fear

Fear, courage, and the contemplation of mortality

 

It’s been a while since my last post, so I figured I’d pop in to add some new (ancient) thoughts and discoveries.

I came across the quote below by the controversial genius G.K. Chesterton a few weeks ago. It’s from his book Orthodoxy, which serves as an attempt at explaining his relationship with the Christian faith. I haven’t had a chance yet to explore his work as fully as I’d like to. It’s on my to do list. (I did watch the entire Father Brown series on Netflix, which is based on one of Chesterton’s fictional characters. Unfortunately, I don’t think that counts as a serious look at his work.). 🙂

Anyway, what I have read of his work so far, and of him generally, reveals some deeply mystical understandings. He is known for his infinite capacity to savor the mundane in the present moment; an early twentieth century Power of Now type. He was a prolific writer, poet, theologian, journalist, and art critic. His later conversion to Catholicism and the wondrous belonging he finds there remind me a lot of my own explorations. (He was also vehemently anti-semitic, which is part of what makes him controversial. I’ve learned how to appreciate the good aspects of a person, while accepting that there are also less than desirable ones.).

The subject of this quote, the experiential cultivation of courage, like so many other virtues, is intensely interesting. This quote captures some of the complexity and subtlety of the process, and the difficulty of articulating it in such a way that it fits into a contextual framework. (True virtue has this sort of you-know-it-because-you-live-it-and-feel-it quality that defies explanations.).

“Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.”

Courage, like all virtues, is the natural default spiritual state. It is the inherent nature of all humans liberated from ego. It’s not something to be positively acquired. It’s not something you collect or build up, like muscles. Rather, like love, compassion, trust or integrity, it’s something that emerges when the barriers to it are removed. Namely, fear.

In truth, to really cultivate courage, one must focus on the undoing of fear. Then courage emerges on its own, without any effort or doing.

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The Buddhist approach

Good morning internet friends! It’s cold here this morning, so with a hot cup of coffee, I’ve sat down to write some more…

Several weeks after I discovered Gary and the Toltec wisdom, I thought surely these ideas must be available in other traditions, and so my relationship with Buddhism began. Instead of following one specific sect of Buddhism (they seem to be country-specific), I cherry picked ideas and teachers from the different lineages. Here is a collection of monks and nuns and dharmas that I follow. (more…)

How to tell the difference between intuition and fear

I’ve come up with a series of ideas over the last few weeks, that involve making major decisions and investments of time and money. At first I felt a sense of excitement, and then some feelings of fear and doubt started to creep in. In trying to watch my thoughts from an observer perspective, I started to wonder if the fear and doubt was conditioned egoic thinking, or if it was my intuition telling me to stop and wait. A few articles and youtube videos later, I came upon one from Simone Wright – which resonated with me.

I think the main take-away from the video, and the answer to my question, is that intuition comes in an emotionally neutral way. If you’re experiencing an emotional charge, that is not the intuition speaking. It could be your own fear based thoughts or beliefs, or it could be an emotional reaction to the intuitive information itself. The key is to stop and watch what’s happening in the mind at that moment.

I also especially liked what Simone says right in the beginning: “Our intuition is the voice of our soul… who wants the highest good for us, who believes that we are capable of doing everything and anything that we set our minds to. So it’s also important to make the distinction that the voice of our intuition is going to guide us in supportive ways. It’s never going to diminish us. It’s never going to tell us that we’re a failure or we’re stupid.”