I recently asked my (limited) social media followers to pick one of the books I had upon my bookshelf for me to either read or re-read. Part of me was hoping, or indeed wishing that they would select one of the books that I had not read before. However, one book somebody suggested was one that I had bought when I was deep in the throes of an anxiety and depression episode. When I finally started to come out of that ‘dark period’, something I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do, if I managed to bring a sense of healing to myself, was to turn away from what was presented to me. Warts and all. The book that was suggested however caused me to turn away slightly as it ‘triggered’ in me a negative response. The book in question was “Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm – by Thich Nhat Hanh”.
In times of fear and doubt we have thrust upon emotions, sensations and thoughts that all seem to take over our very existence. Comfort and happiness seem to disperse like morning fog on a winters day and it is in these times that we all wish to turn around and walk away from the experience. In fact we often want to run and run and never look back. Therefore, when that particular book was suggested the last thing I felt I wanted to do was to pick it up. It had a negative connotation for me and there were two major hurdles that stood in the way. Firstly, the book was read at a time of deep emotional distress. I had struggled immensely with a deep and lasting emotional shutdown and a visceral sense of fear. In all honesty I didn’t want to go back there again. Secondly, perhaps more fundamentally, there was a bodily feeling of fear again and I simply experienced fear at the very notion of engaging with the idea of fear again. Both head and the heart had been triggered by the idea of engaging with fear.
Head = I don’t really want to engage with the past and the fear I had experienced.
Heart = the very idea of engaging with fear again makes me feel odd and I feel I want to turn from it.
The second part was more fundamental to me. Why? Well it reconfirmed, my long held belief that we are all emotional beings that have simply acquired a thinking mind.
As an “ambassador“ for thinking, it has come as quite as a revelation that emotional living is far more enjoyable than thinking life. In fact, feeling life is a more honest and true way to experience life. To see it in an emotionally charged way is to experience the humanity of our present reality. That is not to say that thinking doesn’t have its place, that is far from correct. However, there needs to be a balance between it all, an equation whose outcome = equilibrium.
Head + Heart = Equilibrium
So when it was suggested that I read the book “Fear“ I felt a little funny. The feeling was one of rejection and the pushing away any engagement with the concept of fear again. I had been there, got the T-shirt. Torn the T-shirt on a sharp nail in the doorway, after finding the door stuck and then when I push my way through it slammed shut on my hand. When i eventually found that I was on the other side there was only solitude and unhappiness. Fear, and especially fear of fear were not an experience that I enjoyed. Therefore, why would I want to read about it again?
I didn’t, but this is where mindfulness comes into its own. I have learnt over a number of months, indeed years, that there are not many things in life that truly injure me. Scare, yes! But really cause me physical damage and even potential death? No. Only the physical body has the power to stop me from existing and therefore whilst fear may scare me, it won’t kill me.
They say “the word is mightier than the sword“ and this may indeed be true in the written sense, however, reading a book it’s not, in any real sense, like pulling the trigger of a virtual handgun. It is simply a set of words on a page that evoke a feeling or a response. It is only mental images in the head that evoke a physical response. If that is the case then the power to understand the response is also in my control.
Reading a book I believe actually has healing properties and therefore fear of picking up a bound set of words out of fear of engaging with something that may have caused anguish from past experience is perhaps a little silly. But saying that the fear itself was still being felt and is real (in any practical sense).
The truth is however, fear was and still is in control and as such still has an influence over the choices and decisions that I make. But through mindfulness and meditation I have realised that there are not only one set of responses that can be made. Like the chapters of an engaging and enthralling novel, there are many twists and turns and I have a choice to make. I can put down the novel and not immerse myself in experience of the story. I can flit from chapter to chapter, leaping around the pages and lose any insight into what book is about. Or I can read the book, chapter by chapter, experiencing the narrative as it unfolds, feeling the words as they sink in and through my emotional reaction to the words, work through what lays beneath the surface of my own responses. Become the observer of the narrative, not linking what is being read to my own life OR indeed becoming the character in the book itself.