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For all the horror and trauma that terrorism creates, its lasting power resides in the largely irrational fear we create and then magnify with our minds. Today, statistics show that airplanes are twenty-two times safer than automobiles, yet many people have stopped flying because of the fear that the September 11 attacks engendered. The anthrax scare has caused a widespread reluctance to handle mail, yet only five deaths have resulted from anthrax letters among 30 billion pieces delivered nationwide. We are afraid of death by biological attacks, yet in America some 20,000 people die of the flu each year, and only half of those most at risk get vaccinated. Clearly, the fear of terrorism will not be appeased by providing information, rationalizations, or statistics. It resides in a deep aspect of our consciousness. In order to work with it, we need to understand how it develops.
The force of the recent events has created a series of reactions that many of us are going through. The first is a numbness precipitated by the trauma to our bodies and minds. At this stage, all we can do is sit with the numbness until we’re ready to open up and let our feelings arise. When they do, we need to allow them to come up and not suppress them. Because these feelings will be powerful, we may be able to deal with them only briefly. That’s okay. We then need to consciously let them go and return to the center of our being, to our still point. After some time, we can begin to work with our feelings again. Depending on the intensity of the trauma, we may need to repeat this process over months or even years.
Some people may have to deal with anger. When we’re overwhelmed, an alternative to going numb is to become angry. We set up a target to deflect our feelings away from ourselves, thus avoiding any responsibility for them. Yet, like fear, we create anger by a series of thoughts that result in a particular emotional and physiological state. Anger doesn’t just happen to us. If we’re able to catch an angry thought as it’s budding, we can let it go. The same is true of despair or hopelessness. And when letting go is too difficult, a good medicine for dealing with these emotions is to reach out and help others, healing them and ourselves.
This is not an easy process to go through. The strength to engage it arises out of our meditation practice, our vows to awaken, our commitment to wisdom and compassion, and our spiritual fearlessness.
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