Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dance of Fear

If we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher! –The Dalai Lama

I was involved in a situation a few days ago that I have been deeply reflecting on since. The details of the situation are not important. My reaction to the details is.

What happened is that someone behaved in a way that triggered fear in me. The fear in turn manifested as anger. Fear often does this because we don’t like to experience the vulnerability of fear, so we opt for the delusion of power in anger. My anger manifested in an attempt to control what I could not control – someone else.

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.”

Looking back at my own behavior, I see that I was doing exactly what fear was telling me to do. So was the other person. We were engaged in a dance of fear, whirling and jumping like puppets, with fear as the puppet master.

At the time, of course, I did not see this. What I saw was my own story that the other person was doing something wrong, creating a problem that I, in my righteous fury, was going to correct. In fact, my fury only served to add fuel to the fire. The dance accelerated. I was in a vortex of chaos.

Later, in the safety of my own home, I was teary and trembling. I could feel the effects of the tsunami of adrenaline that my terror had pumped into my body. I began to reflect on my own behavior. The first thoughts that came to me were judgmental. What’s wrong with me? What good is all my inner work if, in the heat of the moment, my training fails and I react in fear? How can I write about and teach the 10 Steps if I am such a poor model of applying them?

Then I saw what I was doing, but I didn’t change course. Wow, look at how judgmental I’m being against myself. I can’t even feel compassion for myself or forgive myself. I’m such a fraud. I can’t follow any of the steps when it really counts. What a loser. I might as well just give it all up.

Talk about a meltdown. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, inadequate, unworthy, hopeless. I went to one of my spiritual teachers and began to “confess.” I opined that if I had just paused to take a belly breath before reacting, I would have behaved differently and the outcome of the situation would have been so much better.

He listened quietly, and then said gently, “Who do you think you are? You are talking about your anger, your fear, your power to affect the course of events. Why is all this ‘you’? There is just fear. There is just anger. How do you know if it is good or bad? It was there and now it’s gone. Now you are here. This is where your practice is.”

My body relaxed. My mind stopped spinning its looping tale. Oh.

Compassion was released. And forgiveness. I thought about the other person and how terrified and cornered he must have felt himself, exactly the way I felt. He wasn’t my enemy. He was my brother.

I realized that indeed, this is where my practice is. On the razor’s edge. Not where I feel comfortable about my “serenity skills,” but rather where I have an opportunity to expand, to reach further, to keep my heart open when fear is up close in my face, talking fast.

Who knows if what happened was good or bad? Unpleasant, yes. Scary, yes. But I’ve learned more than I knew before. In an odd way, I’m humbly grateful for the experience.

Perhaps next time, I’ll pause and take a breath.

You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good. –Genesis 50:20

related posts: It Is Not So; Breathing Like a Baby; Which Wolf are You going to Feed?

63 comments:

  1. Bravo, Galen! Wonderful story of empowerment!!

    I'd like to share this at:
    https://www.facebook.com/DangerousLinda

    Thank YOU!

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    1. Linda, This was a hard post for me to write. Your kind and encouraging words really mean so much to me. Thank you, and thank you for sharing the link.

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  2. I like how your post builds into an affirmation, somehow. Every event in life brings lessons, as I have found out. Sometimes it easy to get overwhelmed, nervous and a little scared. It is good to experience all these and then rise from the situation. After all, change is the most constant thing. :-) Fear is the key to conquer. Lovely post, Galen

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    1. Vidya, Change is the most constant thing indeed. I'm grateful that something good has emerged from such difficult situation. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Indeed ... I am going to read and read and read this a lot! Thanks ... I needed this

    You never cease to amaze me, Galen

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    1. Carolyn, Your comments never cease to delight me! Thank you!

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  4. Beautiful post, Galen. I have often sen where fear is disguised as anger, and have experienced it, also, of course. I like the idea of practicing "on the razor's edge." It's easy to believe we're enlightened when we're never challenged. I'm reminded of a quote about learning to love, and if you're up to the challenge, learning to love family. I paraphrase, but I've been challenged by this lately and I can't say I passed with flying colors. I hope I remember to choose peace before responding next time. There will be many more opportunities for practice, it seems.

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    1. Teresa, Someone said if you think you're enlightened, just go spend a weekend with your family. When we succumb to fear, all we can do then is reflect and learn. I'm sure I will have many more opportunities, as you say, to practice. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Galen, your courage is humbling - I'm so grateful you had the courage to share so openly about this. Thank you! We do our best to be compassionate towards others yet can be so hard on ourselves.

    I sometimes get very frustrated, overwhelmed and impatient with myself when I realize how much I have to learn on my spiritual path... yet, I suppose my growth is happening exactly as it's meant to.

    Thank you for your wonderful post and reminding us that even those well into their inner work can experience vulnerability and emerge all the stronger for it.

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    1. Well, it was a humbling experience, to be sure. Thanks for your kind words.

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  6. Wow! What an encounter! Many times, Galen, I have caught myself not "practicing what I preach" in the devotions I write. One that struck me today - I was worrying about a situation, so much so, I could feel a queasiness in my stomach. Then, I recalled the times I've written about taking all our burdens and troubles to the Lord. It really and truly helped when I did so in prayer.
    But, see? Just as your fear was a trigger for anger, my worry was a trigger for fear. We are all works in progress, learning as we go.
    Thanks so much for your candidness in sharing this experience.
    Blessings to you!

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    1. Martha, We are works in progress indeed. Thanks for sharing your experience, too.

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  7. Oh boy, do I know this one! I have absolutely been there, and afterward I wondered what was the lesson within it for me. At the time I thought, it had to happen, I needed to experience this. Then, I got over it and (mostly) did better the next time. It's amazing how we can run up a full head of steam and our adrenaline goes wild. Interesting that the things that used to trigger me are not the same ones that have triggered me lately - do you find the same?

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    1. Julie, That's true. I don't really get so worked up about many things anymore. Sunday was an extreme situation that caught me off guard. I hope it doesn't happen again, but if it does, I hope I'm able to stay more grounded. Thanks for commenting.

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  8. This is so true! Transformation usually lies in the areas of discomfort. We're still all in training, aren't we? When a big wave comes, it might still sweep us away. It doesn't mean we're bad. We're just still in training. You have a beautiful heart!

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    1. Sandra, Thank you for the understanding and encouraging words. I have learned a lot from what happened. A tough but deep lesson. Thanks for your comment.

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  9. I always find it interesting how serendipity hits across the blogging world, and many of us resonate to write about a similar topic. My most recent post focused on this same issue, how fear will roil to the surface in the guise of other negative emotions. Fear wears a lot of colorful plumage, but at the end of the day, it is still that word...fear. I continue to process the way that I react to that emotion & how I continue to grow as I greet it within myself. I loved your thoughts on this one!

    - Dawn

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    1. Dawn, I've noticed that, too, about themes threading through blogs at the same time. Interesting. Great description of fear wearing colorful plumage. I look forward to reading your post. Thanks for commenting.

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  10. My usual tendency is to first, beat myself up, then retreat after an encounter that leaves me disappointed with myself - time to reflect and sort through the confusion. Maybe next time I will respond differently, rely on the gentleness within me rather that the combative exterior that wants to "defend."

    If I bring just a little more peacefulness to the next situation (and there will always be one) I feel that I have made progress. This post is a beautiful display of courage. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Suzanne, You are right--there will be many more opportunities to practice! Thanks for your kind words.

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  11. Hello Galen, I can tell that this post must have been hard to but into words. The order in which you described the event must have helped tremendously.I loved when you confessed: "What good is all my inner work if, in the heat of the moment, my training fails and I react in fear?"

    A similar situation happened to be this week and I did question all the work that I do on myself as well. Your post helped me understand that is was a growing experience. Thank you ...~ Nathalie

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    1. Nathalie, Yes, it was hard to write. I have so appreciated the kind words and the sharing of similar stories in the comments. It's comforting to know I'm in such good company! Thanks for commenting.

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  12. I definitely struggle with this one too. You are so right though. "We don’t like to experience the vulnerability of fear, so we opt for the delusion of power in anger." That's exactly where I'm coming from in moments of anger. When I was younger, I used to look at a couple of people I know with irritation and maybe pity because my perception was that they let people walk all over them. By not reacting, I thought that they were letting the wrong doers get away with their behaviors and that they were being weak. Today, I realize that it's me who is giving away my power when I lose it on someone who makes me angry. (Yep, I still fall into this trap.) But at least I recognize it, and as I've gotten older, more and more often, I am able to take a deep breath and walk away. I love the scripture at the end of your post. Thank you. You are not a fraud. My physician has high blood pressure and could stand to lose a few pounds, but even though he isn't in perfect physical health, I still see him for my healthcare needs =)

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    1. Kim, Good point about your doctor. That's true, isn't it? We teach what we aspire to, not always what we have achieved. A Course in Miracles says that we are all teachers and that we teach what we want to learn.

      I also like what you said about giving away our power when we get angry. That's just the opposite of what we think--I think I am so powerful when I'm angry. But you are right. I'm giving my power to the person I'm angry at. Thanks for adding your insight to the discussion.

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  13. I think everyone goes through the experience you described Galen with one big exception. Not too many people are able to reflect on the incident and understand it the way you have. Life is a learning journey, incidents like this are like exams. And no you it's not a pass/fail - even if it were, you passed with flying colors because you picked up the lesson:) (like issue spotting on a law school exam, let's say lol)

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    1. Vishnu, Great analogy to law school exams--very funny! Thanks for your perspective.

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  14. Galen -- lately I've been working hard at living more mindfully and was pleased at my progress. Then a week or two ago, my lawnmower broke for the second time in two weeks. I won't go into details about my reaction, but let's just say it ended with two lawn chairs getting thrown across our yard. After calming down, I had questions for myself similar to yours in this post. My conclusions are similar to yours, too: I have more work to do, and taking a deep breath is a good start. Thanks for sharing a very thoughtful post.

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    1. Stephen, I admit I laughed about the lawn chairs. I was angry enough the other day to throw a few lawn chairs myself. Thanks for sharing your story. As my therapist used to say, "Welcome to the human race." We're all in this together. Thanks for commenting.

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  15. Times of conflict are the best test of what is at work within us, Galen. They leave us feeling so vulnerable and it's so easy to start finding fault with ourselves and to abandon the path of transformation. With meditation and support, we can stay the course and find deep lessons from the conflict. Thank you for sharing this experience with us. It has made me look deep within at my own fears and insecurities.

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    1. Corinne, So true. I have been doing a lot of meditating and praying in the last few days! Thanks for your comment.

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  16. Good morning Galen.....oh my....what a relevant topic for most of us. I, too, often let my fear come out in anger. Unfortunately I learned this at home during my childhood and it is a very difficult thing to overcome....I also think "control" enters into this as well...I know it does with me....when I get angry, somehow I feel the power behind that anger...and feel I have control of the situation...which of course is no so....we all know we cannot control the outcome of a situation....the only thing we can control is our behavior. Unfortunately, I'm still working on controlling. Sorry for the long reply...but this post obviously hit a hot spot with me.

    Stay well,

    Jpo

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    1. Jo, It seems from the comments that more people can relate than I expected. So glad you took the time to leave your "long reply." Your thoughts are always welcome and appreciated.

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  17. A very satisfying post-stress reflection. Kind of like spiritual weight-lifting or "resistance training", huh? Sounds like it will give you some muscle.

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    1. Mikey, Resistance training--that it was! We'll see how the training works out next time, and I'm sure there will be a next time. Thanks for commenting.

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  18. Wow what a powerful post and I learned much from it. I know that I have done the same thing; but did not analize it. This post helped me to think through how often I react and then judge. I feel totally enlightened. Thanks and blessings to you for this one.

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    1. LeAnn, I'm so glad that the post was meaningful to you. Thanks for your comment.

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  19. Do you know what I love most about this Galen? "My practice is at the razors edge..". Thank you for that affirmation. I am fond of saying (and practicing) that infinite possibility is my reality...so when doubt rises, as it sometimes does because this is a practice, those around me often say but you live infinite possibility...how can you have doubt?...which allows me to re-center into faith, but also to remember I (we) are divine beings in human form...and your reflection affirms my heart truth, thank you :)

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    1. Joy, Divine beings in human form--so true. As my therapist used to say when I fell short (frequently) of my unrealistic expectations for myself, "Welcome to the human race." Thanks for commenting.

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  20. We expect a lot of ourselves, once we put ourselves on a so-called spiritual path. We expect that we will be able to transcend anger, fear and hatred. And we whip ourselves in the process when we fail to meet the expectations.

    I am able to relate to your experience. I have since learned to laugh at myself when it happens and to quickly do release work.

    It is all part of the journey. I think mindfulness is key when we start to judge ourselves. It is wonderful that you have experienced a shift in awareness.

    Hugs :-)

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    1. Evelyn, Your first paragraph describes perfectly my experience of the situation I wrote about. I can often laugh at myself, but the situation was so intense, it is still taking me some time to lighten up! However, I have come to peace with it, and that's good for now. Thanks for your comment.

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  21. The Wise Words of your Teacher are so Profound. That is what I miss most about not having my Dad on this side of Time and Eternity, he was so very much like your Teacher when I came to him with my concerns, my fears, Life situations... he gave Clarity and Wisdom that always made so much sense and helped me to embrace Life fully and learn from every Experience, even the uncomfortable ones that I didn't initially embrace or see as Blessings in disguise. Now I can come to Blogs such as yours and receive the same Wisdom, so know that you are reaching others in Profound ways with your Practice... and it does make a difference. We aren't expecting Perfection... we know where your Heart is and your Humanity gives us the Connection and parallels we all experience in Real Life.

    Blessings and Thankfulness from the Arizona Desert... Dawn... The Bohemian

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    1. Dawn, A blessing in disguise. That's what all apparent challenges are, aren't they? As traumatic as this situation was, I already see blessings emerging from it. As Einstein said, we can choose to see everything as a miracle or nothing as a miracle. I'm beginning to see miracles here. Thanks for your comment.

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  22. compassion and for the self - big job

    I would throw in that I wish to do this work - perfectly too. It is one area I have perfectionism in dealing with anger - instead I tuck it all inside hoping I will someday figure out how to do it perfectly and let it out.

    Good discussion here...what great commentors you have too..

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    1. Patricia, I do have great commenters, including you! Ah, that perfectionism thing. I think I'm doing better with it for the most part. Thanks for your comment.

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    2. Galen,
      I try not to give too many shout outs for my own work, but I truly want folks to read the book review that is up and running on PatriciasWisdom right now....it is an amazing book and well worth the read - talk about overcoming fear and living fully...

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    3. Patricia, I'm sure many people would love to link back to your blog, but there in no link to your blog in your profile. When I click on your name when you comment I go to your Blogger profile, but it does not show your blog. You can edit your profile to include your blog in a separate section so that people can easily find it. I hope you will do that because people are missing out!

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  23. Hi Galen,

    This was a brilliant post as the topic is very close to me, which is fear. I could so relate to this post. At times when I'm overcome with fear, anger or frustration, sometimes I beat myself up for getting into such states.

    However, these days I'm able to get myself out of such emotions more quickly, because my spiritual practice has taught me that this is exactly what will happen and to just observe it and not react.

    There will always be times when we will react in ways that we don’t want to. However, it’s better to do this with some wisdom of what is really happening, rather than doing it blindly through the ego and believing 'we are the anger'. As you experienced, this then allows us to be compassionate towards ourselves and others who are involved.


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    1. Hiten, Like you, I am often able to shift my perspective before I get caught up in my drama, but not this time! As you say, the best thing then is to reflect and re-open our hearts. Thanks so much for your comment.

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  24. that's an inspiring story
    i think once we manage to learn how to deal with fear we will live happier lives
    thanks for the post:)

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    1. farouk, So very true. Thanks for commenting.

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  25. I appreciate you sharing. Thank you. Blessings to you and yours.

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  26. Beautiful writing Galen - thank you for your transparency -

    You did it - went there - A lesson learned -

    S.T.A.R.R. mantra states - Surrender, Trust, Accept, Release, Receive....

    In love and light,
    Nancy

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    1. Nancy, Great acronym. I'll remember that. Thanks for your comment.

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  27. Hi Galen

    Commend your bravery of telling us. I think we are always a work in progress. Never can be totally perfect, then we wouldn't be human. We always seem to be our own worst critic and very hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up knowing we should be better. Usually someone is over it long before we are, yet we linger on the path of humiliation for reacting way off from what we expect from ourselves. We have all I am sure have been guilty of such at sometime in our lives.
    Great post.
    Mary

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    1. Mary, Thanks for your kind and compassionate words.

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  28. All I can say is wow! I am not sure how I would have reacted but I am betting I would have done the same. I am not good when it comes to fear. I do not think well under stress. I can sit later and thnik why did I not do this or say this instead. I now have a lot to think about thank you for sharing. Hope you have a great week.

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    1. Bonnie, I'm not sure how I would react in the same situation again. It was all so fast. Thanks for commenting. I hope you have a good week, too.

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  29. I strongly believe that bad times in our lives surely teach us a lot - most importantly about our self. You post reinstated my belief.

    It is so important to learn what that moment wants you to see and remember that lesson. Stress and Fear are like termites which make us hollow from inside draining out all the positive energy and creativity we have inside. It is very essential at such times to remember what you just shared ' You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good. –Genesis 50:20'

    Thanks so much for sharing this, loved reading it!

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    1. Me, A belated response to say thank you for commenting! And thank you for the kind words.

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  30. Galen,
    I'm reading this backwards from your most recent post. Very powerful story and I love the story of the warrior. It took me a long time to realize that our worst moments are our best teachers. I used to get very angry. It just had become a habit maybe from lack of sleep when my children were little. I've worked very hard to rid myself of it and it's worked. But every now and then, something can set me off again. Thanks for sharing the story and your coping skills.
    xoxo
    Betsy

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    1. Betsy, A belated thank you for commenting. Yes, our worst moments are our best teachers. That is where we practice--on the razor's edge. Thanks!

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  31. Hi Galen,
    I am new to your blog and would like to thank you for posting such wonderful stories of human weakness and strength. I marvel at your deep understanding of human nature with all its vulnerability and strength. Look forward to reading your posts.
    Thank you.

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    1. gita, Welcome! Thank you for the kind words. Hope you will visit and comment again.

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