Dear old and new friends,
Less than a week ago at your front door monsters appeared; actually small children in scary disguises. This reflection is about the real monsters hidden away in your closet. Everyone has at least one or two closeted fearful monsters. In 1891 electric lights were first installed in the White House and by 1921 President Harding and his wife were still afraid to use the wall light switches lest they be seriously electrically shocked—or worse. Many of their servants felt the same, so one White House domestic servant was chosen to perform that hazardous task. There’s a story that one evening this appointed light switch servant happened to be away, resulting in the White House’s electric lights being left blazing all night.
A paradoxical fear is the reason that in countless children’s bedrooms a light is left on all night because of a fear of the darkness. That dread of the dark and the unknown dangers lurking in it continues into adulthood. Of what are you afraid? Don’t rush to answer…rather stop here and pause to seriously seek the answer to that question. While snakes, public speaking, insects, homegrown Islamic terrorists, flying, brain cancer and even change are possible answers, what do you fear the most?
Whatever is your greatest fear, don’t evade it but face it directly. Picture it clearly with its painful consequences, and how you would deal with them until you are able to manage that fear as something you can live with without being frightened. Jesus, encouraging a life of trusting, frequently admonished, “Do not be afraid.” As a faithful disciple you might say you’re not afraid of anything. That is a pious response but not a good answer since your survival necessitates being afraid of such things as poisonous snakes.
An essential part of a Zen Samurai warrior training is overcoming the fear of death, and connected to that training comes one of my very favorite stories:
Once there was an infamous Japanese warlord and his army who were terrorizing a mountain region of small villages that included a Zen monastery. Upon hearing this notorious warlord and his rampaging soldiers were approaching the monastery all the monks fled into the mountains…except the Abbot. When the warlord arrived at the Zen monastery’s gates they stood wide open, so he boldly stalked alone into the deserted courtyard.
At the far end was the temple and at the top of its steps stood the old abbot with his arms folded as the warlord in full armor and with his hand gripping the handle of his large Samurai sword stomped across the courtyard to him. At the foot of the steps, he stopped, and snarled, “Do you know you are looking at a man who without batting an eye could run you through with his sword?”
The old Zen Abbot bowed slightly and replied smiling, “Do you know that you are looking at a man who could be run through with your sword without batting an eye?” The warlord bowed deeply, and then slowly backed out of the courtyard since he had come face to face with a man who wasn't afraid to die.