Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Yesterday morning I wrote in The Buddha Diaries about waking with anger. This morning, I have to report that instead I woke with fear. I'm generally pretty good at checking in on my emotions, and I'm pretty sure this was what it was: fear, a sinking feeling somewhere in the pit of the stomach as well as a chill in the heart.

So what am I afraid of? Again, I focused first on the political. I'm afraid that our government is out of control, that everything is grinding slowly to a standstill. The right is unable or unwilling to hold back a president whose dominant mode of operation is sheer chaos, currently degenerating into panic. The president's behavior suggests strongly that he is guilty of some malfeasance; my instinct tells me that his apparent fealty to Putin and Russia dates from long ago, and has to do with money-laundering and other shady business dealings--but that's no more than a guess. And the other side, the Democrats, lack the power to act as a serious counterbalance to the chaos on the other side. It's a frightening spectacle.

Associated with that, I fear very much for the future of the planet and our human species. I have four grandchildren, ages eighteen to six, and I have reason to fear for their future. If the climate continues to change, we can expect not only worsening weather conditions, but huge, destabilizing population shifts, with attendant social and cultural unrest. There will be the risk of resource wars, as water supplies and food sources dwindle and demand for them continues to grow with unrestrainable population growth. Humankind has not yet learned how to address such problems in a peaceful and compassionate way, and I fear it may now already be too late.

Such are my fears on the global scale. When I look past them, a little deeper into my own heart, I have to recognize, too, the fear that goes along with the passage of time--which appears to accelerate in proportion to my age. I am already long past the life expectancy (78.74 years) for a contemporary American male, and can expect not too more many years of life on planet Earth. Am I afraid of death? I suppose I am, once I get past all the truisms with which I comfort myself about death's inevitability and all the equanimity I've managed to build up in my years of meditation practice. Somewhere deep down, there is that fear.

More than that, however, is the sense of unreality that unsettles my mind. I found myself, this morning, recalling the haunting tones of that line from the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields": "Nothing is real--and nothing to get hung about..." There are moments when everything seems unreal to me, from Tr*mp in the White House to the view from my bedroom window and the texture of the towel on the hook in my bathroom. There's a kind of shimmer of unreality about it all, and if I'm a little less than conscious, a little less than attentive, I find myself floating groundlessly, adrift in an ocean of illusion.

I suppose there is value in this, too. An opportunity to learn, and to sharpen the attention. But the sensation can be frightening when it arrives, quite suddenly, and engulfs me without warning...

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