Thursday, July 28, 2011

It Is Not So

Go to the places that scare you. –advice from her teacher to the Tibetan yogini Machik Labdron

Compassion flows from an open heart. Everything that closes our hearts is rooted in fear. So in order to keep our hearts open, we must sometimes face our fear. We must sometimes go to the places that scare us.

Pema Chodron tells the story of a young warrior who had to battle fear. She did not want to, but her teacher insisted. On the day of battle, the warrior stood on one side, feeling small. Fear stood on the other side, looking big and wrathful. The warrior bowed to show respect and asked fear, “How do I defeat you?” Fear thanked her for showing respect and replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and get in your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

Sounds so simple. But when I am anxious or afraid, my instinct is to act, or rather to react. I am tempted to listen to fear and engage on fear’s terms.

In taekwondo, we have to spar. I’m not very good at it. I get anxious even though we are padded up like Pillsbury dough boys and we don’t use full contact, so I know I am not going to get injured. Still, my opponents are always younger and faster. When someone is throwing a kick at me, my instinct is to back away, but my reflexes are not what they used to be, so I usually lose the point. The teacher told me to move forward, toward my opponent rather than away. Surprisingly, the safest place is right up close.

So it is with fear. Move close to fear. In Dune, Paul recites the litany against fear. “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Sometimes I actually say this to myself. Silly, I know, but it calms me.

A Course in Miracles says that fear and love cannot coexist because fear is the mistaken perception of the absence of love. When we are afraid, we experience separation and loneliness. I find great comfort in this loving passage:

One gently walks with you Who answers all your fears with one merciful reply, “It is not so.”

So when fear is in my face talking fast, I take a deep breath and bow with respect as I look fear in the eye and softly say, “It is not so.”

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter
–Tao Te Ching


  1. Very inspiring. I will try to keep this in mind and use it when I face one of my fears. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a good post. Fear is so unnecessary because if you are living in the moment you are experiencing something that hasn't taken place yet.


  3. Beliza--I hope it helps. Not being afraid of fear, even for a moment, can open our hearts and free us from fear's control. Thanks for your comment.

    Manzanita--Exactly! Fear is future based and we can use up lots of energy fearing things that will never happen. And if they do...we can deal with it then. Thanks for pointing that out. And thanks for commenting.

  4. I am reading a fascinating and inspiring book about the experience of dying. Written by a hospice nurse, it is a collection of stories designed to help us lose our fear of dying by sharing the last few days of those who are about to end this life.

    Dying is probably the ultimate fear even though we all know we all will face it. This book is helping me process my mom's death and allow me to think more clearly about my own mortality.

    If you are interested, it is "Last Acts of Kindness" by J.R. Keyssar.

  5. I needed a boost from your blog today...and funny that you mention facing our fear. This of course is not even close to the deepth of what you expressed here, but it is a fear of mine and I was pushed by my daughter and grand-daughter's happy eager face begging me on to ride a ride at our Valley Fair amusement park of which I knew better. What is it about getting older (wiser?) and the fact that all those wild and crazy rides we rode as a child...make my tummy so sick today? The all time fear of that and of falling another thing about some heights that scare me...but I faced all those fears and did it, and now look I am thankfully (much better tummy) here today still! But I did really hear what you were saying today, and yes there are some other fear battles that I must conquer and the only way is to do it! Thanks once again for a day brightener!

  6. It was sparing that stopped my 'career' in taekwondo. I just could not do it.

    "One gently walks with you Who answers all your fears with one merciful reply, “It is not so.”

    Yes... this I copied and pasted... Thank you for sharing this meaningful post. I am learning to 'spar' now... moving past fear. Feeling good about it too!!

  7. So well expressed, Galen. I have written a poem about fear entitled "Fiction's Best Seller". Part of it states,

    "Yet...truly a coward until unmasked
    Stare its stare,
    Deflect its glare,
    Strip it bare."

    The complete poem is on my web site.


  8. It's hard sometimes to face our fears, but I know when I do, it's liberating. Nice post Galen!

  9. Bob--I have heard of that book before and I will definitely check it out. Thanks!

    Karen--You are brave! I'm not sure anyone could talk me onto those rides. Thanks for your kind words.

    restoring--I love taekwondo, but sparring is a challenge for me. I test for my black belt in November, so I have made an extra effort to go to more sparring classes and give it my best shot. Thanks for your comment.

    Danny--I will check out the poem. Fear is certainly at the back of our urge to control, so it fits right in with the topic of your blog. Thanks for commenting.

    Cynthia--It is liberating when we realize that many times, there was nothing so dire to fear. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story and integration of ideas - fear is such an interesting aspect of being whole - I just read an inspiring piece by Marianne Williamson about how fear can make one fat...
    lots of truth here

  11. Interesting concept :-)

    Have a nice weekend :-)


  12. Patricia--Fear and fat. Hmm, that's an interesting connection. Since Marianne Williamson is a student of A Course in Miracles, she must be connecting that somehow, too. Thanks for commenting.

    Ron--Thanks for your comment. Hope you have a nice weekend, too.

  13. Galen: Such a great post and such an important topic because we all need to know how to deal with and manage fear. I appreciate your advice in this article to take it head on. It really is something we have to do no matter how reluctant we may feel to actually do so. What you said is so true, we have to look fear in the eye and be willing to take it on. Great post.

  14. Galen, this post is great and provides an excellent antidote to fear. Just like sparring we have to get up close and face it.

  15. Hi Galen,

    I agree with you, we have to face our fears if not we will always be ruled by them. This is also a good way to open our hearts and feel compassion as you say.

    Often our fears are not as fearsome as they are in reality. Much of it is imagined and magnified in our heads. This is why dragging our fears into the light of day exposes them for what they really are. As you rightly point out, it is better to face our fears than to run away from them. I love that quote from Dune. ;)

    I think the key point when facing our fears is to be able to detach ourselves from it to see it for what it really is. When we are detached, we gain a certain level of objectivity that enables us to manage well.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  16. Hi Galen,
    I like that you need to "move close to your fear". Maybe get close enough to grab it, squeeze it then shake it, pound it 'till it is no longer a threat. Thank you.
    be good to yourself

  17. Sibyl--As you say, we need to look fear in the eye. Then we find out that fear is not so scary. Thanks for your comment.

    Justin--The sparring instruction to get up close to my opponent was a real eye opener for me. Thanks for commenting.

    Irving--Glad you like the Dune quote. I memorized that years ago when I first read the book. I had no idea how often I would use it! Your suggestion about detaching is great advice. Our "stories" make fear so much more fearsome. Thanks for commenting.

    David--And sometimes getting close to it allows us to make friends with fear, to extend compassion even to our worst nightmares. Thanks for your comment.

  18. Galen... I recognise those words. They are the words of the warrior. My yoga teacher recites them. I can't tell you the number of times they have given me strength when I didn't feel strong. Love yoga for that. Lovely post Galen... thank you so much :-)

  19. Jean--The words of a warrior. I like that! Thanks for commenting.

  20. "Everything that closes our hearts are rooted in fear" This is so true. I am seeing the many faces of fear....fear hides in very subtle places...But God is faithful to come and is not so....



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