Embracing Fear

How we meet old age, illness, and the uncertainty of life, is through a process of learning and discovery. It is not easy, partly because it means facing and coming to terms with things I would much rather leave alone, yet, it is something that I must do in order to fully embrace life.   It may seem a contradiction – to bring illness and death into awareness in order to celebrate life, but having lived so long running from my own fear, I know the paralysis that this running leads to.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, when I see what time and disease does to our bodies and when I see the mental and physical decline of my residents, I pull back in fear. Then, I have to remember that running away from these feelings keeps me isolated and alone.  It keeps me from connecting to myself and to those whom I love.

I grew up in an era where talk about death was hidden.  Thanks to the cultural changes that have been seeping into our society and the Buddhist hospice movement, we are inching closer to a more open discussion.  Bringing the fears into the open is the first step in dismantling their grip.

On my first meditation retreat, I sat in a state of shock.  I watched my mind race with anxiety.  I felt the fear.  I felt the depth of panic of standing so close to the emotions of death.  I saw the grip that my sister’s death still had on me.  All of this was tugging at me from behind the noise and activity of my life.  How could I truly sit with others who were facing their mortality when I was bringing so much of my own baggage into the room?

Although there are times when I recoil from what I see, I must face my feelings each day.  Sometimes the smell from someone who is no longer continent is overwhelming.  Each time I run away, I have to ask myself what I am so frightened of.  Am I frightened of getting older?  Am I frightened that I, too, may face a disease that robs me of my memory?  Am I frightened of death?  The answer to each of these questions is yes.  And the answer is no.  I have fears behind fears.  I am frightened of living in a culture, which recoils from aging.  I am frightened of living among people who will assume that I am less of a person if I have a disability.  I am frightened of not being seen for all that I am.  I am frightened of being defined by chronological age.  I am frightened of being isolated and alone.

In acknowledging these feelings, I see the work that must be done on myself and at Thetford as a place where we can look at life head on and without fear.  It is a world that I created for my residents and equally, it is the world that I must create for myself.

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