I’ve picked up another of Chogyam Trungpa’s books, this one called Smile at Fear. And, as with other books by Trungpa, I am finding this book both easy to read and packed with thoughts that challenge my way of seeing and understanding the world. I am also fascinated at how so many of the basic approaches to the human condition match the Jungian approach to the human condition. The opening chapter is called Facing Yourself, an idea that is at the centre of engagement with Jungian therapy and analysis. Trunga talks about the journey towards enlightenment, the journey of individuation as a journey in which one becomes a warrior as one must face one’s fears and one’s cowardice because of the fears. It takes courage to look at oneself with honesty in order to find out the truth about oneself.
“Warriorship is based on overcoming cowardice and our sense of being wounded. If we feel fundamentally wounded, we may be afraid that somebody is going to put stitches in us to heal our wound. Or maybe we have already had the stitches put in, but we dare not let anyone take them out. The approach of the warrior is to face all those situations of fear or cowardice. The general goal of warriorship is to have no fear. But the ground of warriorship is fear itself. In order to be fearless, first we have to find out what fear is.
Fear is nervousness; fear is anxiety; fear is the sense of inadequacy, a fear that we may not be able to deal with the challenges of everyday life at all. We feel that life is overwhelming.” (Trungpa, pp 3-4)
Fear. I know this word, this feeling; and, I suspect that so does everyone else who stops for a moment and looks within. It seems there is a lot to be fearful about. I fear many things such as getting sick, getting lost, being alone, losing loved ones, too much responsibility, and meaninglessness are just a few of the things that evoke some measure of fear within me. But without doubt, it is my own inner darkness that is the most fearful thing. Will this inner darkness possess me and rob me of my sense of self; will this inner darkness convince others that I am not worthy of relationship with them leaving me utterly alone; will this darkness plunge me into a world of insanity where I am no more? Yes, this is an existential fear and thus is a fear that is pervasive and strips a lot of colour from the world.
“One of the main obstacles to fearlessness is the habitual patterns that allow us to deceive ourselves. Ordinarily, we don’t let ourselves experience ourselves fully. That is to say, we have a fear of facing ourselves. Experiencing the innermost core of their existence is embarrassing to a lot of people. Many people try to find a spiritual path where they do not have to face themselves but where they can still liberate themselves – liberate themselves from themselves, in fact. In truth, that is impossible. We cannot do that. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut; our real shit; our most undesirable parts. We have to see that . . . We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it . . .
We also have to give up the notion of a divine savior, which has nothing to do with what religion we belong to, but refers to the idea of someone or something who will save us without our having to go through any pain. In fact, giving up that kind of false hope is the first step. We have to be with ourselves. We have to be real people. There is no way of beating around the bush, hoping for the best. If you are really interested in working with yourself, you can’t lead that kind of double life, adopting ideas, techniques, and concepts of all kinds, simply in order to get away from yourself. . . .
We have to face quite a lot. We have to give up a lot. You may not want to, but you still have to, if you want to be kind to yourself. It boils down to that. . . . Nobody can save you from yourself.” (Trungpa, pp 5-6)
Now, of all the things I wanted to learn, this is what I didn’t want to hear. This is the same message I get from my analyst, the same message I have given to my own clients in the past, the message that we teach our children as they grow into their own strengths. Know yourself, be yourself, honour yourself. These are easy words to say, but at the same time, they are the most difficult words to actually hear and use to serve as our guide to wholeness. It’s time for me to look in the mirror.