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To Be Human Is To Fear

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Forsaken, almost human - forsaken, broken, abandoned, alone

The first words of the photo’s caption are taken from a song called Suzanne. Earlier this morning I was playing this song on my guitar, working on the fingering for the melody between verses. This song by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs along with a few others by him and by another Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot.  Both of these men came to my attention when I was a teenager so many years ago. Both men wrestled with what it is to be human, the human condition of suffering which is the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. My current reading of Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Smile at Fear, is allowing me to look at the nature of suffering and in doing so, allowing me to come to accept the naturalness of my own suffering as a child and youth, not accepting the suffering in terms of being a victim of that suffering, but accepting the fact that I am a human, not a superhuman as I had hoped for in my desperate desires to escape life as it was given to me.

Like everyone else, I was afraid and I did my best to hide my fear, to hide from the broken and bruised parts of my self as I knew me. I pushed back at the shadows and the darkness that was lurking within the depths of whoever it is that I was. Like everyone else I invested in the outer world, in work, in activity, in relationships and in trying my best to grasp at happiness in any form in which happiness decided to present itself. I played music and sang for others hoping to not only create a sense of happiness but also a sense of being confirmed through their listening and their positive responses. I wrote and sought the same result when others would read the words, a result that said that I was worthy of relationship, worthy of happiness. I invested in my work, in my play, in my athletic pursuits, in parenting, in loving, in teaching, in counselling, in listening to the suffering of others. Somewhere in all of that engagement with the outer world I had hoped that the inner world of darkness would simply disappear or somehow be transformed into a place of pure light and joy.  But, now I find that I must finally face my fear of that inner darkness if I am to be whole. And, as Trungpa counsels, I must “smile” at that fear.

Playing music such as the songs of Cohen and Lightfoot were and remain authentic ways in which I have looked my own fear and darkness in the eyes without realising exactly what I was doing. Picking up my guitar off and on over the years to gently approach this inner sense of self has kept the darkness from overwhelming and possessing me. And now, thanks to daring to smile at fear through a combination of analysis, self-reflection, music and Buddhist meditation, I am beginning to learn that there really is light as well as darkness in the depths of whoever it is that I am.

I know that I am more than my ego, more than the bits and pieces of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and physical aspects of Robert.  I am not any of these things. These things are hints or signs of a deeper, fuller Self. It somehow gives a sense of relief to not be limited and defined by my ego, to have the freedom to be more, much more than the conjurings of my thoughts, my complexes, my fears and hopes. Like everyone else, I am a human and it is okay to be afraid. The trick is to acknowledge that fear and to smile at it rather than flee from it.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

May 28, 2012 at 8:48 am

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