Archive for October, 2010
“Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide
From you, baby
Just can’t get away
No matter how I try
I know you’re no good for me
But free of you I’ll never be”
— Martha and the Vandellas
Recently, I attended a retreat led by a Tibetan Buddhist nun named Pema Chödrön entitled, Smile at Fear. The primary questions she raised for the participants during the weekend were, “What is it that scares you?” and “How will you work with that?” As we approach Halloween, these seem like very appropriate questions to pose.
During the weekend retreat, Pema Chödrön continued by inviting participants to consider the possibility that everything we do, the way we interact, the way we react out of habits, etc., is all related to not wanting to feel our fear – it all arises from our attempts to run away from fear. As human beings, we are stuck in an unconscious reaction of trying to run and hide from our fear.
However, there is another option. Awareness practices, such as mindfulness, are a method of being with yourself completely and taking the time to see the underlying challenges, including fear, with kindness and honesty. As Pema Chödrön explained, this path takes bravery to see yourself completely and not run away. If you touch into the fear rather than turn away, you find tenderness, vulnerability. While, instead, running away from fear causes a hardness; we become out of touch with ourselves and the world. Touching into the fear softens and opens us. It results in greater appreciation, gratitude and compassion. So the question really becomes, “How can I open to life?”1
What if we use Halloween as a metaphor for meeting the fear that resides within us and make the attempt to open more to life? For example, when we open the door to greet trick or treaters on Halloween, we meet ghouls and goblins, devils, ghosts, vampires, witches and skeletons in addition to the super heroes, cartoon and Disney characters. Yet we open the door and we do greet them, whatever they may represent or whoever they may be underneath. For all of the masks and costumes they are wearing, covering up who they really are, they aren’t all that scary when we actually meet them at the door.
Perhaps we can learn to greet our own inner fears in this manner? What if we were to open our doors to meet our fears? We might actually meet the disappointment that is hiding under the anger, or the sense of unworthiness hiding under the lethargy, or the pain hiding beneath the restlessness. All of these, too, are masks or costumes covering up our genuine nature.
Pema Chödrön told a related story about a friend of hers who was having a series of bad dreams. Pema’s friend spoke about being disturbed by dreams in which she was being chased by monsters. Pema asked her friend, merely out of curiosity, “What did these monsters look like?” Her friend paused and responded that she had never turned to look at them. This question, however, sunk into her psyche and when she had another similar dream, this time she turned around to look at the monsters that were chasing her. What she found was that the monsters she was fleeing from weren’t really very scary; instead they more like two-dimensional cartoon characters. After turning to see the “monsters” in this manner, the power they seemed to have over her diminished.
Here is a suggestion to help you face the monsters that reside within you rather than unconsciously running or hiding from them:
1. Slow down, maybe even stop, when you notice that you are reacting out of fear.
2. Instead of keeping busy or falling asleep or distracting yourself so that you can avoid what frightens you, can you instead, take a look at it, very gently and truly see it, acknowledge its presence?
3. Taking the effort to meet your discomfort and fear in this way, over time, although it isn’t likely to go away, its power over you may diminish. Out of this effort, you may gradually find more effective ways to respond to these challenges.
As Rumi says in his poem, The Guest House, “This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
“Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Someone’s knockin’ at the door
Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
Do me a favor,
Open the door and let ’em in”
— Paul McCartney
1. Smile at Fear: Finding a True Heart of Bravery, October 15, 16, and 17, 2010, a benefit for the Northern California Shambhala meditation centers and the Pema Chödrön Foundation