I finished reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Fear: Essential Wisdom For Getting Through the Storm yesterday. For those who are unfamiliar with hi, Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk/teacher/thinker, who has written many books, and cultivated an enormous following because of his ability to explain, nurture, and philosophize Buddhist thought. His book Fear is about not just fear, but the strong negative emotions that can stem from a basic existential fear – anxiety, jealousy, anger, violence.
I chose to read it because of my anxiety and depression issues. I’m looking for anything at all that might help. What I like about this book is that Hanh doesn’t blame people for their feelings – they aren’t a sin, they aren’t a moral weakness, they are normal, human. He also demonstrates at least some basic understanding of mental illnesses that can cause these negative feelings for no apparent reason at all. Instead of judging, he offers ways to face, accept, and deal with these feelings the way a Buddhist does. He advocates not denying but facing and embracing our emotions, accepting them and understanding their sources, and letting them pass through us. (I keeping thinking of the Litany Against Fear from the SF book Dune). We do this through meditation, self-awareness, what Buddhists call “mindfulness,” but also through love and compassion for ourselves and others.
It is not a quick fix. And I don’t know for sure if I can follow his suggestions wholly and faithfully. For just one example, it is much easier to love others than to love myself, but Buddhists hold that you must first learn to love and accept yourself before you can truly love and accept others. Still, Hanh’s tone is so calm and accepting and nonjudgemental, and his interpretation of Buddhist thought is so no-nonsense and genuine, that I think it will be worth a try. I was, after all, already trying to meditate, and I was already interested in and reading about Buddhism in general, in hopes of finding some kind of spiritual connection, some kind of peace. I think this book gave me a small glimpse of what that connection could look like for me.
Of course, I was raised Catholic, and despite being non-practicing for twelve years I cling stubbornly to that identity and those traditions. So, next I’m reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Living Buddha, Living Christ, which looks at the common teachings, attitudes, and feelings of the two figures and their religions.
I am trying so hard to find some balance, some peace and hope. All I can do is hope this path helps.