10.14.2009

Lip-Chewing, Nail-Biting, and the Cultivation of Wisdom

Oh! thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear! --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Since before 9/11 (a possibly important detail) I have had trouble with physical relaxation. As I fall asleep, the problem tends to increase. That is, as I drift off, my fists clench harder, my jaw grinds, and tension in my body can be pretty significant.

Today while I was listening to an Audio Dharma podcast, the speaker, Andrea Fella said,
This kind of fear [of the life-threatening]... almost slows down our experience, so that we have a chance to think and respond to the situation and understand what we can and can't respond to in the situation. So this kind of fear is not so much what I'm talking about today. This is a very biological kind of fear, that actually doesn't hinder awareness; in fact it seems to support it--it creates it, in that situation. Something about being in that life-threatening situation brings up this immediacy and presence of mind.
So then, since she's not interested in that kind of fear, she goes into an extended talk on another kind of fear. But a thought struck me before she moved on. I'm wondering if, in order to increase awareness, I've found a way to get stuck in the kind of fear that is generally only present in our systems in life-threatening situations. That is, perhaps I've found ways of creating this kind of fear in myself so that I am more aware of my environment than I might otherwise be. I wonder, because I often feel more aware than people around me. If I'm doing this, I couldn't be the only one. Maybe hypertension is a strategic kind of effort-at-perception? When I was a kid, I used to insist on covering my head with sheets on the outside chance that a bullet, already slowed by the walls of my bedroom, if it hit my head, might be stopped by an extra layer of sheets. That is, even at 7-years old, I fell asleep afraid of being shot accidentally through the head and dying.

Needless to say, all of this would be very un-Dharma of me. The Buddhists encourage us to discover true knowledge by letting go, not by clenching. But isn't it interesting that this whole page of "fear quotes" (that was my Google search) treats fear as something to be overcome? Not a single quote about using fear to enhance perception?

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