“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune
Fear. Oh Fear. For as long as I have been “ill”, I have not really been afraid. I have been too busy marching forward, seeking treatment, helping others to center themselves. I have talked to many about mindfulness and how to seek a better frame of mind than that of anger, or… well fear.
Fear has finally knocked on my door. It rapped so loudly, and so unexpectedly that I reflexively opened the door. I didn’t look through the peephole, I didn’t even have the lock on the door.
Fear came into my space, shackled me, hooded me, threw me in the trunk of its car, and took me to a place I had never been and didn’t recognize. Now I am stuck here. I am trying to find the path back to where I was and damn it all, it’s hard.
Fear is a “little-death”. It can be paralyzing, mind shaking, world stopping. When fear comes to your door, rather than let it overtake you, it’s important to face it. Do like one would do with any other negative thought or emotion. Just let it in, flow through, paying as little attention to it as possible. When it realizes it’s getting nothing from you, it will leave. It’s something I use when I try to keep a clear mind when I meditate. I let the thoughts in, let them do what they must without my attention, and let them leave.
If I know this, why have I let it take me so far down the rabbit hole now? I think that meeting fear the way I did was compelling. To wake up one morning with an inability to move my legs from hip to knee will strike fear. For this to last two weeks, you start encroaching on terror.
“Well Jules, why didn’t you call the doctor or go to the ER?” Good question. First: I had an upcoming appointment, and this is a doctor I have chosen to go off insurance with so it’s $100 every time I “stop by”. Second: I had at one point become the “ER Chick”. No one was ever surprised to see that I was at the ER again. I have a psychological imperative to not be that girl anymore.
When I did see the doctor, the worst of the problem had past so we were going to watch and wait. The second it came back again I called. That led to an MRI of my lumbar spine (and my cervical spine because we needed one on record).
MRI results delivered to my doctor and my appointment scheduled to review results. That was a long appointment. There was a long list of what was wrong with my spine at every level. A list of things I had never heard of in my entire health advocacy experience. The familiar things like scoliosis of course, I have heard of that, and stenosis of course, I knew that. What else? I will talk about those things in later blogs I am sure.
I sat determined to just listen to my doctor and not start Dr. Googling myself. One thing we discussed about my lumbar spine was degenerative/osteoarthritis. I knew what that was and that is when fear overwhelmed me.
I had expected, as someone with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, to get early onset osteoarthritis. I thought I would get it in my hips or knees or hands. My spine? Degenerative Disc Disease? No I did not expect that. And then of course that whole other list… long.
If I think of putting my hand in the box, taking the pain test, I wonder if I would pass or fail? Is this my gom jabbar*? Will I run from fear too soon and get the needle? Fear and Pain are like poison. I’d like to believe that I have in many ways mastered pain, but that would be foolish. I cannot assume I have mastered anything with this ever-changing body of mine. The only thing I have control of is my mind. How will I master fear?
I have spent years trying to build a meditation practice. I try to prepare for pain, for sorrow, for loneliness. As things come to me I attempt in any way possible to look back over my shoulder to see the emotion gone and only me and peace in the wake. Will I be able to do the same with fear?
I turn to my guru in word, not in person, Lama Surya Das, and one of the best books I have read in my life. I go to the book that changed everything for me. I go back to it often, and I should get a digital copy to save the pages of the hardcover I have. It’s getting worn.
“Breath by breath, let go of fear, expectation, anger, regret, cravings, frustration, fatigue. Let go of the need for approval. Let go of old judgments and opinions. Die to all that, and fly free. Soar in the freedom of desirelessness.
Let go. Let Be. See through everything and be free, complete, luminous, at home — at ease.”
― Surya Das, Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World
Soar above the feelings; get freedom breath by breath until I am at ease. This could take some time, but where do I have to go?
The mind is a tricky place. (Jack Kornfield’s words, not mine.) I have a lot to navigate through, a lot of trapdoors and dark corners to wend past and around. The first step is deciding that I am ready to get rid of this fear.
That sounds funny. Why wouldn’t one be ready to get rid of fear? Ask yourself why you hold on to any negative emotion. Why do you replay old tapes in your head as you try to sleep? Memories of things in the past you can do nothing about? It’s a terrible game our minds play on us. I have to decide that I am ready to go through whatever it is I find on the journey to ridding myself of fear.
The first thing will be acceptance. Accepting that I have things wrong with me that will never go away, or that are getting worse. Then accepting that it doesn’t mean my world is over, it could be the same or slightly modified, but it’s not over. And when I sit here with that in mind, knowing that the rest of me can move forward, then I can start letting fear sit still farther and farther behind me until it disappears, bored at being unattended to.
So, I have a goal. As I have said so often and so sarcastically to many, “It’s good to have goals!”
Dedicated with love to my liferaft in all of this, my best friend and “sister”, Donna Kay “Fremen Girls Walk Without Rhythm”
*Gom Jabbar: In Dune, Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam uses a gom jabbar to test Paul Atreides just prior to his departure to Arrakis. This “humanity test” is carried out with a box that produces pain by “nerve induction”, causing intense and severe pain without inflicting any physical damage. Only a human is considered to be able to possess the self-discipline to withstand this pain and resist the urge to take their hand out of the box. A person who withdraws their hand is stung with the gom jabbar, causing instant death. (Wikipedia)