A Halloween Meditation |

4 min read
Source: Courtesy of Mary Allen

Source: Courtesy of Mary Allen

Life is scary. I write this on Halloween, the day of the year when we revel in the celebration of scariness.

My neighborhood is full of scary lawn decorations: plastic skeletons and, blowup ghosts and large draping spiderwebs, a huge black cat on a porch roof two doors down from my house. Kids walk around collecting candy and dressed in costumes, many designed to look at least a little scary. It’s all just jolly holiday fun, even the fake spiders and spiderwebs, which don’t even bother me, a lifelong arachnophobic.

But it seems fair to say that generally, most fear is not fun.

There’s a lot to fear in life: financial insecurity, loss, illness, death, global warming, to name just a few things. Right now, there are at least two places in the world—Gaza/Israel and Ukraine—where the carnage, menace, and destruction of war, the physical and emotional shattering that accompanies war, have got to be a source of unthinkable terror. I can’t even imagine how those people deal with their fear.

In my own ordinary, mostly peaceful life, I’ve been haunted by fear—fear of the everyday stuff listed above illness, death, loss, abandonment. I’ve always thought the cause of my fear was lingering trauma from a difficult childhood—my mother had postpartum mental illness—and maybe it was; my chronic fear and anxiety have gotten considerably better with time as I’ve engaged in powerful mental health therapy and other healing strategies. But I also wonder whether fear isn’t just part of the human condition.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with my fear in three different ways. I’ve tried to suppress it using various means—my two favorite drugs of choice have been romance and sweets. I’ve told myself that I could control or prevent the things I was afraid of. And I’ve pursued various ways of getting past fear by fostering a sense of well-being.

Having engaged in all three strategies at length, I have this to say. The first one—using drugs to suppress the fear—is better than nothing, but ultimately it doesn’t work. In my life, at least, the things I used to push down the fear ended up causing me more fear in the long run.

For example, the romantic partners I chose to feel safer from abandonment would threaten to abandon me. Eating chocolate just made me want to eat more chocolate, and then I had to deal with the effects of that. Telling myself I can control or prevent the things I’m afraid of is a bit better but still doesn’t totally work because, ultimately, it always becomes clear that I can’t control or prevent everything I’m afraid of. No one can.

And so I’ve had to do whatever I can to get past fear in other, perhaps harder-to-do but healthier ways. I’ve whittled away at my fear—worked on the old traumas trapped inside me—with therapy, as noted above. And I’ve learned to ask myself whether the thing I’m afraid will happen is happening right now—it almost always isn’t, and when I realize the truth of that, the fear almost always recedes.

I meditate daily, getting quiet and listening to the sounds around me. When I do that, I seem to touch some stillness inside me that comes with a sense of safety, and the feeling lasts most of the day. It’s a subtle sense of safety; I notice it more when it’s absent than by its presence, and I feel worse than I usually do on days when I don’t meditate. Still, meditation is an important cornerstone in my sense of well-being.

I would say that I am still haunted by fear, but a lot less so than I used to be. And when I do feel afraid, there are things I do that help restore me to inner peace. I’m hopeful that as I continue doing what I do, meditating, telling myself different stories, and working hard in therapy, I will eventually achieve a baseline of fearlessness and calm. Maybe that’s the best any of us can hope for.

But I certainly can’t speak for everyone or anyone but myself. And I still can’t imagine how the people who are living with war, who fear for their lives and their loved ones’ lives every day, are dealing with their fear. What they’re going through is overwhelming even to think about it. But I hope we can all try to pay attention and feel sympathy, empathy, and solidarity. Not turn our faces away.

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