Mantras & Tea Time

I’ve got a long-standing habit of trying to scuttle away from fear.

Can you really blame me? Fear–intense, soul-chilling fear–has been part of my world since I was 8 years old. And lots of times, I don’t even know what I’m afraid of. I just know that I’m scared as hell.

Portrait of a Fear-Scuttler as a Young Girl

To cope, I learned to shove the fear down. Way down. In psychic places that I tend to avoid completely.

For me, fear and anxiety aren’t the same thing. It’s likely they stem from a similar psychological source, I suppose. But they feel different. Anxiety feels sketchy, like I want to climb out of my skin–but I’m simultaneously too scared of life in general to move. It happens all at once. And it’s broad and far-reaching. I know what it is and can identify it. I pretty much hate it, but I know how to move through it.

This fear, though, it’s more stabbing. And it comes out of nowhere. If it was audible, it would be a horrified gasp. It’s quick and to the point. Which is why I can shove it away. It doesn’t linger and settle into a generalized malaise the way anxiety does.

So now that we’ve established this fear situation, I’ll tell you a story:

The 30-day yoga camp I signed up for with Adriene (after my brief failed venture to find more “spiritual” yoga) comes complete with mantras. Which is rad. My mind tends jump all over the place like a ferret in a popcorn maker, so anything that can focus my thinking a bit is welcome.

Today’s mantra: I embrace.

Y’all know the drill. You set an intention (using said mantra) at the beginning of the practice. Mine was “I embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature.”

Huh.

I have no idea where that came from. It popped into my mind & I ran with it.

So, there I am, meditating after yoga (because during yoga, I’m just breathing. That’s the beauty of it. I’m focused and breathing, connecting with something still and quiet at the core of who I am), and this fear pops up. And it stabs me once in the heart (it’s a bitch, and it knows how to wound).

Of course, my instinct was to push it away. You don’t really invite a bully to sit down to tea.

Except–you kind of do. Or, more aptly, it’s what the Buddha would do:

Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara [the demon god] continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would report with dismay that the “Evil One” had again returned.

Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest. Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea, place them on the low table between them, and only then take his own seat. Mara would stay for a while and then go, but throughout the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

Tara Brach, Ph.D., Inviting Mara to Tea
Source: Mara Tempting Buddha

I’m going to be straight up and tell you that I did NOT invite my fear to tea. But I also didn’t chase it out with a pitchfork, either. I took a few tentative steps closer to it, though. I looked at it, not to probe into where it came from or why it was there. But just to see it. Just to embrace all of myself, all of my experience. Including the fear.

Maybe that’s what it means to embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature: to simply walk towards what arises, seeing it as a teacher instead of a threat.

I would’ve explored that further, but right then the dog nosed her way into the room and sat square on my lap and started licking my face. And then the kid came flying in to retrieve the dog–and Mara left on his own accord, because the whole scene as just too chaotic to bother with tea anyway.



A Bit About Gratitude (& Buddha & Jesus)

Laughing Buddha

Gratitude comes easier to me now that I am sober. I just didn’t get it before–I didn’t get how much I had, how little of it I’d truly “earned.” I came from a scarcity perspective. There was never enough of anything: money, time, love, contentment. Wherever there was a gap, wherever I found my life lacking, I filled that gap with alcohol. But when the drunk wore off, that nagging lack was always there. Because the lack had nothing to do with my external circumstances, and everything to do with ME.

As part of my Lenten spiritual practice*, I started reading Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. I caught a glimpse of it on my best friend’s bookshelf over Christmas break, and I remembered how much that book meant to me when I first read it. It was the first book I read in its entireity as I emerged from the darkest place my drinking took me. The fact that I could focus long enough to read the book and absorb it now seems like a small miracle. But it was just the balm I needed. It gave me renewed hope that I could find my way and find light and meaning in the world again.

Cracking it open this time gave me so much perspective on where I was all those years ago and on who I am now. This passage, in particular, jumped out at me:

” Perhaps you sometimes feel a homesickness, a sadness, and a sense that something is terribly wrong. You might experience this as a yearning for something that is lost, something that seems so familiar and yet so distant. You might feel hungry and needy and aware that nothing has been able to fully satisfy you–at least not for very long. It’s like drining salt water while floating adrift on the great ocean; it’s a drink that can’t possibly alleviate your thirst.”

I remember sitting outside my apartment, on the rare nights when I would try not to drink, and feeling like something was scratching away at me from the inside. I wanted so desperately to escape my own desperation and despair. I wanted to escape myself. But when I encountered that passage all those years ago, I felt my heart lift because someone understood exactly how I felt. And if someone else understood, then I wasn’t beyond hope, and I wasn’t alone.

When I opened Awakening the Buddha Within on a whim on Ash Wednesday, I had no idea that reading this book would engender so much gratitude. Because I don’t feel a constant yearning anymore. I am not lost. And I no longer dwell under a constant cloud of sadness. And I am so grateful.

I’d be lying if I said the journey to getting sober (and staying that way) was an easy one. Excavating demons in order to slay them comes with its own peril and pain. And once I took away the artificial contentment that alcohol offered, I had to work toward achieving some lasting peace. But I was wise enough to find what really worked for me–not what I thought looked right or what I thought other people wanted. Getting sober brought me back to Jesus, introduced me to Buddha, helped me find my rhythm in running, and helped me rediscover yoga (which was the practice that initially reached me in the darkest night of my soul). My life is rich and full. I am surrounded by a close group of people I love, who understand and accept me. And, even more importantly, I love and accept myself (at least most of the time).

I am grateful for this journey. I’m grateful for the gifts in my life that I did not earn and cannot say I truly deserve. I’m grateful for grace & love, which have brought me peace I couldn’t have dreamed of before. I am simply grateful for this life.

* One of the reasons I warmed so quickly to Awakening the Buddha Within is that Lama Surya Das immediately sets about demonstrating that buddhist principles can mesh quite easily with Christianity (and many other spiritual traditions). Me & Jesus are like peanut butter & jelly. I was pretty happy to know I could keep Jesus in my heart & still incorporate buddhist principles in my life.

Photo Credit: flickr/nightrose