Training for Dying (aka: Fear is Friction)
I’ve learned a lot about fear and I’ve made it a point to dig deep into the seemingly unfathomable realms of fear these last several years in an attempt to heal myself of what are in all likelihood the root causes of my personal suffering and self-limiting beliefs. Facing what can be only described as existential terror is the most difficult lesson(s) I subject myself to. I consider this work (and this path) to be a kind of training ground – training for my own death and training for my best possible life. This work is accomplished in ceremony through the sacramental use of medicinal plants (e.g. tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, cedar, ayahuasca, cannabis, etc.) that come from various shamanic traditions. I do not approach this work lightly or without great trepidation. No one does. These are not recreational substances. They are sacraments. And in the sacramental and shamanic context, I am still very much a novice. I do know a few journeymen – and perhaps a couple masters - and when the chips are down, you need some good peeps that have your back. Without my beloved teachers, I would be lost. These things take tremendous courage and inner strength and I am tested to the point where I question everything; my faith, my conviction, my resolve, my knowledge, and even my sanity. The medicine path is an extremely hard path to follow – and I am just dabbling in it for the most part. Living it is a whole other subject and an aspiration.
I am already given to the power that rules my fate.
And I cling to nothing, so I will have nothing to defend.
I have no thoughts, so I will see.
I fear nothing, so I will remember myself.
~ The Teachings of Don Juan
First off, don’t believe that I know what the hell I’m talking about – let’s get that out-of-the-way right now. I can only talk about my personal experiences and perspectives and try to relate them as a means of exorcising my own demons and integrating the insights that are working their way up from my subconscious. If there are some things I say that are useful to you on your own path, then we are both lucky and blessed. You have to find your own way with this stuff. Sorry, there’s just no other way around it. I’ve known those whom have a much easier time – and those that struggle as I do – and those that simply choose to remain ‘in the matrix’ (ordinary reality) because even a self-imposed prison (knowingly or not) is preferred over this stuff. The concepts of ultimate truths and radical freedom are extremely difficult to contemplate – especially if these ideas mean you must truly accept that your worldview and your reality is but a very, very small part of ‘what is.’ It’s tough this letting-go of the things we hold-onto so dearly when we’ve been so thoroughly trained (programmed) to reject anything else. Comfort zones are unique to the individual and must be compassionately respected. No judgements here. Again, this work is not for everyone – nor should it be. It’s fucking brutal.
The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. ~ G. K. Chesterton
Fear is friction. I’ve found it to be that simple. When I am in the grip of terror, my breathing becomes very shallow, the airways constricted, and my body tenses (seizes-up). This creates friction – or breathing that is far from smooth, rhythmic, and deep. There is an energy I find present in my body that can only be described as a kind of friction. It is ‘rough’ or uncomfortable – but certainly visceral - a feeling that’s the opposite of ease. Fear in the mind is a kind of friction as well – when ideas, constructs, scenarios or concepts are extremely difficult to process due to a quality akin to ‘resistance’ (friction). How does fear feel to you? How does depression feel to you? How does the concept of ‘bordering on insanity’ feel to you? Is it rough or is it smooth? Resistance to ‘what is’ always has a quality or experience of friction or roughness to me. The letting go of the brakes sometimes eases this friction (fear), but when should I let go and when should I hold-on for dear life? Acceptance or surrender always has a quality of ‘ease’ or ‘smoothness’ – a kind of fluidity – a kind of release. How does the experience of great, unbounded love feel to you?
Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. ~ Pema Chödrön
Here’s my problem with ‘release’ (surrender); when my mind, ego, and reality construct is being challenged and destroyed – I have a supremely difficult time giving-into or surrendering to the medicine, a difficult time in ‘letting-go.’ I guess it’s a deep-seated fear of not being safe. So the fight in me is tremendous. The resistance in me, the fear in me is nearly impossible to manage. This results in an exhausting struggle of monumental proportions. Fear is a very powerful thing and my minds ability to grasp-onto fear (classical attachment) is proportional. So what comes first, mind or fear? Are they inseparable? Can they be teased-apart? When is something ‘in here’ versus ‘out there?’ It seems that the practice of stilling one’s mind is indeed paramount.
What I have also found over the course of many ceremonies is that I must constantly exercise the elasticity of my mind. I must constantly strive to soften its creeping rigidity (resistance). This rigidity is often referred-to as attachment in the classical Hindu and Buddhist texts and if we are caught-up in any form of attachment, we are simply expressing a fear of loss that can be traced to the primal – our fear of death. By increasing the elasticity of my mind, I feel that I am increasing a kind of expansiveness and an ability to understand greater-and-greater lessons. I increase my ability to derive both subtle and breakthrough insights from the information (Big Data!) I am able to process.
I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking. ~ Albert Einstein
The late, great Terence McKenna spoke of “death by astonishment” and the context was that psychedelic experiences should not be feared in terms of potentially dying from them as that happens so rarely and almost always due to some sort of abuse or contraindication. He was trying to explain the fear of dying in the context of the sacred medicines and the ‘death of the ego.’ I think I finally understand what he was trying to teach – that we can choose between fear and astonishment when it comes to dying – as well as living. I am trying to learn how to choose and experience astonishment (wonder) and I realize that some choices require a lifetime’s worth of work to make.
There always seems to be one ingredient in the recipe of social change that our generation has tried to expunge from the record and that’s the fact that millions of us laid prostrate before the gates of awe having taken some psychedelic substance. Then critics would always say ‘don’t take these drugs because they’re going to change your life forever!’ What they didn’t understand was that was the entire point. from “Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines”