On Fear

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A week or so ago my husband Mike and I were discussing the topic of difficult emotions, in the context of our mindfulness practice. He mentioned being continually surprised by the common lack of mentioning fear, as one of the big prevailing emotions. Anger is referenced often, but seldom is fear spoken about. He posited that fear was, in fact, the root of all other difficult emotions. I agreed that anger, for instance, is not a root emotion, but a response to feelings of either hurt or fear. Most of what we feel arise as an emotion is rooted in another deeper layer of experience, often in our subconsciousness. But I never considered that fear may be what lies at the heart of all strong/challenging emotions. I took it as food for thought and have been chewing on it, so to speak, ever since.

When I first encountered the well-known quote by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” I didn’t connect with her words and quickly sloughed them off. But now, years later, I understand. While I don’t presume to know how often this is true for others, I do know that a couple of years ago I discovered her insight to be true for myself. During a month-long retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I came to realize that I had a strong tendency of holding myself back from shining, which is what I refer to as our capacity to emit a certain inherent radiance when acting with joy and confidence in who we are and what we’re doing. I realized that what sat at the root of my trepidation, was fear. Fear of ego, fear of offending others or making them feel uncomfortable, fear of growing apart from certain loved ones by outshining them. Fear of becoming powerful beyond measure.

Ever since this light bulb of self-realization turned on, I’ve been slowly transforming this fear, working to dissipate it into the clear waters of understanding, where freedom resides. I’m learning the difference between egoism and self-confidence, and how it’s easy to confuse and misinterpret them. I’m learning that in holding myself back from shining, I’m also holding myself back from connecting fully, with both myself and others. I’m learning that to not shine as brightly as I can is to perform a disservice to who I am. And I’m learning to let go of over care-taking for people, by trying to affirm responsibility for their reactions, feelings,  and experiences.

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I’m learning to embrace the abilities and talents that I possess and shine as brightly as I can. It’s an ongoing process that continues to unfold and deepen. The more time I invest in becoming good friends with myself the more I see clearly about how important it is to develop this relationship – to relinquish my fear and embrace who I am with inclusiveness and ease.

Imagine the possibilities if more of us were less afraid of shining our light, helping to usher others forward to claim their own strength and wisdom. We all have the capacity to be the ones we’ve been waiting for.

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Peace Un-conference

Flyer from the Jeannette Rankin Peace center for the Peace Un-conference

Flyer picture for the Peace Un-conference                                           Presented by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center

Yesterday my husband and I attended an all day event entitled Rising from the Ashes: How Do We Create Peace from Chaos, Confusion, and Conflict.  It was an un-conference sponsored by our local Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC).  Designing it as an un-conference is a reference to something called Open Space.  From their website:

Open Space Technology, or Open Space, is a meeting format discovered by Harrison Owen. There is much written about Open Space available in books and on the internet, and yet often the format defies description or explanation. It is much more easily experienced that written about.

The basic process of Open Space helps those participating in the event co-create an experience based on responsibility and passion. It is a very welcoming and very frequently fun process, and also one that can be challenging in the same way a good game is challenging. Open Space invites the participants to engage to a high degree.

 

Never having attended an Open Space setting before I could only imagine what to expect in terms of format and set-up.  I was, like many others, a little nervous.  The Five Principles of Open Space set me a little more at ease:

1. Whoever comes are the right people

2. Whenever it starts is the right time

3. Wherever it is, is the right place

4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have, be prepared to be surprised! 

5. When it’s over, it’s over

And the one law of Open Space is called the Law of Two Feet:

If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

In this way, all participants are given both the right and the responsibility to maximize their own learning and contribution, which the Law assumes only they, themselves, can ultimately judge and control. When participants lose interest and get bored in a breakout session, or accomplish and share all that they can, the charge is to move on, the “polite” thing to do is going off to do something else. In practical terms, Owen explains, the Law of Two Feet says: “Don’t waste time!”

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Four Sublime States of Mind

Photo by local photographer and sangha friend Bill McDavid

Photo by local photographer and sangha friend Bill McDavid – http://www.billmcdavid.com

In the book I’m currently reading entitled Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun the author speaks about the Four Sublime States of Mind.  “The Buddha often spoke about four states of mind as the four “Brahma-viharas”: the divine or god-like dwellings, the lofty and excellent abodes in which the mind reaches outwards towards the immeasurable world of living beings, embracing them all in these boundless emotions.” (from vipassana.com).  The states of mind are: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. 

“These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings. They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.” (from vipassana.com)

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Judging a Book by its Cover

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Lately I’ve been thinking about the propensity we have to judge a book by its cover.  I would venture to say that all of us do it to some extent.  And while we don’t appreciate when we ourselves are judged unfairly we tend to naturally get caught up in the cycle of judging others just the same.  An over occupation with how others see us (self-conciousness) is a direct result of how our own inner critic is forever comparing ourselves against everyone else.  How we see and treat ourselves often translates to how we see and treat others.

It’s a somewhat natural process to judge someone by the way they look and behave and it’s not always a bad thing.  At times our instincts may even be correct.  However, a majority of the time we have little or no idea who someone else is simply by seeing, meeting, or even spending time with them.

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Daily Practice, Day 3

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Day 3 – I’m finding that blogging each day has been helpful in keeping me accountable to my intention to sit everyday.  My hope is that over time I will be able to transform my need to be accountable in order to sit and have it become part of my daily routine.  I am confident that it will happen if I continue to be diligent in this early stage.

After my sit this morning I read: Invoking the Bodhisattvas Names, the first 6 of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings and another passage in the Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake.  Here’s a passage from Invoking the Bodhisattvas Names:

“We invoke your name, Manjushri, We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people.  We will look with all our attention and open-heartedness.  We will look with unprejudiced eyes.  We will look without judging or reacting.  We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, through the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is.  We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species.”

The last sentence spoke to me.  In thinking about using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering I see clearly how often we cause ourselves to suffer based on a simple misunderstanding.  It is easy to think that our perceptions are accurate and true – and not only that, but real and concrete, something permanent.  Seldom do we clearly see things as they are, people as they are.  And without clear sight we cannot have understanding.  And without understanding compassion cannot be born.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) teaches us to ask ourselves, “Am I Sure?”  When I encounter someone who is being rude to me and I immediately think of what a jerk that person is, am I sure that I know what is actually going on for that person?  When we can stop and ask ourselves, “Am I Sure?” our situation has the power to change right away.  Looking deeply I can see that I cannot possibly know what is going of for another person on every level.  When I get in touch with the nature of interbeing it is easy to see that we are each a lifetime of experiences, relationships and emotions.  Much life have we each led that has created this moment in time.  It is a deep practice to not be so sure.

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