Tag Archives: fear

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

This has been on my list of mystical books to read for quite a long time. A couple years ago, I found a copy at a garage sale and bought it. Of course, I felt guilty every time I saw it unread upon the shelf. But I finally got around to reading it, and probably right when I needed to.

This particular copy includes a large amount of introductory text. Usually, I skip introductions, but the commentaries here were very enlightening and I’m glad I read them, particularly Carl Jung’s introduction to the text.

Before embarking upon the psychological commentary, I should like to say a few words about the text itself. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Bardo Thödol, is a book of instructions for the dead and dying. Like The Egyptian Book of the Dead, it is meant to be a guide for the dead man during the period of his Bardo existence, symbolically described as an intermediate state of forty-nine days’ duration between death and rebirth. The text falls into three parts. The first part, called Chikhai Bardo, describes the psychic happenings at the moment of death. The second part, or Chönyid Bardo, deals with the dream-state which supervenes immediately after death, and with what are called ‘karmic illusions’. The third part, or Sidpa Bardo, concerns the onset of the birth-instinct and of prenatal events.

 (p. xxxv – xxxvi)

Because the book deals primarily with what happens to one’s consciousness after death, the text is understandably highly symbolic. As Lama Govinda points out in his introductory section, whenever the subconscious is being explored, it must be approached through the use of symbols.

If, through some trick of nature, the gates of an individual’s subconsciousness were suddenly to spring open, the unprepared mind would be overwhelmed and crushed. Therefore, the gates of the subconscious are guarded, by all initiates, and hidden behind the veil of mysteries and symbols.

(p. liii)

Lama Govinda then points out a common misconception regarding the Bardo Thödol. Many people may assume that the text is a set of instructions solely intended for the dead or dying. But this is not the only purpose. For people pursuing a spiritual path, there comes a time when they must symbolically die, essentially killing their former selves so that they can be reborn as an enlightened being.

Such misunderstanding could only have arisen among those who do not know that it is one of the oldest and most universal practices for the initiate to go through the experience of death before he can be spiritually reborn. Symbolically he must die to his past, to his old ego, before he can take his place in the new spiritual life into which he has been initiated.

(p. lix – lx)

During the 49-day period in which a person’s consciousness is in the Bardo, the individual experiences numerous visions. The text is very clear that these visions are nothing but illusion. The goal, then, is to recognize that what we perceive, in this reality as well as in the Bardo, is illusory by nature. Once we recognize that what we sense is illusion, our consciousness becomes free.

The whole aim of the Bardo Thödol teaching, as otherwise stated elsewhere, is to cause the Dreamer to awaken into Reality, freed from all the obscurations of karmic or sangsāric illusions, in a supramundane or Nirvānic state, beyond all phenomenal paradises, heavens, hells purgatories, or worlds of embodiment.

(p. 35)

The text offers a great prayer which should be used when facing the terrifying visions associated with the Bardo state.

Alas! when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here,
With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all [apparitional appearances] set aside,
May I recognize whatever [visions] appear, as the reflections of mine own consciousness;
May I know them to be of the nature of apparitions in the Bardo:
When at this all-important moment [of opportunity]of achieving a great end,
I may not fear the bands of Peaceful and Wrathful [Deities], mine own thought-forms.

(p. 103)

Fear is a manifestation of our thoughts. While some fears may be justified, the fact remains that fear is pure thought, which then triggers a physical response to the mental visions. This is something that is carried on with us to the next stage of existence. When our consciousness moves to the next plane, it brings with it the capacity to generate fearful images which can then paralyze the progress of the spirit.

O nobly-born, whatever fearful and terrifying visions thou mayst see, recognize them to be thine own thought-forms.

(p. 147)

I realize that I have barely scratched the surface of this symbolically rich and complex text. But hopefully I encouraged you to read it yourself and explore the wisdom woven into the book. I suspect that this is something I will read again in the future.

Cheers!

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Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme – Issue #5

doctorstrange_sorcererssupreme_5

This installment focuses on Sir Isaac Newton and his quest to learn the secret Word of God, and by doing so, harness the power to create and destroy through the use of words.

The problem with power is that it is addictive, it corrupts, and many people feel that it is the key to provide them with what they lack. This is certainly the case with Newton, who believes that by acquiring the power contained in the Word of God, he will become free and ultimately godlike.

And when I used those words, I realized, the only true prison I’ve endured was the one of my own making. Fear that I had no choice. That I could not change destiny. But no. I am free. Truly free. Free to leave my mark on the world. Free to be what I was meant to become all along… God.

Reading this, I was forced to remember the prisons I had built for myself over the years: fear, anger, resentment, self-loathing. It took me a long time to free myself from these prisons, because the most difficult bonds to free yourself from are the self-imposed ones. I am grateful that I was shown a more positive path to freeing myself, one that did not lure me into the temptation of power and money. Love, trust, faith, acceptance—these were the keys that freed me from my cell. I think that what Newton fails to realize in this story is that power is yet another prison, just like his fear was. But I suspect he will discover this in a subsequent installment.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and have a great day.

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Appealing to the Masses

Great Orator, 1944 by Irving Norman

Great Orator, 1944 by Irving Norman

As we near the end of what may be the longest and most contentious election in US history, I have been thinking a lot about something I read in my college English Composition textbook (which I still have after all these years). It was in a section explaining how rhetoric is used to appeal to a crowd of people, and the importance of using key words that tap into the fears and prejudices of the audience. Anyway, here is the quote:

The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and the public is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Yes, without law and order our nation cannot survive. Elect us, and we shall by law and order be respected among the nations of the world. Without law and order our republic shall fall.

(Excerpt from speech by Adolf Hitler: Strategies for Successful Writing)

Fear seems to be the driving motivator in this election, and regardless of a person’s political inclination, fear and insecurity are the primary impetuses in candidate selection. People supporting Trump are afraid that they are losing their jobs, that they are not being heard and represented, and that the country is heading in a direction that contradicts their beliefs. On the flip side, people supporting Clinton fear increasing racism and intolerance, increased influence of corporate interests, and loss of women’s rights. Add to that the fact that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, is concerned about terrorist threats and political instability in other countries. Put all this together, and you have an election based upon fear, which is stoked by a media that seeks to capitalize on this widespread sentiment.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for, because it is your choice and you have the right to vote your conscience. I would encourage everyone, though, to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to make a decision that is less fear based. It is tough—trust me, I know—but it is important.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading and thinking.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 20” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Have done with learning,
And you will have no more vexation.

How great is the difference between “eh” and “o”?
What is the distinction between “good” and “evil”?
Must I fear what others fear?
What abysmal nonsense this is!

All men are joyous and beaming,
As though feasting upon a sacrificial ox,
As though mounting the Spring Terrace;
I alone am placid and give no sign,
Like a babe which has not yet smiled.
I alone am forlorn as one who has no home to return to.

All men have enough and to spare:
I alone appear to possess nothing.
What a fool I am!
What a muddled mind I have!
All men are bright, bright:
I alone am dim, dim.
All men are sharp, sharp:
I alone am mum, mum!
Bland like the ocean,
Aimless like the wafting gale.

All men settle down in their grooves:
I alone am stubborn and remain outside.
But wherein I am most different from others is
In knowing to take sustenance from my Mother!

This was the perfect passage for me to read today. I was talking with someone today about the democratization of information. While a veritable universe of information is only a Google search away, so is a universe of misinformation and lies. This plethora of misinformation and opinion results in fear for many individuals. People read a Facebook post or an op-ed article and it stokes the flames of fear and anxiety. But how true is what I read, and do I really need to be afraid because someone else tells me I should be concerned? As Lao Tzu puts it: “Must I fear what others fear?”

I have chosen not to go down this path of fear. Fear is only a perspective, a mental construct of possibilities that may not even come to pass. All I know for certain is what is happening in my life right now. This is what I choose to focus on.

Like Lao Tzu, I also “take sustenance from my Mother.” When I step out into my garden, or walk around my neighborhood, or commune with Nature, or meditate, I am drawing energy from the divine source. This puts my mind in a state of happiness and tranquility. The stress and noise of everyday life tends to melt away. I am much more content when I am in this space as opposed to worrying about some news story or what another person is thinking.

As things get crazier in our society, it would do you good to take a step back, breathe, and shift your perspective. I suspect that when you do so, you will find some much-needed serenity.

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“Sonnet 23: As an unperfect actor on the stage” by William Shakespeare

Boucher_01

As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burthen of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast;
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

This is a pretty straight-forward sonnet where Shakespeare is apologizing to the fair youth for failing to outwardly express his feelings. As Shakespeare asserts throughout the sonnet, this is common among people in love. People often neglect to state verbally how they feel about someone. He points out a couple reasons for this: fear and complacency.

Fear is obvious, but complacency is much more insidious. We become comfortable in our relationships, and as a result, fail to continue showing our affection. We suppose that our partners know how we feel. But affirmation is important, and I think that is what Shakespeare is getting at. He recognizes his failure in this area and is seeking to rectify his mistake.

Well, that’s about all I have to say on this poem. Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to take a minute and let someone you love know how you feel.

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“When I Have Fears” by John Keats

Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

As I was deciding what to read this morning, the title of this poem caught my eye; we all have fears, and I certainly have my share.

In this sonnet, Keats contemplates his death, and specifically, the things he will be unable to accomplish in his life as a result of his impending death. Considering Keats’ health issues associated with tuberculosis, this is understandable. But there is more here than just a “woe is me” sense of self-pity, which allows the reader to connect with what Keats was experiencing.

Keats felt that he had a purpose in life and that he was here for a reason. There were poems he needed to write, books he was meant to read, love he was supposed to experience. And as he stands alone at the threshold, he realizes at a deep level that he will not fulfill his life’s true purpose. This is the key to why this poem affects the reader at such a visceral level. It is a shared human emotion to feel that we each have a purpose in life, that we are here for a reason, to complete certain things. And this feeling becomes more pronounced when death is imminent. As we reflect back and think about what we wanted to achieve but failed to do, our dreams and aspirations “to nothingness do sink.” We have lost our opportunity, and therein is the tragedy of this sonnet.

We all have our “bucket lists,” things we want to do before we die. This poem reminds us that we need to pursue those dreams now, because we may not have time later. There is nothing worse than standing alone “on the shore of the wide world” and thinking: “If only…”

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 9

Nosferatu

Nosferatu

As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.

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