How do you practise Love & Compassion when you’re dealing with fear?

A student writes:

How can we practice the Apramanas when we are dealing with a lot of background fear and do not feel safe?  I know the Buddha taught the Metta Sutta as an antidote to fear. However I am recognising that I actually do not trust my experience as, the majority of the times that I get anywhere near letting go, I feel a visceral rebound because of a sense of threat. It seems hard to open to receive love and give love when there is this amount of fear.

Lama Shenpen responds:

Yes – fear is the opposite of feeling safe isn’t it?  If you do not feel safe it is difficult relax and if you do not feel relaxed everything starts to feel like hard work.  It is tough isn’t it?

What you are describing sounds like being in a constant state of hyper-alert – or at least the body is like that – it is in a habitual state of fight or flight mode.

Sometimes therapies of various kinds can help with this.  Whether they do or they don’t help the story is always the same from the Buddhist point of view.  As long as we haven’t realised our True Nature we will always be subject to fear and suffering.  Whether we are having an easy time at the moment or a hard time – the situation can change suddenly for any of us at any time.

That doesn’t stop us accessing the love and compassion of our Buddha Nature. It just means that we don’t necessarily have nice relaxed cosy feelings associated with that – which of course we all would like to have as much as possible, as soon as possible.

However love and compassion are not feelings that come and go. They are much deeper than that – they are our True Nature and with us all the time whatever we are feeling.

So no problem with practising the Apramanas.  Keep orientating yourself towards them and just keep going whether it is difficult or easy.  Working with difficulties are just as much the path as finding life easy – in fact they are more the path really! Everything can be used as the path once we get the hang of it – that is the message of Lojong mind training.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Lama Shenpen is spending the year teaching on Love & Compassion. Catch up on the teachings so far on our YouTube channel.

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