Fearlessness, Courage, and the Path of Meditation

If the practice of meditation is to be anything other than sitting on the floor, one must come to the practice with a certain sort of fearlessness. By fearlessness I do not mean that one must be without fears. Instead what is meant, is that one must show up to the practice of meditation with the willingness to face these fears. Fearlessness in this case has more to do with not cowering to fear than it does some unreasonable expectation of "spiritual perfection."

Meditation is a return journey, what Thomas Merton called, “a process of un-knowing.” Every one of us comes to this practice because, on some level we have recognized a certain degree of discontentment within our own lives. This discontentment maybe overwhelming, we may even feels as though we are at rock bottom. In fact, the American psychologist William James pointed out in his book, Varieties of Religious Experiences, that this rock bottom or the feeling that one is stuck between a rock and a hard place is an indispensable ingredient in the spiritual experience. Of course, the discontentment that invites us to the practice of meditation may take on a subtler form… One may begin to investigate the practice of meditation out of sheer curiosity. Regardless of whether one is driven to the practice of meditation by a pain of the overwhelming variety or a seemingly innocent curiosity, the search suggest the same essential thing; namely that we believe some-thing is missing.

The search for some mysterious missing ingredient has its roots in what I call pervasive discontentment. The term pervasive discontentment refers to the consequences of our self-conscious belief system. The consequences of such a belief system seem to be a microscopic, yet intense form of self-degradation. We seem to think that we are some how defective or missing some vital part. It is an incredibly subtle form of violence, an enslavement of ourselves that is only observable by its effects. So the path of meditation begins with these effects and traces them back to their origin.

If I am in search of something, then it should follow that the search is fueled by the belief that I am missing something. Desire, attachment, or whatever you want to call it doesn’t just come out of nowhere. There are causes and conditions that give rise to the search for purpose or content. The fundamental belief that I am broken or missing something gives rise to a search for some-thing that can repair or complete me. Of course, it is only a matter of time before this search introduces me to something that I believe is the missing ingredient or a tool that I can use to solve me. So I cling to this precious thing, activity, or person for dear life. Then, over time the newness wears off. Once all the excitement has passed, the precious solution or missing ingredient no longer has the capacity to distract me from that fundamental feeling of discontentment that welcomed this relationship into my life. It turn out, that it was never a solution to anything, only a distraction or form of entertainment! Finally, I find myself right back at square one, only this time with added frustration of not being able to escape from square one. I begin to say things like, “Will I ever get married?” “Will I ever have a good career? What’s the point of all this? GOD, why me!!!!!

Eventually, we get tired of chasing external solutions. We begin to become disillusioned with the rat race of hoarding material possessions, finding our soul mate, or what have you. This isn't to say that we quit watching TV or become celibate, but we do shift the focus of our search for meaning. We begin to look within for answers to our dissatisfaction. This is where we enter the path of meditation. We join the community of spiritual seekers when we realize that our discontentment has an internal origin, and therefore an internal resolution.

We begin to move along the spiritual path the moment we accept complete and total responsibility for our situation. In other words, our search becomes genuine the moment we realize that we are the creators of our world. When we can say it is not God’s fault, or the Churches fault. I cannot blame my parents or upbringing. Neither the educational system or society are to blame for my present condition. I am totally responsible for my world. That is the beginning of true introspection. This is the emergence of fearlessness.

Having discovered fearlessness the practice of meditation begins to happen to us. It is not some activity that we do or oversee. Insight meditation is something that naturally happens to us once fearlessness is present. Meditation is a discovery made in fearlessness. Fearlessness makes the conditions operable for insight. We begin to see that our discontentment arises on the basis of causes and conditions. Eventually, it becomes obvious that the entire network of human suffering rests on one basic assumption; namely, that we exist as nothing more than a critic trapped between our ears in a dome-shaped enclosure, and charged with the task of observing and passing judgment on the happenings of life.

This basic assumption suggests that we are a solid-separate self that exists as a spectator. A spectator is cut-off or not apart from the show. Being disconnected from life, we find that we feel lifeless or without content. So the whole movement of discontentment is traceable back to this most basic assumption. Believing that we are cut-off from life gives rise to the feeling that something is missing. So, we set off in search of something to fill the void, but are eternally disappointed by the solutions we encounter. This assumption is the most primitive defense mechanism in the ego’s arsenal; it is this belief that keeps a safe distance between life and us, but this distance is also the void that we are perpetually trying to fill with content- this void is the source of suffering. Meditation works backwards through the network of suffering to challenge this basic assumption.

More than being a solution or the missing ingredient, meditation challenges the idea that we are in need of a solution. Meditation looks to see whether anything is actually missing. Fearlessness is an essential ingredient because it fuels the inquiry. It is fearlessness that enables meditation to return to the basic assumption that we are somehow apart from or other than life.

Fearlessness or simply not being afraid of fear is the spiritual warriors attitude. It is this courage that enables the meditator to deconstruct the conceptual structure that establishes a sense of separation between man and life. That structure or line of demarcation is the sense of self- the me-ness. The spiritual warrior is the one who is willing to face and accept the truth, which is so whole and so complete that it has no parts- the truth of selflessness!

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