Yesterday was another gorgeous San Francisco day. It was chilly, but I imagine my Midwestern friends would think it warm for January. The sky was blue, with little white clouds like lace catching the sunlight and adding dimension. The bay was reflecting the blue and the water was still and sparkly. I took a walk downtown and when I was coming back over the hill, the green of the palm trees gave me that old familiar tropical feeling and I filled with the gratitude for the beauty of all the vacations I have ever taken.
I stopped by Cafe Trieste and had a cappuccino, gazed at the photos on the wall of the poets and artists and went back in time for a while. Back in time to that first idealized past, when I was in high school and I dreamed of being On the Road, dreamed of living the life of an itinerant artist. Dreamed of uniting with my peers in common desire for a more perfect world. I sipped the coffee and lived in that old romanticism for a little while.
For the past couple of weeks, I have swung violently between two ways of thought. In one mindset, it is imperative that I pay attention to current events with vigilance. I need to know what is happening, to investigate the verity of every news item, to do what is required of me as the democracy gets turned on its head. It feels frivolous to do anything else. I obsess over each article of news and distrust everything I read. I look up every news source and try to track back to the political interest driving it. It feels as if I am allowing injustice to occur if I tune out.
Then, I’ll swing violently to the other side, and fall into a hole. This is how fear manifests for me. I’ll refuse to go outside. The sky loses its beauty, and is just a reminder of the precarious state of the environment. To write or work on music seems frivolous, and I am overcome with guilt for my inability to solve anything. My life seems useless, and I lose sight of the point of anything. I sit and imagine the end of the world. It all seems my fault.
Fear is such a funny thing. I don’t mean funny-strange. I mean funny- ha-ha. When I am in a hole, I forget that I have tools to get myself out of the wallowing. I guess that’s one definition of being in a hole, that you forget that you are actually able to crawl out. When I remember that I have all the power to change things, that is the first thing that makes me laugh.
Then, what is really funny is when I let fear in. I invite it in, let it fill me up. I don’t tell myself a story about it, I just feel the sensation of it. First, my chest feels heavy, like I can’t breathe right. My limbs get heavy, and my whole body feels weighted down as if something is preventing me from moving. When I feel this way, I see that the way my body reacts in fear is just like a mouse, like a rodent, or like one of those fainting goats. I just go stock still, weighted with fear. The thought is a little funny.
Then, I bring the fear into the mind, and think of the thing I’m afraid of, and follow it out to the farthest conclusion. When I follow any fear out to the very worst scenario, the final conclusion is always the same:
“And then I will die.”
Amazingly, this is kind of funny, and freeing. Try it out.
I am afraid America is becoming a fascist state.
If it is a fascist state, there will be injustice.
If there is injustice, I will have to stand up for what is right.
If I stand up for what is right, I will be targeted by the government.
If I am targeted by the government, they will come get me while I sleep.
And then I will die.
I am afraid the other political party will come into power.
If they come into power, I will no longer be able to live the life I want to live.
If I can’t live the life I want to live, everything will be taken from me.
If everything is taken from me, I will be on the street.
If I am on the street, everyone will hate me.
If everyone hates me, I will get sick.
And then I will die.
It’s fun! Think of your fear:
The government will become unstable.
If the government is unstable, other governments will take advantage.
If other governments take advantage, we will be vulnerable.
If we are vulnerable, it’s a matter of time before everything escalates.
If everything escalates, there will be nuclear war.
If there is nuclear war, then
I will die.
I don’t mean to be frivolous about the real problems in the world. I do see that the fear of all of it though, on an individual level, can be kind of ridiculous.
So now, there are a couple of ways to look at this. One way is the modern, nihilistic way to view the world. I’m going to die anyway, so what is the point? We’re going to hell in a handbasket. When I die I will just be in darkness, and by doing this exercise I see how useless living in fear is, so let me just party down until the bombs fall.
Okay, I get that. Feels kind of limited, but I get it.
The other way is this. Okay, I see that no matter what I fear, the final outcome is the same. I’ll be dead. So if that’s inevitable, what is there to fear? I can’t avoid it. So can letting go of the fear free me to make life better, right here and now?
What if there is a point? What if everything that I do until the inevitable is incredibly important? What if I will die, and then have to be judged in some way for how I did?
Alright, so now I’m taking about the big picture stuff, the afterlife, the spiritual baloney that I am always hinting at in these blog posts. Stay with me for a moment.
Yesterday, I was happy when I returned home so I snuggled up with the pug and read my latest New Yorker magazine, my version of indulgence. There is an article about how very rich people have been stockpiling like survivalists: buying property in New Zealand, paying three million dollars for bunker apartments, making sure they have planes and motorcycles and guns and food and getting themselves ready for the end of days. Giving in to their fear, preparing for all those worst-case scenarios that run through all of our heads these days. Civil war, terrorist attacks, environmental catastrophe, you know, the morning news.
At the end of the article, there were a few of these very rich people who said this. What if, rather than plan for the worst case scenario, we start investing in society so we can avoid these terrible conclusions? What if instead, we invest in humanity? What if we use our power not to run away, but to stay and fight for the future? What if we make life better right now? I cheered.
Later, I watched the beautiful documentary about Warren Buffett, richest dude in the world. He is a guy who loves what he does. Making money is a big game, and he’s a master at it. Business is a big game, and money is the way he judges how well he is playing it.
At the end of it all, though, money is only the bar set to judge how well he has played. So it makes sense that at the end of his life, he gives all the money away. It was never about accumulation. It was about the game. And in his big picture, being an enlightened person who sees each person as equal, it makes sense to give away all the money, which was only a yardstick, not the goal. The list of ways his money has benefitted society rolled across the screen. I thought, wow. What if there was a way to set a different bar for the people who have such ability to succeed in this society? What if the bar wasn’t just money, but the ability to contribute to better the world, so these very competitive folks started to compete to improve the most lives they could? Again, I cheered.
So back to all that fear. Back to waking up in my morning, opening up the computer and getting fainting-goated. I’ll feel the fear, imagine the worst case scenario, and yet realize, well, there you go. One of these days, it will happen. I will die. So what is the point of fearing anything really? When I put up anything that I am afraid of next to those final moments of my life, how important is any of it? If I imagine those final moments, what do I want to be saying to myself? What are the images I will be happy to relive? Do I want to look back at having lived a terrified life, or do I want look back and see that I was curious enough to everything I could to make things better?
Back to that spiritual stuff. I believe that there is a point. I don’t believe that when we go, that’s it. (As Robert Thurman says, the idea that there is something that exists that is Nothing, is ridiculous. How can there be Nothing? Isn’t Nothing always the absence of Something? Think about it!)
I have a sense that what I do in this life will affect my spark, my infinite self, somehow in the future or in a different plane. I can’t prove it. No one can. It’s a personal decision that I make, and you draw your own conclusion. All I can do is say, today. Will I see the infinite potential of
affecting the world for good as vast as the sky? Or will I waste yet another day wallowing in the useless fear of the inevitability of it all?
Self-reform automatically brings about social reform.
You can hear me read this here: https://soundcloud.com/clemthegreat/the-fear-of-fainting-goats