blush to remember.
And then I get afraid. Afraid of hurting my child because of my anger. Afraid of losing my partner. Afraid of messing it up and losing it all. And thus the feedback loop is closed and I am stuck in a whirling cesspool of fear, anger, and self-loathing for all of the above.
This is it. This is the essence of BPD: out-of-control emotions in a never-ending feedback loop. No wonder I’m exhausted. No wonder so many people with BPD commit suicide—the relentlessness of the negative spiral is extremely hard to break free of.
Frank Herbert knows that to practice fear you have to face it and let it go. So do all the Buddhas and Ancestors.
The Buddhas and Ancestors also knew that you cannot practice this stuff alone—the sangha is the critical support needed to face this level of fear. Sesshin (and monastic living for that matter) provide a structure and framework that supports me as I do this difficult work. It’s safe to go deep in those times and places. I cannot stress how utterly grateful I am to have a sangha to practice with, to have had the opportunity to face my demons within a container of love, gentleness, and strong support. I include all of my teachers in that profound gratitude.
And thank you, gentle reader, for your kind attention. That you took the time to read my words is an honour, truly.
P.S. I’d take out the first and last lines of the litany—I think it works better that way.