Thursday, June 24

Mindful Monday: Listening to Fear

This post is the second of three on the topic of mindfulness and listening.

My mother had pulmonary fibrosis during the last four and a half years of her life. This disease slowly steals your breath, hardening your lungs until you die of heart failure or suffocation. Her illness angered and terrified me, as much as it broke my heart. I never overcame the fear, to my regret, and a lot of times, I didn't know what to say or how to be.

Rodney Smith, a former hospice chaplain and the guiding teacher at Seattle Insight Meditation Society (SIMS), urges us to listen mindfully to our reactivity when we listen to someone else, including the sick or dying. He asks:

"Can you connect with [another] person's humanity? Can you access his [or her] pain? Are you able to own that anger that you project onto him [or her]?...

"Reflect on a time when you were visiting someone who was very sick or dying and you felt powerless to change the situation. Did you try to comfort the patient with false hope, or did you steer the conversation away from anything meaningful? Do you find yourself avoiding such situations, not knowing what to say? What is causing this reaction? What fears arise when you see someone dying?

"Can you be with both your reactions to the disease and the person at the same moment? Attempt to connect with the person and let the infirmity be just as it is. Work toward allowing the person and your reactions to be just as they are, without trying to change either one. See if you can listen through your reactivity without acting upon it. Try to bring the same quality of listening to your fear as you do to the person speaking."* [my emphasis]

I didn't think to examine the anger and fear I had about my mother's disease and dying because I was focused on both her and my grief as well as the logistics of caring for her, such as keeping her company, shopping and cooking for her, keeping her finances straight, taking her to doctor appointments, and making arrangements for other caregivers and hospice personnel. But it was also because fear and anger kept me closed down and locked into the story of what was happening, day by day. I didn't move into mindfulness and step back to look at the very experience of fear and anger themselves. What did fear and anger look, sound, feel, taste, and smell like in this situation? How did they arise? How did I behave when they were present?

In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön told a story about when her teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, asked a group of Buddhist students, "What do you do when things are unbearable?" She said, "Almost all of us said something to the effect that we just completely fell apart and became totally habitual in our reactions. Needless to say, after that we noticed very clearly what we did when we were attacked, betrayed, or confused, when we found situations unbearable or unacceptable. We began to really notice what we did. Did we close down, or did we open up? Did we feel resentful and bitter, or did we soften? Did we become wiser or more stupid?... Were we more critical of our world or more generous?"**

What do you do when things are unbearable? What might you learn when you listen, not to the thoughts, but to the experience of fear or anger itself?


What are you noticing about your listening today?


for Mindful Monday


© 2014, post, Donna Pierce
*Smith, Rodney. "Listening from the Heart" in The Wisdom of Listening. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, Mark Brady, ed., 2003, p. 275.
**Chödrön, Pema. When Things Fall Apart. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997, pp. 66-67.
© Personal photo used by permission, Terry Rowe Clements, 2013.
#mindful #monday #findingGod

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