In the Buddhist tradition, the five hindrances of the mind are identified as mental factors preventing us from progress in our daily lives. These are the ones deluding our judgmental power. They impede our ability to act, and they might create inner turmoil. The five hindrances are: Sense desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and last but not least uncertainty or doubt.
Yesterday I went for a long walk in the meadows. It was drizzly, and the air was clean and fresh. After having crossed a marsh, I spotted a pine tree. Suddenly I felt the urge to climb it, and although I have not climbed a tree for more than 30 years, I made it to the top fairly easy. I found a nice branch to sit on, and I started thinking about the various countries I have visited lately. My traveling has been motivated by a search for answers. A new environment, new impulses – whatever that can stimulate new insights.
Seated at the top of the tree I could see that wherever I had been traveling, I had always been in the same place – that is within myself. Along with me I have always brought that which I want to find an answer to. Yesterday it struck me – there is nowhere to go. The Buddha ended his search under the Bodhi tree. T.S Eliot puts it like this:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
This morning I spoke with my parents about bitterness, resentment and the fear of making the wrong choices. My contribution to the conversation was heavily colored by self-doubt. Why am I doing this? Why do I feel like I have to let go of my saxophone in order to find what I am looking for? Why do I believe life can get any better? Am I wasting my talent? Shouldn´t I just be grateful? Then I realized that the source of all these thoughts was my longing to understand the dissatisfaction I experienced in my own life. Once more the Buddha came up.
I do not think we are capable of making the wrong choices. We choose. Then we choose again. The option of right or wrong only comes up after the choice has been made. My challenge is that as soon as the idea of a wrong choice has been established, this comes up as an alternative even before the choice has been made. Hence, I am not only afraid of making a choice, but I am also afraid that I am capable of making the wrong one. If the term wrong had not been there, only choice had remained.
Of all the thoughts and reflections yesterday, one stands out from the rest: As with fear, the most important for me when facing doubt is not to react. In the heat of the moment, all I want is to escape. I will use anything to ease the pain. A cup of tea, coffee, a glass of wine, a book, an orgasm, food, music, sleep, a holiday, projections and so forth. Anything, as long as I do not have to relate to what is going on in the moment. If I, instead of fleeing the scene, could stay put without acting out based on my doubt, what would happen? Facing the storm. Neither engaging nor rejecting. To just remain calm and observe what is there. What could be the outcome?
The following is a story I found in a book written by the American nun Pema Chödron, “When things fall apart”. The story goes like this:
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.”
I think facing our doubt is very much the same as facing our fear. Every time we refrain from merely reacting to it, it will gradually lose its grip. The storm might seem violent, but just stay put. The reward might be substantial.