Aug 7, 2021
Martin Goodson

Jumping at one’s own shadow!

Stories Retold

When the imagination becomes gripped by powerful emotions, we can find ourselves lost in fears and worries that may not be well founded.

Coloured Shadow


Sydforce, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a story that once when the Buddha was entering a great city, he met the disease cholera leaving.  He asked cholera how many people had died in the city since the disease had arrived?  Cholera answered 1,000.  The Buddha asked him how many died as a direct result of cholera.  The disease replied 100 and added that the rest had died from fear.

The human imagination is a wonderful function, all works of art, stories, poetry designs, ideas and scientific discoveries can trace their origins back to its activity.  And yet, when gripped by an emotion such as fear, anger or a powerful craving, it becomes a slave to the blindness of the passions.

When I was younger I used to enjoy acting in school plays and yet before going on I would often be gripped by a fear that my mind might go blank on stage.  This sort of anxiety is not uncommon when I fear that I may lose face.  Suprisingly, I never did forget, and yet each time before I went on the same darksome imaginings would arise.  Although I knew they were just imaginings, the strength of the feeling made them seem real and every so often I would become absorbed into a waking nightmare where I was on-stage with my mouth flapping and nothing coming out.  At such times I had to give myself a severe ‘talking to’ and pull myself together.  Eventually, having become used to this reaction I began to expect it and learned to accept it to some degree.  It came to the point where it was possible to recognise that these were not ‘real’ but were just imaginings.  When seen like this it became much easier to cope with the feeling behind, that powered up the thoughts and imaginings.  

How much time do we spend worrying over situations that never materialise?  How difficult it is to let go of these worries and just get on with what is being done in the moment.  The Buddha said that the reason it is so difficult to let-go is because behind it I fear either not getting something that I want or conversely being brought into contact with something I don’t like.  In fact he said this feeling of ‘I’ arises when the passions are aroused and at other times mysteriously ‘I’ becomes forgotten.  Thus he said this ‘I’ is a delusion, a product of the passions playing about with the imagination.  His path is to realise this and with that realisation to be free of the fear that underpins this whole ‘I’ complex.

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