A little clarification before we begin. A long time ago I put a note on the top of this page that says, "I enjoy getting your e-mails. But please be aware, if you send me e-mail, I may use it in a blog either here or on Suicide Girls." The note is over there to your left, down the page about a 1/3 of the way. I wish I could put it up higher.
Anyway, this applies to all e-mail I get in response to articles and books I've written or questions on practice and suchlike. If you don't want what you say to be published, please tell me. OK?
With that in mind, here's a little question from a reader some of you might enjoy:
How's it going? I'm a fan of your books. Read Hardcore Zen twice and am now reading Sit Down and Shut Up. Just for background here, I've been meditating daily for 5-6 years, and doing shik-an-taza (that might be spelled wrong) for a bit over a year (and am just starting to feel decent at it).
I've got a problem I'm not sure how to handle, and was hoping for some advice. My dad died about four years ago, and since then I've helped take care of my mom quite a bit. I've also been a stress case since then. Recently, probably through meditation, I realized that I'm stressing at all times about death, or to be more descriptive, a fear of death and, conversely, a fear of messing up my life. I'm scared to make any wrong action for fear of being hurt, or of doing something wrong that will make my life go the wrong way. When friends or family are going on a trip, I constantly worry they'll get into an accident or something, and feel I need to give all my time to them before in case something happens, as I don't want any regrets either. This is a problem. I can't really go about my life because I'm constantly worrying about shit. And I do know it's shit, and nothing more (at least intellectually). Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for a saviour, but if there's an action I can take, or any idea you have, that would help me, it would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks again brother,
Thanks for writing. I wish I had a magic solution to your problem. But there isn't any.
Ultimately even your most deep seated and seemingly real fears are just thoughts. Everyone fears something. The problem has nothing to do with the specific nature of the fear. Whether it's fear of death, or fear of high places, or fear of ducks in bowler hats, it's still the same stuff.
It's very hard to root out fear. You'll probably never succeed completely. I don't think anyone, even Buddha himself, has ever succeeded in getting rid of it all.
One thing that helps me is to face it down. Nishijima Sensei said something to me once like, "I always try to look at hated information." Meaning if there's something specific you fear it can often help to study that thing carefully. In my own case I used to have an intense fear of Huntington's Disease, the hereditary ailment that killed my mom. Then I just went out & read all I could about it. I was terrified to do this. But what I found in that literature was just a bunch of smart people throwing around theories. They really didn't know anything. That study helped a lot to remove my constant fear of the disease. The fear still pops up in my mind now and again. I just know there's no sense paying attention to it.
The fear of death and of messing up your life is just a thought loop in your head. It means nothing. You don't have to believe it. You never have to believe yourself.
I hope this advise has some use to you.