It occurred to me in conversation with a friend recently that in some ways the relationship to fear could be seen as a central theme in waking up. Wondered what other's thought of that. I was thinking something like this:
First you don't realize how much fear runs your life. It's totally under the radar.
Then you develop a practice and those first big encounters with fear come up. Fears about this or that, life stuff, existential fears, all kinds. Shit, fears you didn't even realize you had.
And because you are now practicing, for the first time you try to make yourself allow it instead of trying to shut it down.
And you survive.
And that is a bit emboldening, and you start to see how fear works more clearly.
And as your practice gets deeper you cycle through more fears, new ones, deeper ones, but you are also gaining skill in allowing them and seeing how they arise and what they are really about.
And the more clearly you see all this and go through these experiences, the less hold the fears have.
They start losing their grip, and as each one shakes loose, you feel more free, more able to engage with life, more authentic and open-hearted.
Sounds right to me. I think fear drives a lot of the Dark Night that folks talk about. I think getting used to dealing with fear and doing so skillfully is indeed a huge, maybe the most important, part of the path we're walking.
I've personally found that fear lurks underneath other "negative" emotions. The fear in anxiety is pretty easy to spot, but the fear in frustration, and anger is harder for me to untangle, though.
There also seems to be a difference in how easy it is to stay with the "presenting" feeling and the fear underneath. It's not that hard for me to sit with anger, but once I see the fear at the root, it suddenly becomes noticeably slipperier to stay with it. My mind seems to have all kinds of strategies for avoiding looking at the fear: denial, diversion, going back to anger, sudden body discomfort, distraction. You name it, I'll use it to avoid looking directly at fear in a sit.
Most things that are unpleasant seem to have a foundation in fear. Anything that makes me feel uncomfortable, that makes me want to hide, that makes me embarrassed, that make me angry, are fear based at their root. The fear in question usually ends up being existential, meaning that it houses a fanatical and unrelenting fear of extinction that is closely tied to the sense of self. "If this happens then I am going to die!" is the basis of an awful lot of my anxiety, anger, frustration, and such.
Earlier in my practice the fear stuff was much less abstract and more immersive. That is, fear was really scary. But I still notice a vague fear-game going on at times. Not to do with life-stuff fears, but existential fear. If I hit existential fear in a sit, even if I don't feel afraid in a conscious way (ie it's not scary, really) but I will physically flinch and gasp. And in phases where this is more common (it comes around occasionally, though not very often), I'll also have intermittent brief thoughts about being in an accident, getting a dire illness, being attacked, etc. during the day. When I spot either of these I know there's something that needs looking at a little more closely.
I had a hilarious moment the other night when my husband paused in the hallway on the way to bed (in the dark) and I ran into him, not realizing he was there. I was totally startled and shrieked really loudly and gave him a good whack before we both busted up laughing.