Become Your Own Teacher
Dear old and new friends,
In our last reflection we proposed jettisoning our fears of yesterday that we carry in our backpacks into this new year 2016, even the really old ones, relics of our cave dwelling years. It is important as we begin to consider how in the process of getting rid of fears we acknowledge some of them are valid, healthy and should be respected, say like our ancient fear of lightning.
If you have fears preventing your full enjoyment of life, naturally you ask how to liberate yourself of them? The eminent psychiatrist Karl Menninger said once, “Fears are educated into us and can, if we wish, be educated out.” Each of us is different and we’ve had different fear educations, but our commonly educated fears are snakes (yet only a few species are poisonous), people who have different color skin than ours and strangers. Politicians aware of these embedded learned fears use them to encourage fear laden prejudice against aliens and those with black or brown skins. The Church also is a teacher that instills fearful intolerance of those of different sexual orientations.
Among the fears we lug along with us in our human backpack are relics, prehistoric ones. No one educated us to be afraid of the dark. That is tattooed in us from the time when wild animals lurked outside the circle of fire of our ancestors. A dark bedroom when we were small and defenseless was terrifying since it hid all kinds of imaginary monsters. And after we can sleep peacefully in darkness without a small light, that old fear is resurrected as natural and healthy when at night we walk alone down a darkened street. A fear of one age should be educated out of us, while later in life it needs to be preserved in another life situation. Gun merchants make a very good living off fears of dark skinned African Americans and Hispanics, and fears of strangers.
As Dr. Menninger wisely said, with our fears educated into us by parents, politicians and merchants selling all kinds of security devises, we can “if we wish” become our own teacher and educate ourselves out of them. Astute, wise Menninger knew we can unconsciously be afraid not to be afraid…which is to be liberated! The wise teacher of Nazareth Jesus is called a savior, which is a liberator, who taught freedom from fears by challenging us not to fear but to love what we fear.
Actually, you and I have been self-teachers since we were children. At an early age we self-learned that fire can burn and be painful, and in our later teens to wisely take only calculated risks since some risks were stupid and could be lethal. And now regardless our age we must teach ourselves to discard negative, opposed to the fullness of life, fears. But how? A good student listens to the teacher and wishes to learn.
So listen and respond to the voices of fears admonishing and scolding you. Teach yourself to talk back when an anxious voice urges you not to do something; disobey it, contradict it and “do whatever it is.” Education needs to be repetitious, so your corrective voice must be repeated, repeated and repeated until it is no longer necessary. This emptying of the mind is an inner resource of peace to deal with fears.
The oldest way of teaching was telling stories, and this one is from ancient Japan:
In the end of the 17th century Lord Yama-ro-tuchi went on an official trip and took with him his tea master, a renowned instructor in the art of tea. They stayed at a royal villa, and one day Lord Yama-ro-tuchi urged him to go for some sightseeing, and the tea master departed attired as a samurai with two swords. While on his way he came upon seated on a large stone a muscular Ronin (a samurai who has lost his attachment to a lord and often lived by robbery) who said, “Seeing you are a samurai, I would consider it an honor if we engaged together in sword play.”
The tea master was fearful and didn’t know what to do, saying, “I am a tea master only dressed as a samurai, and am completely unfamiliar with swordsmanship.” The Ronin grinned, as his real motive was to rob this traveler. The heart of the tea master was flooded with the fear of finding it impossible to escape and not wishing to die an ignominious death that would shame his Lord. Suddenly, he remembered that shortly before he had come upon this large Ronin he had passed a swordsman training school near Uyeno. Instantly he decided to return there to learn how to honorably die, and said, “If you insist, we will engage in swordsmanship, but first I must attend to an errand for my master. I will come back here, but please allow me the time for this duty.”
The Zen master at the training school listened to the story of the tea master and was impressed he wanted to die an honorable death, and said, “I will teach you, but first may I have a cup of your tea?” The tea master was pleased, and entered into the elaborate ceremony of the tea ritual forgetting all about his approaching tragedy. The Zen sword master suddenly cried out, “You have no need to learn the art of death! Your state of mind you presently have is sufficient for you to cope with that despicable Ronin. All you must do is what you’ve done here in the tea ceremony.”
Returning to the brawny Ronin he apologized for the delay, and then began to repeat his tea ritual. He calmly took off his outer coat, tranquilly tied his sleeves with a string and gathered up his skirt. Then with serenity drew his sword and raised it high over his head. At this incompressible peaceful behavior of a once timid tea master, the Ronin robber dropped to the ground and begged his pardon before jumping up and fleeing away.