Neti Parekh gives a dharma talk about fear, parenting and interbeing, reading from and commenting on one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books.
Neti 00:00:02 Good morning and good afternoon. Uh, just before I forget, in case I do forget next week, uh, Sarah McClellan will be giving a way seeking mind talk. She is a member in Santa Cruz and part of twining vines as well. She did Jukai, a while ago now, but I thought it would be good for her to give away seeking mind talk. So next week she’ll be giving the talk. So it’s good to support our sangha members when they tell the story, how they came to the Dharma. I hope you can all all attend. Uh, today I’d like to speak about fear and this came about, um, someone in the sangha sent me a chapter from a book called fear by Thich Nhat Hanh. And the chapter is called ‘a time before’, and he speaks about fear in a way I haven’t heard before. So I thought it was very beautiful.
Neti 00:01:09 So I’ll read from that today and make comments along the way. So reading from Thich Nhat Hanh here, “many of us don’t remember this, but a long time ago, we lived inside our mother’s wombs. We were tiny living human beings. There were two hearts inside our mother’s body, her own heart and our heart. During this time, your mother did everything for you. She breathed for you, ate for you, drank for you. You were linked to her through your umbilical cord, oxygen and food came to you through the umbilical cord and you were safe and content inside your mother. You were never too hard or too cold. You were very comfortable. You rested on a soft cushion made of water. In China and Vietnam we call the womb, the palace of the child. You spent about nine months in the palace. ”
Neti 00:02:14 “The nine months you spent in the womb were some of the most pleasant times of your life. Then the day of your birth arrived, everything felt different around you. And you were thrust into a new environment. You felt cold and hungry for the first time. Sounds were too loud. Lights were too bright, but the first time we felt afraid. This is the original fear inside the palace of the child. You didn’t need to use your own lungs, but at the moment of your birth, someone cut the umbilical cord and you were no longer physically joined with your mother. Your mother could no longer breathe for you. You had to learn how to breathe on your own for the first time. ”
Neti 00:03:08 “If you couldn’t breathe on your own, you would die. Birth was an extremely precarious time. You were pushed out of the palace and you encountered suffering. You tried to inhale, but it was difficult. There was some liquid in your lungs and to breathe in, you had to first push out that liquid. We were born. And with that birth, our fear was born along with the desire to survive. This is the original desire.” So we don’t talk this way in Zen very often, speaking so intimately about the body and about babies and umbilical cords. But I think it is a beautiful thing to reflect on, a delicate thing to reflect on, that shift from being in the security of the womb, to being outside and having had three children myself. I was fortunate enough to have been able to home birth them all and have kind of say over how things happened.
Neti 00:04:28 One one of the things I realized in my reading during all of those times was how often in modern society, we cut the umbilical cord very, very quickly. The baby is born and, uh, the umbilical cord’s still providing oxygenated blood to the baby, for quite a long time. I can’t remember how many minutes it is, but it’s sort of something like 10 or 15 minutes. It’s quite a long time. And in many cultures before modern medicine, that cord was not cut until quite a bit later, the baby would be born and not until it had latched onto the mother’s breast, until it had reconnected with the mother in a new way. And oxygen was still flowing through the cord. And what actually happens is when the baby latches to the breast, a message is sent to the placenta to say, you are no longer needed.
Neti 00:05:32 And then the placenta detaches from the inside of the womb and the oxygenated blood stops flowing into the baby. So there’s this natural order of things that the baby is supposed to reconnect and be firmly attached again to the mother before the umbilical court is severed, but that’s not how it’s done often in modern medic medical times for all the various reasons that that is so, and I think in a way it is, uh, [emblematic] of a culture that values independence over interdependence, that as soon as the baby comes out, boom – cut that cord, separate it from the mother, I think there is a trend now back towards waiting a little longer, which is good in, in Western countries.
Neti 00:06:39 So reading again from Thich Nhat Hanh “as infants, each of us knew that to survive, we had to get someone to take care of us. Even after our umbilical cord was cut, we still had to rely entirely on adults to survive. When you depend on someone or something else to survive, it means there is a link, a kind of, um, invisible umbilical cord, that is still there between you and them. When we grow up our original fear and original desire still there, although we know we are no longer babies, we still feel that we cannot, we still fear that we cannot survive, that no one will take care of us. Every desire we will have in our lives has its root in this original, fundamental desire to survive.
Neti 00:07:41 Everyone is afraid sometimes. We fear loneliness, being abandoned, growing old, dying, and being sick among many other things. Sometimes we may, feel fear without knowing exactly why if we practice looking deeply, we see that this fear is the result of that original fear, from the time we were newborns, helpless and unable to do anything for ourselves, even though we have grown into adults that original fear and original desire are both still alive. Our desire to have a partner is in part a continuation of our desire for someone to take care of us. And I think part of our task as we mature, is to recognize how we do need to be taken care of and to look after that and make sure that our needs are taken care of, but also to slightly shift the compass slightly shift toward putting our attention towards caring for others. You know, in a way you could say shifting from the baby to the mother slowly shifting into the role of being the one that cares for rather than the one that is cared, cared for.
Neti 00:09:20 It’s always going to be both. But I do think it’s a sign of, uh, a kind of a maturity where we can shift our attention more toward providing that umbilical link for others and being a little less concerned about that umbilical link for ourself. Continuing reading again, “for most of us, our original fear continues in some form. Sometimes we might feel scared of being alone. We may feel that alone. I can’t make it. I have to have somebody. This is a continuation of our original fear. If we look deeply, however, we will find that we have the capacity to calm our fear and find our own happiness.” And I was thinking a little about loneliness and sometimes just to share, sometimes I miss my son who lives in America. I miss him a lot. Cause he and I are very, very close. Kind of like a lot of stories you hear of single mothers and sons having a very close bond where the son really respects and appreciates that the mother raised them and the mother really appreciates and respects the way their child conducts their life. So sometimes I miss him, we talk so naturally and easily together, and now we can only do that, uh, virtually, we don’t get to do it in person, but rather than letting that turn into a fear that could, that could start to kind of constrict or can be constricting.
Neti 00:11:13 I try just to be gentle with it and go aren’t I lucky to have someone to miss so much, you know, what a beautiful thing, and to be kind to the feeling of melancholy itself, to be friendly with that little melancholy feeling of missing him, oh, hello, melancholy friend, you’ve come to visit me. So we can sort of transform something as it tips towards fear. We can, we can gently kind of embrace it so that it doesn’t, uh, escalate into something then becomes difficult to manage. This next section is why I particularly love this chapter. “We have to look deeply to identify the original primal fear and desire that are behind so many of our behaviors.
Neti 00:12:12 Every one of the fears and desires that you have today is continuation of your original fear and desire. One day I was walking and I felt something like an umbilical cord linking me to the sun in the sky. I saw very clearly that if the sun was not there, I would die right away. Then I saw an umbilical cord linking me to the river. I knew that if the river wasn’t there, I would also die. Cause there would be no water for me to drink. And I saw an umbilical cord linking me to the forest. The trees in the forests forest were creating oxygen for me to breathe, without the forest, I would die. And I saw an umbilical cord linking me to the farmer who grows the vegetables, the wheat, the rice that I cook to eat.
Neti 00:13:10 When you practice meditation, you begin to see things that other peoples do not other people do not see. Although you don’t see all these umbilical chords, they are there linking you to your mother, your father, the farmer, the son, the river, the forest, and so on. Meditation can include visualization, if you want to draw a picture of yourself with these many umbilical chords, you would soon discover that there are not only five or 10, but maybe hundreds or thousands of them and you are linked to them all.” So again, I think this is a rather unusual image in Zen to think of umbilical chords, linking us to things, but it’s also very poetic and beautiful to think of it that way.
Neti 00:14:07 Cause it is actually our original experience in the womb. Nobody, nobody doesn’t get born that way, whether it’s caesarean section or natural birth, it’s still there’s the umbilical cord. So we can look out and, uh, feel that same appreciation, interdependence, that opposite of loneliness. That in fact, deep, deep connectedness that we have with that would alleviate fears that we may have. Cause fear almost almost by definition is a, a constriction around the individual self. Although I do think we can feel fear for others. We can feel fear on their behalf, which I’m gonna speak about in a moment, but fear tends to isolate us. So this image of the umbilical cord, I think can be very helpful to us to remind us that we, not, that we are not alone, even if it might feel that way and that whatever fears we have, there’s support out there for us, we can reach out, get that umbilical cord. We can go along it to whatever’s at the other end and get support.
Neti 00:15:44 And I think part of that process of being friendly towards our fear is to not focus so much on the content of the thought itself, but more on the feeling of the fear and think of, and to think of that feeling as it arises as, as a friend that wants attention, this friend that wants attention, this fear is a arisen where we just, we can be friendly towards it, rather than getting too involved in all the details of the actual fear. And that also becomes almost like a companion right there. We had this companion, a melancholy companion, a lonely companion, a scared companion.
Neti 00:16:36 And another thought that I had about, uh, raising children and modern society is that we tend to live in modern society in enclosed environments that are not very, they don’t have a lot of sentient life in them. They have a lot of objects that aren’t, that are not alive. They have their own kind of aliveness, but it’s not like the world outside of our homes or the world outside of buildings. And when I raised my older children, we were living on a permaculture farm, off the grid, and they spent their daytime mostly outdoors, I’d put a blanket out under a tree and they would lie there and see the dappled sunlight coming through the leaves. And that, that was like, you know, we tend to have a crib with the mobile above it that that turns around and that that’s what entertains a child, uh, a lot of the time, but this I think is a much more, uh, wholesome way to have just the dabbled sunlight. I remember seeing my daughter lying there and looking at the sun, moving between the branches, you know, the broken up light and how it just, she was captivated by it. And then a leaf would fall and would fiddle with it. And chicken might come. We had chickens and geese and donkey and goats and the usual sorts of farm animals.
Neti 00:18:10 And they would come up to her and, you know, once they were older, they would run around and chase them. And they interacted in the vegetable garden, picking peas and tomatoes and beans, little cucumbers, little baby cucumbers, and chewing on them. So they were interacting like the umbilical chords were more obvious with living beings, but, uh, we tend probably most of us didn’t get raised that way. So a lot of ways I think we need just step out the door more often we just need to step out the door, where there’s other life. I wanted to share a dream I had last night, because there were three fears in the dream. And I thought they, it was kind of interesting. Obviously I had the dream in some part cause of today’s talk. So in the dream, uh, a senior teacher and I were leading a sesshin, a retreat, and during one of the breaks, we needed to go move a car that needed to be moved for some reason.
Neti 00:19:22 So off we went and we had our robes on and when we got to the car, the, the area was completely flooded. And as many of you know, we’ve had these huge floods in Australia. So that, that came through in the dream. So the car was floating in the water and this other teacher and I had to kind of get into the water and to steer the car and find a spot for it. So we did do that, but that took some time. And I suspected that I was not gonna get back to the Zendo until right on the dot of the time for sitting or maybe even a few minutes late <laugh>. So the first fear in the dream was a sympathetic fear in the dream. I was thinking my son members know that I’m very punctual. So if I get there a little bit late, they’ll worry, you know, they’ll be slightly confused and worried. And so I had this sympathetic fear for them.
Neti 00:20:18 And then also in the dream, a senior student had given the Dharma talk in the morning, but hadn’t finished and I’d suggested, well, you could also finish and give a Dharma talk in the afternoon so that you can finish the talk. But while I was out with this senior teacher, he didn’t know that we had made this arrangement. And he said to me, “I’d love to give the talk this afternoon” and cause of the appropriateness of, of our relationship. I said, of course that be wonderful. Thank you. So then the second fear was I’m going to get back to the Zendo just on time or even late and need to whisper to the senior student that they won’t be able to give their talk. And so then I had another sympathetic fear that they might feel slightly embarrassed and a little, also a little confused that there was a last minute schedule change, a little disappointment.
Neti 00:21:16 And then the last fear that happened in the dream was that in the process of moving that car with my robes on my Zagu, my bowing mat, had got completely wet. And when, when the Doshi, the priest folds out the bowing mat in the middle of the Zendo, it unfolds in a particular way and it gets folded in a particular way. And, and the fabric develops a memory. Like I, you can see if you could, I dunno if you can see there’s there in the camera, but it folds in the Zago that are, um, the fabric remembers the fold and it makes it easier to unfold and fold it up. Cause it’s already there in the fabric. So my Zago was completely wet and I couldn’t remember how to fold it cause there were no fold marks. And so I just went, I’ll just have to fold it somehow. So I folded it the way one would fold a towel, which I knew was not the correct way, but nevertheless, that’s what I did. <laugh> so then the third fear in the dream was just a slightly more personal one, a sense of, oh, I’m gonna bow on a Zendo and I won’t be able to follow the proper form. I’m going to pull out this wet Zagu and have to kind of undo it in a slightly awkward way. So a slight feeling of possible embarrassment that I wouldn’t follow the form very well.
Neti 00:22:40 But the reason I’m sharing this dream with you is two, two reasons. One just that the dream gave examples of sympathetic fear to others that we, we can fear fear on other people’s behalf. And many people don’t realize that a lot of people who have post traumatic stress actually have post-traumatic stress, not cause of traumas that happen to them cause of traumas, traumas that they witness or traumas that they cause like soldiers often have PTSD because of the traumas that they cause. So there’s an empathic, it’s an empathic fear. So in the dream there was some of those. And then the other reason to mention it is even in the dream itself, I soothed myself in the dream. I said to myself in the dream, the sangha members will be fine. Will only be a few minutes late. Even if they’re confused, it will only be for a few minutes. So I kind of like diminish the fear for myself and the senior sangha member who was going to give a talk and might have felt a, a little disappointed. I was able to say to myself in the dream, that’ll also be okay, it’s not a big disappointment. We’ll we’ll find a solution later.
Neti 00:23:56 And with the third fear about the embarrassment with the wet Zagu, I was able to say, it’s fine. We kind of like each other being faulty. It’s kind of nice. Don’t worry about it. So our Dharma practice can continue into our dream life, just in case you’ve never thought of that as a, as a possibility, we practice during the day in our conscious, during the day consciously. But when we continue to practice, it starts to flow into our dream world and we practice in our dreams. So the last thing I’d like to mention is, uh, every day we chant the heart suture and the word fear is in our heart suture, it says “with nothing to attain a bodhisattva lives by prajna paramita and thus the mind is without hindrance, without hindrance, there is no fear.” That’s in our chanting that we do in the morning: without hindrance, there is no fear.
Neti 00:25:06 What is the primary hindrance? A belief in a separate self, a belief in a self that’s not connected by umbilical chords infinitely across the universe, the self that’s isolated. And that goes on to say “far beyond all inverted views, one realizes Nirvana”, so that the primary inverted view is to feel that you are a separate being. And that’s why I really like this sense that at birth there shouldn’t, you know, ideally there should not be that moment of separation. The child should come out latch to the mother and only then have the cord cut. And that’s really how life really is. It’s never, there’s never any moment of separation. It’s always an interdependent life every single moment. So, uh, I want to thank Thich Nhat Hanh for such a beautiful chapter about fear, such an unusual chapter and open the space up for any questions or comments from anyone in the Zendo or on zoom.
Myvanwy 00:26:55 Um, you said you were speaking about how, as you mature, you, you begin to turn outwards and you you’re taking on the role of, of the caregiver. Um, and I was thinking about how it’s not so much that, um, you stop being the one cared for, but that you are able to internalize that care.
Neti 00:27:23 Oh yeah.
Myvanwy 00:27:25 Um, but rather than needing a parent figure, you become that for yourself. Um, and if you don’t internalize that well, and you take on the role of caregiver, you can end up with issues because you are sort of, there, there isn’t something filling that gap left behind by not being cared for by other and other person as much. Um, and I find that in my practice that comes up a lot, this remembering that, um, all beings includes myself, that, you know, that I have to remember that it’s not, it’s not completely turning outwards. Um, that there’s that responsibility for myself and that responsibility, if I don’t fulfill that for myself, I can’t fulfill that for others. Um, I was wondering if you speak to that.
Neti 00:28:23 Yeah. Well, I think you’ve think you’ve said it very well. That it’s important that we care for ourselves. Cause certainly we can’t care for others if we don’t care for ourselves. Well, we won’t do a good job. It just won’t work very well. It’ll probably have benefits, but it’ll also have a little, it’ll probably be a little bit of harm mixed in with it. Yeah. So we need to be like our own parent, as you say, that’s, that’s actually been very generous to others to be a good parent, to that’s kindness to the world for us care. (She can’t seem to unmute. Alex is just seeing if he can unmute you.)
Sara 00:29:31 OK, that worked. This week was really hard because I’m sure all of you know, about all the kids and the teachers that were killed in Texas. And like on Wednesday morning I went to the Zendo and I saw Patrick and I think I was just bottling all that up and I just started crying and then we went and we sat, I, I was there cause I was a doan. And then after the service we all got in a circle and we were all crying together. And, and then that night at the talk Patrick talked about, um, you know, we talked about that together, about that experience and what was hap, what had happened and, you know, um, but I think what, how I felt was just really raw and really aware of just really intense suffering that’s happening all the time, all over the place, like the suffering that the planet’s experiencing, that animals are experiencing the suffering that the happened at the school.
Sara 00:30:33 And you know what I mean? It’s, it’s like constant, it’s very present suffering and Ukraine and people starving in places. And, and then I feel like, well, we are interconnected and, but there’s just so much suffering. What can we do? I just feel, um, I just felt helpless. And so I was wondering, I just talked to a friend about that actually right before this talk, who I was walking with. And I, I guess now that’s why it came to my mind. So I was wondering if any, what are your strategies, anyone here, on how you deal with the constant suffering and our connection to it?
Neti 00:31:21 I’d like to say, just listening to you speak is, um, just how harmful violence is obviously for all sorts of reasons, but because it generates fear and because fear generates isolation, fear generates often a sense of separateness and I, it is so harmful to generate fear in others, a terribly harmful thing. And what happens with these continuing school shootings is generates vast fear that ripples across, you know, across the whole nation in America, people too, in other people. Around this sense of maybe feeling a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering, a very, very valuable thing to contemplate is the mere injustice injustices in its to in the world. It’s not easy to sit with the fact that there is suffering and that is completely unfair. Like you can’t justify it in any way, it’s unfair, but it is so. So contemplating fact, the reality of the relentlessness of suffering, without forgetting vast amounts of beautiful, joyful, wonderful things as well, but nevertheless of great deal, if we can come to some kind of acceptance of the magnitude of it all, we are then actually freed up to not be overwhelmed.
Neti 00:33:06 And instead just to respond in whatever way we can respond given ourselves. And we can just do that wholeheartedly. I know I already know enough about you Sara to know the things you already do. You do a lot of good deeds in the world, and that is enough, completely enough, to do the good deeds that you do. And other people do the good deeds that they do and all these good deeds are connected to each other. These umbilical chords connecting everything. It’s, it’s even a little, um, egocentric to feel that we have to somehow be a major savior.
Neti 00:33:46 It’s better not to think that way, better to do just whatever is really appropriate in front of you, to relieve the suffering of the world and trust that others are doing that as well. And collectively we, we are doing what we can. It’s not an easy thing to contemplate the magnitude of injustice, but it is worthwhile to contemplate it without resistance so that we don’t get overwhelmed. It’s getting overwhelmed is not useful to anyone just going back to Myvanwy’s comment about self care. It’s not good self care to get overwhelmed. And that’s the way that I, I don’t get overwhelmed. It’s been contemplating the fact of injustice that has allowed me to accept it and then do what I can. So there may be other other methods or other wisdom teachings, but I have found that one to be very, very effective. Thank you for, for your caring. And, and I also think it’s definitely good to cry, to access the sadness. The sadness is not the same as depression. Sadness is great! Great! It’s appropriate to be sad about the terrible thing. It’s much better to be sad than scared. It’s nice to hear. I can see you all on the, on the porch of the back of Santa Cruz Zen Center. Imagine you there, shedding tears,
Myvanwy 00:35:43 I remember a story. Um, you might it, it’s about, um, one of the Nun’s was, but she, um, there’s this story about her and her granddaughter died and she was crying, and one of the monks came up to her and said, aren’t you, aren’t you supposed to be a great practitioner? Why aren’t you, um, you know, making offerings, doing practice, why are you crying? [too quiet], um, and it’s quite a powerful story. It’s a story of quite a well established old Zen lady of, and that exactly [too quiet]. And also made me think of how many stories about women ancestors are like this, a direct meeting and a very gentle way. And there’s that book, uh, red thread Zen.
Neti 00:37:34 Just in case people didn’t hear all of that, Myvanwy was suggesting a book called ‘Red Thread Zen’ by Susan Murphy speaks to the emotional and the benefit and that it’s perfectly fine for practitioners, senior practitioners to shed tears. Any last comment? Oh yes. Okay. Announcements. I did announce the beginning and I’ll just do it again that Sara who’s now here on the screen will be giving the talk next week, a way seeking mind talk. And also we are now going to have Tuesday evenings, uh, available on zoom as well as in the Zendo. So 6:30 to 7:30, 66: will begin sitting and do a 40 minute sit rather than a 30 minute. And then then a 20 minute service. Good opportunity to see how a service, a full service is done in zoom. Thank you everyone, participating our closing chant and three bows.