For quite a while, maybe five years, I've been repeating a form of loving kindness meditation that I learned from listening to Tamara Levitt's guided meditations on my iPhone's Calm app.
It starts like this. Then "I" is replaced by "you," someone I care about (usually my wife), followed by "all" replacing "you."
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be at peace.
Recently I've added a fifth sentiment.
May I be free of fear.
When I do the "all" thing, previously I envisioned the entire world, as if I was floating in space and casting loving kindness hopes over our planet.
Now, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, I picture the Ukrainian people as I mentally say...
May all be happy.
May all be safe.
May all be healthy.
May all be at peace.
May all be free of fear.
As I wrote about in "What do you find inspiring about Ukraine?", the strength and courage of Ukrainians in the face of relentless aggression, bombing, and war crimes by Putin's forces is deeply inspiring.
Especially because fear must be omnipresent in Ukraine. Not in everybody. Not all the time. But when the air raid sirens sound, tanks are approaching, or missile strikes are heard nearby, it's entirely normal to feel fear.
How we handle that feeling is the important thing. I have little desire to read the book, Feel the Fear... and Do It Anyway, but I like the title. Here's how the author, Susan Jeffers, summarizes her take on fear.
FEAR TRUTH #1
The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow!
Every time you take a step into the unknown, you experience fear. There is no point in saying, "When I am no longer afraid, then I will do it." You'll be waiting for a long time. The fear is part of the package.
FEAR TRUTH #2
The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and…do it!
When you do it often enough, you will no longer be afraid in that particular situation. You will have faced the unknown and you will have handled it. Then new challenges await you, which certainly add to the excitement in living.
FEAR TRUTH #3
The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out and…do it!
With each little step you take into unknown territory, a pattern of strength develops. You begin feeling stronger and stronger and stronger.
FEAR TRUTH #4
Not only are you afraid when facing the unknown, so is everyone else!
This should be a relief. You are not the only one out there feeling fear. Everyone feels fear when taking a step into the unknown. Yes, all those people who have succeeded in doing what they have wanted to do in life have felt the fear - and did it anyway. So can you!
FEAR TRUTH #5
Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the bigger underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness!
This is the one truth that some people have difficulty understanding. When you push through the fear, you will feel such a sense of relief as your feeling of helplessness subsides. You will wonder why you did not take action sooner. You will become more and more aware that you can truly handle anything that life hands you.
Everybody can benefit from being, if not free of fear, at least less in the sway of fear. I think those of us of advancing age -- a gentle way of saying old folks -- especially need to find ways to be less fearful.
Sure, it's natural to become more cautious as we grow older. Our strength is less. Health problems limit what we can do. Sticking to routines can seem safer than pushing our boundaries. I spoke with a friend today about this.
I told him that not so long ago I was practicing karate rather than Tai Chi; I was riding around on a Suzuki Burgman scooter rather than a car; I was longboarding (big skateboard) rather than bicycling. Where did the more fearless me go who did those things?
Nowhere, really. I'm still the same person. I just have fallen into what most 73 year old people do: play it safe whenever possible.
I'm not saying that we should lose all sense of fear and do dangerous things, though having written those words, actually that sounds like a pretty good idea. But we can be more daring and less fearful.
One of the reasons I like the streaming series Yellowstone is that it shows cowboys on a very large (and very beautiful) Montana ranch acting fearlessly. They can do this because they're highly skilled at riding horses, roping, and doing all the other stuff that a cattle ranch requires.
Last night my wife and I watched an episode where the ranch hands want to help out the family of a horse breeder who committed suicide after a bank foreclosed on his property. Their plan is to round up his several hundred horses, then sell them and give the money to the dead guy's family.
"They're all up at the top of that slope," a cowboy says. "How are we going we get them down without being killed in a stampede." "Well," replies another cowboy, "we could be cautious and figure out a safe way to do this, or... we could just say fuck it, ride up there, and do it."
"Yeah, fuck it. That's a good plan," they all agree. The resulting scene was marvelous. Must have been difficult to film. Hundreds of horses galloping down a hillside with cowboys herding them along, also at full speed.
I found this really inspiring. When they got all the horses in a big corral and closed the gate, the cowboys looked at each other and said, "Damn, we did it!" A dangerous job. Scary, to normal people.
But no matter what fear they might have felt, they got on their horses and did it anyway.