We live in a time of fear. Fear brought on by global events, national events, economic catastrophes, other viewpoints, other religions, no religion, health care, no health care…you name it, we’re scared of it.
Life has been chugging along on our big blue marble for thousands of years for us humans. And before we-of-the-huge-brains came along, things chugged along without us. Why are we suddenly so freaked out by everything?
I have a few theories. One is that we’ve seen such huge technological advances over the past century, that we tend to believe that technology can fix all that ails us. We are so smart that we should have solved all of the problems by now and when it occurs to us that we haven’t and won’t, it’s kinda scary. And frustrating. One solution begets another round of problems. We don’t like that. We humans don’t have the control over our world that we’d like.
Despite our best efforts to eradicate pain, suffering, war and disease, the universe remains infinitely powerful and troublesome and that makes us nervous. I also think that it may be the catalyst for so much of the religious fervor that is bubbling here in the U.S. and around the world. If we can’t solve all of the problems, maybe a deity can. Science has let us down, so let’s turn it over to God and go whole hog into religious zealotry. Screw science and technology. Let’s demonize our fellow sinners, as a sacrifice for the gods.
I’ve been re-reading my favorite book on Buddhist teachings by Steve Hagen, a zen priest. It’s called “Buddhism Plain and Simple”. It’s my favorite because I tend to think that spiritual beliefs should be plain and simple. Fear and unease is referred to in Buddhist philosophy as duhkha; the concept is that we often feel uneasy about the world around us, particularly because much of life is out of our control. Buddhists don’t believe that the lack of control is good or bad, but just “is”. To overcome this feeling of unease or suffering or anxiety or duhkha, you accept reality as it is. Simple. The tired phrase, “it is what it is” was probably uttered by Buddha thousands of years ago. A Zen parable called “Maybe” illustrates this simply and succinctly.
The older I get, the less fearful I am. When I was young, I was incredibly selfish. I did what I wanted to, without weighing how I affected other people. I’m not proud of that, but there was a nugget of fearlessness in my behavior, mostly due to the fact that when you’re young, you really do think you’re invincible and immortal. Even though I look back and cringe at some of the things that I did that adversely affected others, I am grateful for my bravado. I never would have had my radio career without it. I was willing to take risks to achieve success and was humble enough to learn from my (many) mistakes. Plus, when you’re young and starting out, you have nothing to lose. I often say on my radio show that your 20s are your ‘mulligan’ or your do-over decade. If you’re gonna screw up, do it then so that you’ve got plenty of time to regain your balance and momentum.
Now, my fearlessness comes from knowing that my fears are rarely realized in the ways I’ve imagined. Obstacles get tossed into your path and you go over or around them. The next day dawns and you move forward. You learn with time and age, that you’re stronger than you think you are. I have recognized and begun to accept the concept of duhkha. There is a lot of stuff that just isn’t within my control and wishing and hoping and praying ain’t gonna make it so. Accept what you SEE and KNOW to be true and the fear begins to dissipate. We all end up in the same place in the end.
Accept the inevitability of life/death/time/change. It’s amazing how clearly you begin to see.
Morbid? No. Freeing? Yes. “It is what it is”, friends.