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The Growling Creature in the Bush: Facing Fear
Submitted by Meredith Arena on Wed, 6/15/2011, 4:00pm
"I was putting my headlamp on and I heard the brush rustle and the next thing I heard was the exhale of the bear"
What do you think about fear?
Do you ever experience that?
On Sunday I woke in a tent somewhere along the Cle Elum river. I was groggy after a poor night's rest in a cheap sleeping bag with 35-40 degree weather. I left my friend making a fire and walked off to sit for a few minutes. I found a lovely clearing with logs to sit on. The sun was shining brightly.
I sat on the fallen tree with my feet on the floor and hands on my knees. I noticed how much I love sitting in these environments becasue my mental chatter is a bit tamed. The sounds of nature and the texture of the air on my skin helps me settle into my body. There is a lot of sense perception to remind me to return to the breath.
The river to my left was flowing, the birds chirping cutely, leaves rustling gently, me breathing steadily, an animal growling lowly to my right. What?
Oh...an animal growling lowly to my right.
I opened my eyes and looked. Nothing. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes wondering what the Bad Ass Buddhist response would be.
Keep sitting? Walk to the source of the growl to check it out?
I acknowledged that it may not be a growl. It may be a tree bough..you know the way they sway in the wind, but it wasn't really windy.
Then I heard it again and stood up looking for my escape route. I remembered bear and cougar protocol, but sort of felt like I was mixing them up a bit.
"Bears are curious and may want to "check you out." Try to avoid direct eye contact, which a bear may see as a threat. Generally, if you just stand your ground, the bear will soon leave. Wild bears rarely attack unless threatened or provoked. Talking in low, soothing tones may help keep you calm. Do not panic."
Just "stand your ground"? What ground?
The night before, me and my friend had played truth or dare. On a truth, I asked him what really scares the hell out of him. He took so long to answer, listing things that scared him a little or not at all, saying what he used to be afraid of and so on. "I so envy the difficulty you have answering this question" I said.
I am scared of loosing limbs. I am scared of pain. I am scared of bears and cougars. But mostly, I am really scared of fear. I am scared of the feeling of standing my ground with the bear more than I am of the bear attack. By the way bear attaks are fairly uncommon.
Walking into danger is not wise. One should avoid danger when one has sanely assessed that there actually may be danger.
There are A LOT of Buddhist teachings on fear. Chogyam Trungpa ( a member of the Bad Ass Buddhist Alliance) said that we can be fearless while brushing our teeth. It's just an attitude we carry with us.
From Smile at Fear
"The true warrior always has a weapon, in any case. Many things in your life function as a weapon, a vehicle for communication that cuts through aggression. It could be anything. If you are wearing a mustache, that could be your weapon."
So how does my moustache help me with the growling creature again? How will humor and freindliness help me now? How will it help me NOT FEEL THIS FEAR?
Now I know that the Bad Ass Buddhists from back in the day faced wild animals (and naughty ghosts) because they were living in caves and in the forests. What did they make of fear?
When the historical Buddha first taught Metta meditation, it was in order to help his monks feel less afraid of the evil tree spirits in the forest. He sent them back into the woods armed with Loving Kindness and soon the spirits loved and protected them.
How do I let the bear or cougar know that I do not want to hurt it? How do I REALLY let it know? So that it tells it's friends so that I can camp in wilderness in PEACE?
What I love about wilderness camping is that it is always sort of scary. Pema Chodron talks about not faking it. When alone in the wilderness (or 100 feet away from other people) you don't fake it. You just feel it, which is what I did with my growling creature or sagging tree bough this weekend. But I also have a lot of discursivity around what will happen when I do have to face a bear or a cougar. I am afraid to be afraid. This is where the potential for anxiety enters the picture.
At times I have laid inside the tent and imagined a tidal wave, a murderer, a bear, lightening..this imagination part is where it gets tricky. Possibly it is better to educate myself and remain present free from anxiety about future danger. Wish me luck!
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