Humans 101

What Black Holes Can Teach Us About Facing Our Fears

The answers are in the darkness

I watched 10 minutes of American network news on January 2nd. The gloom and doom were in full swing: infections, political vetoes and overrides, deaths, and snowstorms. I didn’t stick around for the short feel-good story at the end that’s supposed to make me all warm and fuzzy after being shoved into a vat of burning tar.

2021 is off to a dark start.

Or maybe not?

It depends on what you know about black holes.

A black hole is a place in space where a tremendous amount of matter is packed into a very tiny area. Think of a star 10 times larger than the sun squeezed into the size of a city like Boston. Its gravity is so strong that light doesn’t escape. Black holes are hard to detect, but scientists locate them through their influence on surrounding stars. They have great power over anything that comes near them, and despite their name, they contain plenty of light.

Who hasn’t said, “I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over?” Now, however, we’re beginning to see that things are going to take longer than we may have hoped last Fall. It can feel a bit depressing — like we’re in a black hole, trying to escape but unable to do so. Or we may take on the qualities of that black hole, absorbing the chaos around us and collapsing on ourselves, losing ourselves in the darkness and forgetting who we are.

When we find ourselves in the darkness, we become vulnerable to fear — fear for our safety, fear of an uncertain future, fear of living in an out of control world, and fear of a life without purpose, meaning, and happiness. Fear robs us of being present. It distracts us from reality. We start to feel empty, and we look for ways to fill ourselves.

We look around for reassurance. Who can we trust? Who can we bet on to bring us to safety? We desperately want to believe in goodness. We look around to fill the yearning within and want the future to be better. We wait for it, hope for it. We unconsciously look through the present moment, hungry for what we want— a stable life, a life rich with meaning, a more peaceful life.

Sure, if we’re locked down, we want more freedom. We want to see our friends again and for us all to get the vaccine. We want to stay healthy. We want our job back or a better job. We want to see our friends in person and to be mask free. All well and good. But, if we spend too much time wanting the future to be as we imagine, we miss living right now, and we miss the opportunity to be at peace. What we don’t want is to be an empty black hole attaching ourselves to everything around us.

We want to be full. But how do we do it?

After a lifetime of practicing meditation, I’ve found that when we realize the source of satisfaction is within us and find a way to connect to it, the quality of our life improves. We start living from the inside out, not the outside in. It’s not a slogan from positive psychology — “The source of happiness is within.” It’s real, but we have to look through the darkness, deep inside ourselves, to find it.

The past is gone, there is no future, and there is no fear.

When we give up waiting for the future, we realize the present moment is perfect and has everything we need. The space within us that wants more is filled. This is where peace is — in the present. The past is gone, there is no future, and there is no fear.

I ask myself every day: Where will I focus my energy? I can’t change most things around me, but what I do with my time and attention is mine. I get to choose how I show up and who I will be on any given day. I opt to face my fears or bury them through distraction. I determine if I’ll be a black hole sucking the life out of myself and those around me, or someone who shines brightly.

When we live from the inside out, we can more easily find our true selves. We’re less consumed with continually plugging ourselves into the world. We let ourselves take time to reflect and recharge — and as a result, we’re less distracted. We can more easily see our fears, large or small. Fear doesn’t come from being in the light; it comes from being in the dark.

Ask yourself, What am I afraid of? Write everything down. I bet you’ll find one commonality: the future. Worrying about the future takes you right out of being in the present, which is the only place where you can do anything about what you fear. Fear of the future is a convenient anesthetic from the Big Fear. The Big Fear, which comes from forgetting who you are, is the fear of wasting your life.

The good news is when you start asking questions like What is my purpose? What is my calling? Who is my true self? you’re on the doorstep of transformation. As my spiritual practice has grown over the years, I’ve noticed my fear of a wasted life is directly related to losing track of who I am. When we don’t know who we are, we try to find ourselves in all the wrong places. So we scramble, grabbing at things that look like they might be the answer — but they’re not, and we know it.

We conquer our fear and find out who we are by going into the cave, into the black hole, the darkness within us. In our darkness is the answer, and the light.

Here is something I practice every day. Please consider it a brief introduction to a much larger topic, and only one of the many ways to enter the cave.

Find a quiet space for 10 minutes. Get comfortable. Take a few deep, long breaths, and close your eyes. Move your awareness to your breath, following it as your lungs expand and contract slowly. Enjoy the darkness. It appears to be dark, but it’s not.

Within and amongst the darkness, it’s milky, like a galaxy of stars. Don’t look past it. Look at it and allow your gaze to be absorbed. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply. There’s nothing to try to do or to find. Just be. Let go of any expectations and thoughts that wander in. Open yourself to receive what is there. Let whatever happens come to you. There is no need to do anything. If you experience something, be thankful. If you don’t, be thankful. Be patient and continue practicing regularly.

When we lose something, it’s often found where we least expect it. Black holes may seem like the last place in the universe to find light, but it’s in there. The same holds true for us. In the least likely place within us, where it seems dark and empty, we find our true selves, full of light and contentment.

Life lessons from 10 years as a monk, 49 years meditating, and 30 years in the shark-infested waters of corporate America | Integriagroup.com

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