Our language has a lot of words for fear: terror, anxiety, fright, trepidation, paranoia, unease, scared, afraid intimidated, coward, scaredy cat, startled, panic, etc. Sometimes the word fear indicates a desirable quality, like respect, as in, Fear God. The fight or flight response is triggered low in the spine and energizes the legs to run, kick or stand firm. There are probably plenty of situations where, running, or at least walking away, may be the wisest course of action. However, much of the time the words fear, and it’s many synonyms, indicate an undesirable state. Anxiety can be crippling. The startle reflex can be a nuisance. Sometimes fear indicates a lack of courage.
So how do you get courage? It doesn’t come from a pill, in spite of the pharmaceutical advertisements with their long list of side effects. It doesn’t come from a bottle, in spite of popular song lyrics. It comes from a daily meditation practice, possibly motivated by the fear of God, but more often motivated by love for God, or at least a desire for courage, dignity, equanimity, or any of the other attributes that such a practice instills.
Courage is not blind to danger, however a courageous individual is not manipulated or pushed around by his or her fear buttons.
A Perilous Situation
Many years ago around the age of 22, I was level-headed in a perilous situation, and did not react out of fear, although I was certainly afraid. I was waiting at a bus stop in an isolated area of a big city early in the morning. It was a mixed neighborhood, probably mostly black. I was on my way to work and had about a 40 minute bus ride ahead of me. A young black man appeared before me, pointing a gun at me, and demanded my purse, which I handed over. Then he demanded me as well. Looking at him over the barrel of the pistol, I spat out the words, “I have a black husband who will kill your ass!” Whether my prediction would have been the outcome had he molested me, I am no longer so certain,, but it was the right thing to say at the time. He left with my purse, and I walked back home to call the police.
Lacking in courage, I might have been abducted, tortured and killed, as I groveled in fear before my abuser begging for mercy. Courage did not mean foolishly hanging onto the purse and the partial roll of dimes it contained. Courage meant standing up to a bully and refusing to be intimidated.
I had started a meditation practice about 3 years prior to the theft of my purse at that bus stop in Cleveland. While a student at Palomar College in San Marcos, California in 1968, I read, Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda and Fundamentals of Yoga, by Ramurti S. Mishra, both from the college library. Yogananda’s book inspired me to learn more, and Mishra’s book provided details of a meditation technique. Although I was somewhat sporadic about it, I could sit in the full lotus (which I can no longer do, since having been active in Christian Churches that disparaged “Eastern Religion”). From the Mishra book, I learned to put myself in a light trance by autosuggestion. I arranged pillows on the floor and against a wall in my bedroom and, wrapped in a sleeping bag, suggested to each body part in turn that I was withdrawing sensation from it. The resulting trance state was something like sleep, but with more awareness.
A few months ago (2016), I was privileged to meditate for 10 days at the Vipassana Retreat in Twentynine Palms, California. There, I was taught to sit on a mat in a cross-legged position, and be aware of bodily sensations. Sometimes I used a back rest, sometimes not. At the Vipassana retreat we were encouraged not to fall into a trance state, and I think that maintaining the waking state while meditating is more beneficial, still any kind of meditation is better than none.
There wasn’t much discussion of posture in the video presentations I watched at the Vipassana retreat, which were of talks given by S. N. Goenka, recorded at Vipassana workshops he had conducted prior to his passing in 2013. You were free to see how the experienced mediators in the front row were sitting and emulate them if desired. I did not see anyone with their feet placed on their thighs, so apparently it is not a problem that I have lost the ability to sit in the lotus pose. Most sat with their knees out and ankles crossed. I found that if I sat with one ankle over the other for any length of time the one on the bottom would go numb and then tingle in pain, so I would place one heel directly in front of my crotch and the other heal in front of the first ankle. I didn’t see anyone with their palms turned up on the knees. Hands were either relaxed in the lap or placed on the thighs or knees, palms down. Those who preferred sat in chairs. Some people’s knees were off the mat a little, but I found that I stayed more comfortable during the one to two hour meditation sessions resting my knees against the mat. A buckwheat hull meditation pillow (or any firm pillow) under the pelvis helps accommodate this.
There are interfaces between the body, soul, and spirit along the spine, called chakras. Each of the Chakras has a different flavor of spiritual energy, kind of like the seven colors of the rainbow are all light. Each chakra has a strength and two weaknesses an aggressive weakness and a passive weakness. The first chakra is at the tailbone, governs the legs, and is responsible for territory and security. With the first chakra, the root chakra, the strength is courage. The passive weakness is fear. When fear becomes aggressive, it becomes anger and hate.
In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the journey a typical hero goes through in many legends, myths, stories, novels and movies.
The hero or heroine, often an ordinary person in ordinary circumstances, receives a call to adventure. A task is presented that involves danger, but there may be even more danger if the problem is not solved. The hero agrees to the quest and steps into a new world which contains both treasure and danger. The hero is given spiritual abilities or magical powers, and usually a helper or two. The hero and team-mates progress through a series of obstacles, then there is a supreme test, the obstacle they have journeyed to overcome. When this is overcome, there is typically a reward, then the journey home which may contain smaller obstacles.
“Enough of this mundane world! I’m going after the Holy Grail!” The real quest is on the inside. Like the poet, Rumi wrote:
i want to leave this town
but you’ve chained me down
stolen away my heart
leaving yourself behind
now i’ve lost my way
my soul restless and head twisted
all because of those secrets
you once whispered
i only must keep
fasting my heart
to set me free from sleepless nights
since your only advice
when you saw me in flame
was to keep burning
with you or with your thoughts
words of wisdom
came to me at last
“the beloved you’ve lost
the one you’ve been seeking outside
can only be found inside”
— Ghazal 2582, from the Diwan-e Shams
Translation by Nader Khalili
Rama and Cita
Humans have been on this earth for a long time. One of the oldest myths still in circulation today is that of Rama and Cita, which is believed to have predated a great flood, which appears to have happened around 12000 years ago, wiping out an advanced world-wide human culture some say. A book which I checked out of a public library a little over a decade ago, The Ramayama, tells the stories of the adventures of Rama and Cita, king and queen of a province in an ancient time. Cita is abducted and helped by a speaking monkey, while Rama searches for and eventually finds her. Rama is one of the names of God in the Hindu religion.
The concept of the Avatar is that every once in awhile, through out the ages, the One God, the All-Highest God, will send an emissary to earth, generally in the form of a man, to guide humanity. The teachings of this Person inspire people to worship and serve the True God at first, but gradually the sayings snd scriptures are altered, false dogma takes over, and the people are no longer serving the True God. Then another Avatar arises.
Whenever righteousness falters
and chaos threatens to prevail,
I take on a human body
and manifest myself on earth.
In order to protect the good
to destroy the doers of evil
to ensure the triumph of righteousness,
in every age I am born.
The Lord Krishna, from the Bhagavad Gita, Stephen Mitchell’s translation, page 73.