Fear & anxiety can completely take over our life, squeezing out clarity, perspective & judgment.
Genetics & environmental factors clearly play a large role.
“one’s happiness or unhappiness depends on one’s habits of mind.” Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017.
The context in which we hold our 'self,' experiences (past, present & future), thoughts & emotions is surprisingly influential. Two experienced meditation teachers - Guy Armstrong (GA) and Sharon Salzberg (SS) - elaborate on this:
GA “I think emptiness is a really practical concept, although it takes a while to understand what makes it work. The (Buddhist) idea of emptiness, very briefly, is that the world is not as solid as we think it is, and we as humans are not as fixed as we tend to think that we are. And so once we start getting into the direct experience of ourselves and of the things we find in life, we find they’re characterized by impermanence – none of them last long enough to be satisfying. And there’s this interesting kind of mystery that in the center of it all is not a solid entity that we would call a me or self, but it more opens into space. So emptiness, as we start looking into it, opens into this feeling that we first probably contact in meditation, that really our experience is made up of a lot of space. You can see this in the outside world – you look out a window and things are there but there’s mostly space. And you start to look internally, and yeah there are body sensations, thoughts, moods and everything, but there’s a lot of inner space too. So as we start to open up into that inner space, emptiness really opens us up into being more grounded. And opening to space leads us into relaxation, ease & settledness. So I think if we can find avenues into feeling the extent of space that’s in our experience, that really leads to a settling of our whole being.”
SS “Space is like a relief. In my own experience, mindfully looking at my own fear, and by mindful I mean seeing what we’re looking at in a certain way – not holding on, not pushing it away, not trying to explain it, not trying to make it go somewhere else, but just being with – so in being with my own fear in that way, I realize that I’m largely afraid when I think like I do know and it’s going to be really bad. And lots of stories that I’m telling myself ‘this is going to happen, & this is going to happen.’ And then when I remind myself that I don’t know what’s going to happen, I feel space. And in that space, which is a kind of emptiness, I don’t have that sense of dread, because I don’t know, and it’s like many things are possible. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s kind of a mystery. It’s such a relief to be in that space, because it’s also true.”
GA “One of the things we find when we come into the moment, is that things as they are in the moment are mostly bearable. Even an emotion like fear, which is one of the hardest things for people to bear, if you are not in a physically-threatening situation at that moment, and you can allow yourself just to feel what the feeling of fear is, it doesn’t have to feel overwhelming, it doesn’t even have to feel threatening. And so that very openness and acceptance of it, creates a lot of space around it. And we find that the present moment isn’t as scary as all the stories we make up. And so it kind of gets into this interesting exploration of well, why are we telling ourselves all these scary stories, or wanting stories, or sad stories? One of the interesting things about coming into meditation is we start to see what the mind is doing most of the time, that we normally don’t pay attention to because we’re doing something else. But when we become still with our body and look inward, we start to see 'Oh, there’s a really strong habit of thinking, mostly about the past & future, and that fills us with fear on the one hand, or sadness, or wanting on the other hand. And it’s all that activity that keeps us feeling stirred-up.' And so when we can put some space around that, it really helps to let those thoughts & emotions settle down.”
Metta Hour with Sharon Salzberg Ep. 90 – Guy Armstrong https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/metta-hour-podcast-episode-90-guy-armstrong/