If your fears are never
faced and transformed,
they will always haunt you.
On the second night in the small solo retreat room, one of the most nerve-racking events was experienced… At an ungodly hour, the winds started to howl, as heavy rain followed. Within near pitch darkness, what seemed like a rattling door was heard, that repeatedly slammed itself. As the winds became fiercer, so did the slamming become increasingly violent. It was so loud that it echoed throughout the room, sending terrifying vibrations via the wooden floor, up to the bed, making it impossible to sleep off.
What the hell is going on? Why is no one checking that ‘bloody’ door? It is definitely not my always latched one. I was in but a room along a stretch. It was so horrendously loud, that everyone else must be hearing it too. If so, why isn’t someone closing it properly? As it slammed on, it became deafeningly sharp with the wailing winds. I had never been in a haunted house before, but this must be what it feels like — a horror movie’s climax scene. With the cold weather, I was already snug under a warm duvet, thankful for its sense of ‘refuge’, as I waited for the slamming storm to end.
But there was no sign of it slowing down. As a key disciplinary rule was to never leave the room without a sufficiently sound reason (pun intended?), leaving to investigate was out of the question. Unable to sleep anyway, I decided to crawl out of bed, to at least peer out the front and back windows, to sneak peeks at what could be going on, if I could at all. Pulling away the front curtain, there was one seen outside scurrying about to close any door. As I approached the back window after, I got another great shock…
There it was… What causing the slamming was… its wood-framed window, against its wooden frame. Turned out that it was not latched properly by the previous retreatant, while I assumed it was, without taking a closer look before. (Or did the latch get loose?) The mystery was finally solved. Others were probably wondering about the slamming too. Why was the clear and present slamming not addressed by others? Because it was a back window, unseen by most, but mostly because it was my window, that only I would and should notice. It was my direct responsibility, not anyone else’s.
Fear instantly became a mix of great shame with amused relief. The scare was an accidental self-scare, karmically induced with unmindfulness and delusion. Years after this experience, another important lesson surfaced while recounting it. We create the kind of experiences we have with the characters that we have. The ‘haunted’ room was only as ‘haunted’ as me letting unfounded fears haunt me. If I was not brave enough to investigate, the haunting would have continued. Even if the storm subsided that night, the slamming could recur on another night, even if in another room.
This is how senseless ‘rebirth’ can be liberated from, with objective confrontation, to see things as they are; not as thought. Before we point fingers at imagined external demons, we should reflect inwards, to discern if that which perpetuates our suffering arises from our inner demons. Are our lives messy because the world is? Or due to our convoluted minds? Even if it is others’ faults to some extent, our experiencing of them is karmic too, and how they are experienced is due to our attitudes. There should always be self-reflection before any rationalisation, before pushing responsibilities to invisible ‘others’… who might not be there… at all.
Paradoxically, you continue
to attract what you fear
by retaining aversion to it.
– By Wan Shengjie (first contributed and featured here)