“In Christianity, you have so many sins. In Buddhism we have only one. And that sin is fear.”
A fellow religion major in college grew up Lutheran. When he studied religion at Carleton, though, he chose to learn from another faith tradition: Buddhism. He spent a semester abroad studying Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and recounted to me the above conversation with a Tibetan monk on the nature of sin. I have never forgotten its telling.
Until this moment, it never occurred to me, the potential blasphemy of “fear.” I had instead (like so many other religious people) fixated on the sins of other seemingly nefarious “F” words.
I didn’t know what to make of this monks assessment, but as I so often (try) to do, I didn’t declare it right or wrong. I simply asked, “What if it WAS true?” What would the consequences be?
So began a fixation with fear…and a question about whether it could be befriended.
As a Jesuit Volunteer, I had a lot of time for reflective reading, and checked out from the Enoch Pratt Free Library the book, “The Psychology of Fear.” That same year I read the Sci-Fi Class, “Dune.” Amidst many other fascinating philosophical quandaries, Dune succinctly identitifies the debilitating effects of fear:
“Fear is the mind killer.”
“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.”
This brings us to spiders.
My best friend in high school loved spiders….and I loved her. I would watch, aghast, as she scooped them up in her hand, crooned to them, and released them outside, berating those around her who would have squished them.
People like me.
I think spiders are totally creepy.
This will come as a shock to my students (and my daughter Ivy) who have suffered through similar catch and release policies I adhere to in my classroom and my household.
I fear the spider, so I friend the spider.
I have become acutely aware that we all too easily pass our own anxieties along to our children…our students. Fear of certain people, ideologies, contact sports, countries, skin tones…some of these fears have been bequeathed to us. We can go on to preserve them like heirlooms…as if they are a part of us.
This week I will be writing from these darker corners within myself, scooping up my little fears and considering how they might be released.
For all have feared and fall short…