Intimacy with Fear

My dear friend and colleague Stephen Levine died earlier this year. Stephen was a wonderful writer and meditation teacher, but he is primarily remembered as the pioneer who brought conscious dying to America. This happened in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s, a time when people spoke very little about death and certainly not about conscious dying.

Stephen saw clearly that our encounter with death was fundamentally a spiritual process and that our denial and fear of death was at the root of much of our individual and collective fear of being fully alive. All fear is fear of death, fear that makes it impossible for us to experience our wholeness; leaving us only capable of identifying with that which is separate and will eventually die.

Most of us don’t become intimate in our relationship with death until we are forced to. Someone close to us dies. We receive the diagnosis of a critical illness. A relationship ends. One of my first meditation teachers said that until we become intimate with death, our spiritual practice will have the quality of us being a dilettante. Yet there is so much momentum, so much conditioning from very early in our lives, behind our retreat into the illusion of separateness, into the belief that who we fundamentally are will die. Stephen took the basic principles from contemplative and devotional practice and encouraged countless people to honesly examine and have compassion for this fear of death that so immediately causes us to shrink from life itself.

We’ve all had the experience that sometimes touching another human being with love is almost more than we can bear. How seldom are we able to feel safe with this level of vulnerability and connectedness. Until we become intimate with our deepest fear, the feeling that we are not safe and need to protect ourselves, we will remain caught in separateness. We assume this painful distance from one another is just the human condition.

Stephen was incredibly skillful in presenting a way to heal our deepest fear and thus realize that our true nature does not die. Can we mercifully move into that fear? Can the very presence of the fear inspire us to open our hearts more, to trust even our vulnerability, rather than automatically resist and contract? The most alive and awake people I’ve ever met are those who have become deeply intimate with death. If I truly know I’m going to die and that I don’t know when, that it might even be before I finish writing this article, how can I not be intimate with you in this very moment?

All that I’ve said also extends to our collective fear. The Clinton-Trump election will happen before this newsletter is distributed. The divisions being revealed in our country will not be healed anytime soon. They will only be healed by more and more people finding the clarity and the courage to go beyond fear-based reactions to the “other side.” More than we can imagine depends on each of us.

— Dale Borglum
Executive Director