I am terrified right now. In fact, I literally just sent a text to a friend that read, “I am terrified.”
You see, this week, I set off for a ten-day silent meditation course. When it’s all said and done, I’ll be there for at least part of twelve days: an evening arrival, ten days of silent meditation, and one last morning of guided reentry into the speaking world. (However, if you’re reading this, I’ve already been at the meditation course for five days. I hope it’s going well.)
I once read an observation that each person has a default or baseline emotion – anger, fear or sadness. This is not to say that we exist at that emotional level or that we don’t experience the other feelings, but that in our worst moments, we probably go to one of these three more than the others.
For me, the default is fear. I’ve been afraid of many things for many years. Airplanes, roaches, dying violently, losing my children, being authentic, asking questions, being abandoned or rejected, transatlantic flights, disappointing people, disappointing parents, gum recession, money, loneliness, brain aneurysms. Did I mention flying? That fear actually became a full-fledged phobia, though I managed to beat it back enough to fly domestically without medication.
I am pretty risk-averse as well. Surprise! I mean, I’ll try the latest board game, sure, but I’m not one to go out on a limb. I don’t like making mistakes. I worry about outcomes. I worry that I won’t be successful. For example, I spent at least 18 of the 24 hours I was in labor with my son worrying that I wouldn’t know how to give birth. I hadn’t ever practiced before, and though I reassured myself that billions (?) of women before me had completed the experience successfully and that my body’s instincts would kick in instinctually, I still fretted. I know, I know – who doesn’t fret about giving birth? But I wasn’t worried about pain, I was worried about failure.
The happy ending to that particular example is now eleven years old and I’ve managed to learn a few lessons in the decade+ since then. Still, I’ve been afraid much of that time. I’m a writer, but I’m afraid of how people will respond to my writing. (Note to self: no one CARES!) I’m a freethinker, but I’m afraid that people might no longer like me if they knew my thoughts and questions. (What am I? Eight?!) I am fascinated by food, literature, art, culture and travel, but the only time I’ve left the country was a drive around Lake Superior. (SEE Phobias, airplane.) I could continue. But I won’t. This fear stuff is starting to depress me. Here’s the bottom line: I don’t want the next decades of my life to be governed by this kind of default worry.
When I learned about vipassana meditation a year ago from a friend who had participated in several of these silent courses, my curiosity was piqued. This particular practice of self-observation, brimming as it is with lessons of impermanence, noble silence, mindfulness, and focus, grabbed my attention. For months I considered signing up. A voice in my heart kept whispering that I needed vipassana in my life.
My attendance, of course, took some planning. It isn’t a simple thing to jaunt off for nearly two weeks. I know that. And the arrangements have been pretty intense. After a complicated babysitter relay race with baton handoffs worthy of the Olympic summer games, my children will be vacationing with their father and grandparents, enjoying a visit that would be happening whether or not I left my bedroom. In fact, last year, I barely left my bedroom during the weeks they were away. I vowed to make better use of my legally-mandated “break” in the future. ‘Better use’ includes doing things that scare me in a good way!
Which brings me to tonight. What was I saying? Oh yeah – terrified. Finishing up the last of the packing, typing instructions for the babysitters, folding laundry, wandering aimlessly from room to room, I feel that familiar simmering concern. But it isn’t quite the same shape anymore. Somewhere inside my worrywart ways there is a candle flame of excitement as well. Hey, I am excited!
This vipassana meditation course doesn’t require boarding an aircraft, thank goodness.
But I think it’s going to be a trip.
Now tell me, please, what you’ve done to scare yourself lately…