Today my husband and I went to our first Friends of the Dhamma gathering. I’ve read about and practiced mindfulness meditation on and off for a while, and my husband has been interested in Buddhism. He found this organization and we decided to go check it out. They had a doula downstairs to watch the children while the adults meditated and discussed upstairs. A friendly gentleman greeted us and gave us a tour. The meditation had just finished and we were invited to bring our son upstairs to the discussion as long as he remained quiet, or leave him downstairs with the kids and babysitter.
Wait, what? Leave him downstairs? We just met you. GULP.
I felt the fear rise up from my gut and swell in my chest. Through my meditation practice, I have become well aware of how my emotions feel in my body. Fear as heat in my upper chest, rising into my throat, my jaw clenches. My shoulders tense. My grip tightens. In this moment I bring myself to be present with that fear, to acknowledge it, to notice it, make note of how it feels in my body. Be present with the fear. As our teacher, Sakula, said, stop the mind’s wheel from turning by poking a stick in it. My mind had been wheeling with thoughts of child abuse, neglect, abduction, my son crying as someone stole him away from me. The familiar fear from his birth that having him in my life is too much happiness, happiness I don’t deserve and will ultimately lose. The fear gripped my heart tightly now and I felt dizzy as my paranoia took over. So I stuck the stick in the wheel and stopped a moment.
I’m afraid. I’m paranoid. Is this warranted? Statistically, I have nothing to fear from these people. What does this mean that I expect the worst from people? Do I want my son to grow up so paranoid?
There is so much paranoia. Terrorists, police brutality, school shootings and assault. As a woman, I was taught that every man would want to have sex with me, and might force themselves on me. I walk at night with my keys clenched in my fist, or ask for accompaniment. Is this a truth? It’s not likely I will be attacked. I learned in college that, much to my ego’s dismay, not every man wanted to have sex with me. Most didn’t, actually. But I also don’t want to have sex with most men. It’s a silly thing to think.
Statistically I’m more likely to be raped by someone I know than a stranger. I remember my mom telling me the story of her friend, a black woman, on a bus in Oakland and a white woman clutching her purse in fear. Fear of this black woman, a mother of many children, a devout Christian, and all around good person. As a joke, my mom’s friend shouted, “Boo!” at the lady and the woman jumped out of her seat. So silly.
But fear is also useful. It alerts you to potential threats. Fear is, at times, very warranted. People do get jumped in the street, women do get raped, kids do get hurt. At what point does it stop being useful and instead take over our lives? This world in which we don’t let our children out of our sight for a moment, a mother gets arrested for letting her 9-year-old play without parental supervision in a park because she can’t afford childcare, a world in which we tear out swings when rebuilding playgrounds: Are we raising paranoid children who will be incapable of dealing with life?
I don’t want my son to be ruled by fear. It’s taken me years to untangle myself from fear. To learn to operate not from the adrenal driven fight or flight mode of reaction. I know too well the toll stress takes on the body and I don’t want that for my son. I must model a different path for him. Pull myself out of the vortex. Be present. Acknowledge it. Let it pass.
The world stops spinning, the fear lets go of my chest, my grip loosens, and I breathe. My vision clears and I focus on the group. The children play and my son watches two little girls dance. He bounces up and down in imitation. My husband speaks to the girls’ father. My shoulders drop. The fear dissipates and I smile.