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lot of the most painful conditions in the world are initially motivated
by fear. Fundamentalism, for example, comes about when we feel we need
something definite and solid to protect ourselves from those who are
different from us. That arises from the fear of losing control.
Likewise, our addictions come from trying to assuage the discomfort we
feel inside, the fear that things are out of our control and we have no
secure ground under our feet. Whatever form fear hardens into, it
continues to escalate and results in actions that can do great damage.
It escalates into wars and riots. It escalates into violence and
cruelty. It creates an ugly world, which breeds more fear.
the raw fear initially emerges as a dot in space, as a doorway that can
go either way. If we choose to take notice of the actual experience of
fear, whether itís just a queasy feeling in our stomach or actual
terror, whether itís a subtle level of discomfort or mind-numbing
dramatic anxiety, we can smile at it, believe it or not. It could be a
literal smile or a metaphor for coming to know fear, turning toward
fear, touching fear. In that case, rather than fear setting off a chain
reaction where youíre trying to protect yourself from it, it becomes a
source of tenderness. We experience our vulnerability, but we donít feel
we have to harden ourselves in response. This makes it possible for us
to help ourselves and to help others.
all very familiar with the experience of fear escalating, or the
experience of running away from fear. But have we ever taken the time to
truly touch our fear, to be present with it and experience it fully? Do
we know what it might mean to smile at fear?
About a year ago, I was traveling on an airplane and the man who was sitting next to me had just finished his copy of Time
magazine and he asked me if I wanted to read it. I started leafing
through it and stumbled upon an article on fear. It said that scientific
tests have proved that people are more afraid of uncertainty than they
are of physical pain. Wow, I thought, that gets right to what Iíve being
saying about the basic queasiness that leads us to all kinds of
self-destructive and other-destructive habits. About the whole chain of
events that emerges from our fear of uncertainty, of not knowing what in
the world is happening or what is going to happen. All this emerges
from wanting to get it safe and secure and comfortable.
done a lot of observing of myself, my friends, and other people, trying
to see how this nervousness about uncertainty happens to us and what it
leads to. Itís interesting to explore what happens with our bodies, our
speech, and our mind. Iíve come up with a very nice, little, secure,
comfortable answer. I figured it all out and now I donít have to be
scared any more. Thatís not how it works, of course. Noticing is not
necessarily about finding security.
Iíve noticed is that there are two main ways that fear of uncertainty
affects us, at least initially. One is that we speed up and the other is
that we get very lazy.
in my small retreat cabin, when I was feeling uncertain and anxious, I
looked at it the experience. It was like a ping-pong ball bouncing
around. There are only two rooms in this cabin, but there I was bouncing
around from one room to the other, starting something and then not even
halfway through it, bouncing over to something else. I was all by
myself in the wilderness and yet I was filling the space with all of
this frantic activity. As Iíve talked about this experience with people,
many of them share their experiences of how a basic level of
nervousness causes them to speed around even in their own homes,
bouncing from room to room and task to task and never quite finishing
anything. People talk about going back and forth between one thing and
another, emailing and calling people on the phone. They start projects
that get half done at best, and they rush all over the place,
complaining the whole time about how much they have to do. But, in fact,
the most threatening thing would be having nothing to do.
is the other way to go. It is the opposite of speed, and yet these two
seeming opposites are about both the same thing: avoiding being present
with our fear of uncertainty. In the case of laziness, you become
completely paralyzed. You canít get yourself to do anything because the
underlying uncertainty and nervousness is so great. You procrastinate.
You feel unworthy. The laziness has a frozen quality. You donít move.
You become a couch potato, or you spend hour after hour on the computer,
not as a form of speediness but just distracting yourself, trying not
to feel whatís underneath what youíre feeling, trying to avoid touching
the uncertainty and uneasiness. And yet in the background, it dominates
Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught about the underlying, fundamental
uncertaintyówhich scientific tests now prove is more frightening to us
than physical painóis that the very basis of the fear itself is doubting
ourselves, not trusting ourselves. You could also say it is not loving
ourselves, not respecting ourselves. In a nutshell, you feel bad about
who you are.
So the very first step, and perhaps the hardest, is developing an unconditional friendship with oneself.
unconditional friendship means taking the very scary step of getting to
know yourself. It means being willing to look at yourself clearly and
to stay with yourself when you want to shut down. It means keeping your
heart open when you feel that what you see in yourself is just too
embarrassing, too painful, too unpleasant, too hateful.
hallmark of this training in spiritual warriorship, in the bodhisattva
path, is cultivating bravery. With such bravery you could go anywhere on
the Earth and be of help to other people because you wouldnít shut down
on them. You would be right there with them for whatever they were
going through. But the first step along this path is looking at yourself
with a feeling of gentleness and kindness, and it takes a lot of guts
to do this. If youíve tried it, you know how difficult it can be to stay
present when you begin to fear what you see.
you do stay present with what you see when you look at yourself again
and again, you begin to develop a deeper friendship with yourself. Itís a
complete friendship, because you are not leaving out the parts that are
painful to be with. Itís the same way you would develop a complete
friendship with another person. You include all that they are. When you
develop this complete friendship with yourself, the parts youíre
embarrassed aboutóas well as the parts youíre proud ofómanifest as
genuineness. A genuine person is a person who is not hiding anything,
who is not conning themselves. A genuine person doesnít put up masks and
know what itís like to look at someone and feel we are just seeing
their mask, that weíre not really seeing their genuine heart, their
genuine mind. Their speed or their laziness, their fear, takes the form
of a mask. They hide behind their roadrunner or couch potato persona.
But when someone is present for all of their uncertainties, for the
scary places within, they become genuine, and the mask, the persona,
drops away. You feel you can trust them because theyíre not conning
themselves, and theyíre not going to con you. Their genuineness
manifests because they have seen all there is to see about themselves.
It doesnít mean that theyíre not still embarrassed or uncomfortable
about things they see, but they donít run away. They donít avoid
experiencing what they are feeling through some form of suppressing,
like drinking, drugs, or another addiction. They donít become
fundamentalist to avoid feeling what they feel about themselves. They do
not strap on the armor.
we wall ourselves off from uncertainty and fear, Trungpa Rinpoche said
that we develop an ďiron heart.Ē When someone develops a true friendship
with themselves, the iron heart softens into something else. It becomes
a vulnerable heart, a tender heart. It becomes a genuine heart of
sadness, because it is a heart that is willing to be touched by pain and
might think becoming a spiritual warrior means going to the most
hellish parts of the Earth and helping people. And it is true that a
spiritual warrior would do that if it was called for. But becoming a
spiritual warrior does not start there. It must begin with the
determination that you want to really know yourself completely and
utterly, so that you donít have any private rooms and nooks and crannies
that youíre concealing. You canít become a warrior who helps others to
find themselves if you are not making that journey yourself. The journey
neednít be completed, but you must have started down the road of
encountering your fear.