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I've been thinking of ways for me to stay involved in New Buddhist and I figured perhaps every once in a while I'll bring up a topic for discussion that is based in dhamma but "real world" enough for any level of practitioner to take part in the discussion.
So for this post I'd like to discuss one of my favorite topics : Fear, with the simile of the tent
**The Tent Analogy: Fear and the illusion of Safety
Continuing my string of analogies and similes taken from real world experiences, I bring to you the tent analogy. This is one that anyone who has spent some time out in the wilderness can understand.
Fear has always been an interesting topic for me, most likely for two reasons, having severe asthma and allergies as a child which gave me a fear of not breathing, and because of the intense fear I felt as a child each night starting from about age 9 when I started having dreams of being abducted by aliens and then couldn’t get to sleep until 3am. There are few mind states more powerful in it’s control of the mind then fear, and it stems from the root of many of our issues in life, having aversion or attachment to experiences. This is a core part of the Buddha’s teaching.
About eight years ago, even before I was “officially a Buddhist”, I made the decision to study fear, and I didn’t have to go far to do it! we are all case studies in fear, we all have it in us. I decided to start putting myself gradually in fearful situations.
Now I’m not talking about skydiving and parkour and all the stuff I did later on, but basic fears, the most basic after fear of death and public speaking, one that goes back to the earliest days of mankind, fear of the dark.
For years I have been enjoying the woods of Vermont with family. Being an avid woodsman, or at least a wanna be woodsman/survivalist in training, I always jumped at the chance of being in a tent. In Vermont I’d stay in my own little camp site down by the stream. I could just see a light from the main camp site up the hill but due to the rush of the stream I couldn’t hear it. I was essentially alone in the woods by a stream in the dark.
I started out with a tent and a fire, then gradually over time, testing myself, getting use to being out in the woods in pitch dark, I moved to the point where I was sleeping essentially out in the open with just a tarp over me and my sleeping bag for rain protection.
The first night I tried sleeping out with no tent, laying there in my sleeping bag, staring out into pitch darkness, was an interesting experience. Anything could of come up and grabbed me, dragged me away in the night! many thoughts entered my head to this regard(including my old friends the aliens!), but I made it to sleep.
What I’ve come to realize is that a tent actually offers no REAL security, no real protection. If an animal(or alien ) wanted to get you, a thin piece of cloth would not stop them. In fact I’ve watched a video where a bear literally took a guy away in his tent. A tent merely gives an illusion of protection. It provides an “out of sight, out of mind” type of mental barrier from the pitch darkness on the other end of that paper thin cloth. Inside the tent we feel safe, outside we feel exposed, and yet the tent cannot give us the shelter and security we seek.
Just like a tent, so many things in life offer this illusion of security, of safety from what lurks outside(or inside.. like old age, sickness, and death). It is often very easy for this to occur because we so desperately want to avoid all this stuff and live in a safe, secure, world that we fool ourselves easily; but we are never really safe, we never could be, because everything is uncertain and ever changing.
We can choose to fight that, ever clinging to the next thing that comes along bringing an illusion of security and safety, but the only way to be free from fear… is to embrace the fear, to embrace the change and uncertainty that life, this is when we begin to leave fear behind, and that brings a freedom few ever experience in this life.
Remember you always have a choice!
So in an existence where everything is impermanent, unstable, undependable, what can we hold on to as some kind of protection? nothing I'd say.
What other things in life offer us the "illusion" of safety and freedom from fear? or what would you like to share regarding the topic?