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A 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.

Yet 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.

Weíre 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.

Iíve 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.

What 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.

Once 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.

Lazy 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 your life.

What 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.

Developing 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.

The 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.

If 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 shields.

We 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.

When 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 remain present.

You 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.

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