A Simple Practice to Work With Self-Centered Fears

The Buddha noted that the mind precedes all experience, that we view life through a haze-like filter of expectations of the world and self-beliefs, often referred to perceptions (sanna in pali). Our self-esteem (sakkaya-ditth in palii), our beliefs about what is possible to achieve in life grow out how we are treated in infancy in childhood, those fragile years of psychological and physical dependence upon others. Given how important it is for us to connect with adults to survive infancy and childhood, we'll believe pretty much anything we're told, follow what is modeled; we generally have little else to compare our family practices with, after all, so if we grow up in "nut houses,' we'll adapt to the insanity. Moreover, if we're informed, either subtly or overtly, by stressed out adults, that we're "no good," or if we're ignored or compared unfavorably to others, we'll believe it.

Such ideas of self-worth and expectations of others are stored in the emotional mind (note the buddha's theory of anusayas, or latent tendencies) and play out behind the scenes, through feelings of anxiety, alarm, procrastination, avoidance and so forth.

So lack of conviction in one's endeavors transcends feelings of worthlessness; it accompanies us in all our attempts to learn and act. If we go into endeavors with high self-worth, we'll expect growth and new skills; if we enter endeavors with low self-worth, we'll probably feel inadequate, worry about making mistakes, become self-conscious. Such a cognitive load can easily result in frustration and a sense of failure. How easily expectations can become self-fulfilling.

What we believe about the possibilities of spiritual practice has significant consequences; not just in meditation, but how we live and act, what we expect from our spiritual practice. Internalizing the views of our parents, teachers, friends and cultural figures, we also adopt ideas about what is possible to achieve; in many, peace of mind can is regarded as delusional or meaningless, rather than a state that is achievable through practice, not just for themselves, but for all.

There is a freedom available, well beyond what we've been informed by our social institutions. It requires no medication, expenditure or external gratification.

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Suppose we've awoken in the middle of night, inundated by a veritable flood of catastrophic, self-centered thoughts: worries about financial ruin, the conflicts occurring in a relationship, the tenuousness of health, the insanity of the world. We may yield to these inner horror movies and lie awake for hours, or go into full buddhist practitioner mode, patiently calming the breath, releasing the tightness in the abdomen and shoulders, trying to replace the intrusive fears with positive reflections, yet find that all our spiritual tools, often so effective, are letting us down; we remain awaken, our pining for sleep a vain struggle lasting hours.

So how do we practice during these times, when the habitual perceptions of oneself lead directly to anxiety?

We can open our awareness; rather than harboring a goal to get rid of anything -- even fearful thoughts -- developing the capability to be with the thoughts, sounds, anxiety, alertness. We include everything that's present in an awareness that encompasses the entirety of this moment of experience. When we allow the mind to become truly open and flooded with present awareness, personality diminishes; the sense of a self persisting from the past to the future wanes; all that remains is a sense of sensory completeness and freedom to fill space with consciousness. Any sense of awareness having a center begins to recede, along with the sense of 'inside me/outside of me' or 'this is mine/that is not mine.

It's a practice of leaning into the completeness of each moment; all we can ever hope to experience has a temporal entrance in every instant, which is available and, in achieving, can stretch out without limit. The process is to allow everything we experience as 'me' or 'personality' to dissolve into this totality, oneself no longer separate from the timeless, knowing of how the mind creates all experience removes nothing from the impressiveness of such a perceptual state.

When the mind is as vast as the sky, consciousness includes both the universal and the uniquely personal quality of being; everything I have experienced influences this moment, yet this consciousness has no 'I'. So long as we live; keep creating, discovering; giving and receiving. As we understand ourselves not only through our ideas but through receiving all feelings, emotions, sensations, memories, images, possibilities open up; we are free to engage in different ways of conceiving ourselves, others, purpose. Its a way out of the habits and prisons of the mundane mind. In openness, space, time self and other are thrown in disarray.