Friday, January 22, 2010

Fear and Mindfulness

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Connecticut-- sunny and around 40. So I took a midday hike in one of my favorite places: Devil's Den Nature Conservancy. I love Devil's Den because of the thick forest and many streams, but especially the numerous dramatic rock outcroppings.

When I hike in this place of natural beauty, I usually find it easy to hike mindfully while focusing on the surroundings. However, today was different. After hiking for a mile or so, I remembered the mountain lion sighting nearby in Westport, CT.

Even though this sighting was a few weeks ago, I began to think about it more and more as I hiked alone deeper into the forest. Every so often I would stop and look behind me, making sure that nothing was sneaking up on me. I began to plan what I would do if attacked (use my trekking poles in self-defense) and who I would call and what I would say. My imagination stoked my anxiety.

This brought home the lesson that fear is the enemy of mindfulness. When we're afraid, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be fully present in the present moment. Paradoxically, fear does cause us to focus, but we focus on the negative possibilities (i.e. being attacked by a hungry mountain lion).

Since I'm writing this, you can surmise that I wasn't attacked by a mountain lion or anything else. My fears were unfounded, as most fears usually are. Yet, to be human is to fear. We need to learn which fears to pay attention to and which to dismiss as remote or improbable (i.e. being attacked by a lone mountain lion that hasn't been seen for two weeks).

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