Facing our fears: Part 1, understanding ourselves

Fall is my favorite season, particularly because of the evenings. I love the windswept dark nights with clouds scuttling across the moon, the bite in the air, the boundless space in the sky. There’s a sense that anything could happen, that we are closer to the Sublime than at any other point in the year. It’s no wonder that this is the time when ghost stories capture the imagination and when we dream of danger and mystery.

Feelings have seasons, I think, and the harvest season is a great time to face down our fears and put them to rest. It’s a time when, as things are growing dim and we are unearthing what we have sown in  the earth, we should also plumb the depths of our hearts and consider the things that make us uncomfortable, so that those, too, can be gently set aside.

One of the most important things I have learned along my spiritual journey is to realize, deep in my bones, that this is a safe universe. We are all safe – there is nothing to fear. Truly, nothing. Why? Because the thing we most fear – death – does not actually exist. It only exists in our attachment to this one existence of ours. It is our fear of being not-us that exists, not death.

I learned this before I came to Nichiren Buddhism and my readings and practice of The Mystic Law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo have only reaffirmed this understanding.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo genuinely embodies all of the universe in such a tiny phrase, and it’s truly astounding. Myoho stands for both life and death, which are just two parts of an ongoing continuum. One is the manifest, active component, one the latent, subtle component, but neither are in opposition to the other. Nothing ever really dies, it simply is transformed into something else. This makes perfect sense when we consider modern science, which tells us that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but simply changed from one state into another state. Likewise, we, as beings made of energy, are changed into different forms – for one period of time a person, then dissolving into particles becoming a tree, a rock, a deer. There’s nothing to fear.

Why be afraid? We always exist and we always have. Parts of our bodies were once stars; probably, they will be stars again. We’re just being humans for a time.

Part of what is scary to us about death is that we are attached to our personalities in this life, and to our friends and loved ones. We don’t want to imagine living without them, and we don’t want to imagine not living as this person. We don’t want to imagine this self not existing anymore, because most of us, deep down, are instilled with a strong self-preservation instinct. It is scary and painful to imagine all of this not existing anymore after we’ve put so much work and energy into making our self, and have lived with this self for so long. It feels like a waste that this self will simply die and fade away and be gone forever.

That’s understandable and reasonable. However, part of the reason that I realized that death wasn’t so scary was because I experienced, for a short while, what purgatory would be like, after I was drugged during my assault last year.

I couldn’t move, I couldn’t see my body, I couldn’t see anything around me. I was just reliving the past few moments before I got into that state over and over again, but no one seemed to be able to hear me. I thought I was in a coma and that I would be stuck there forever in my own mind. I thought I had died and that I had gone to purgatory and I would be trapped, never dying, always just experiencing myself forever, with no way to contact other people.

I realized that that experience – never getting to die – would be worse than dying. Why? Because part of the pleasure of being alive is to experience other people, and part of the pleasure of experiencing other people is that they are unpredictable, ever-changing, new and unique. There are always new things to see, do, and witness. Life is always moving forward and shifting. If people never die, things would stagnate. Everything would be predictable. Eventually it would become exactly like the purgatory I experienced for those few minutes – you would be replaying moments over and over again, forever. And it would be hellish.

Life is fresh and beautiful because it changes, and to change, things must pass away. Ideas, people, animals, trees, must pass away so they can be renewed over and over again in new forms and ways. As painful as it is to part with things, that pain, too, is part of growth and development. The way we learn is partly through losing. If we never experience heartbreak or sorrow, we never really appreciate the joy and delight that other things bring us.

Energy must recycle and change, and we mustn’t be afraid of this process, but appreciate it as an integral part of life’s journey. When we accept this, we see that there is nothing to be afraid of. Life is an endless journey, moving back and forth between rest and renewal. We can then see our part in the larger narrative is to bring peace and comfort to others and to help the universe move toward greater enlightenment and love for everyone.

The universe needs fearless healers, those who have seen beyond the veil and recognize it as a place of rest. In this time of harvesting, be the one who helps others find comfort in their daily lives, the one who brings us all closer to peace and joy.

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