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 listen to the fear and engage on fear’s terms.
In taekwondo, we have to spar when we test to get the next level belt. I’m not very good at it. I get anxious even though we are padded up like the Pillsbury dough boy 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 and so I usually lose the point. The teacher told me to move forward toward my opponent rather than away. The safest place is up close.
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 that was a great book!
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.” He points to all the gifts you have each time the thought of poverty oppresses you, and speaks of His Companionship when you perceive yourself as lonely and afraid.”
So when fear is in my face talking fast, I can take a deep breath and bow with respect as I look fear in the eye and softly say, “It is not so.”
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