Archive for the ‘Smile at Fear’ tag
I saw a number of these sand secretions, structures that had no meaning but were rather a product of simply living such as this sand worm cast which I found in Thailand. Simply living and being present and participating in life is all that is needed, but that is something I find quite hard to do. Rather than just letting life be as it is, I often escape either into the past or fantasize about the future.
A good example of that would be how I try to understand the past events that have landed me in analysis or looking towards a future day when analysis is over. Somehow, engaging in these polarity positions, I don’t have to face the fact of what I am doing in the present, looking at how I am in the present. It is a hard habit to break and one that causes some sense of fear. Why fear? Well, what if in paying attention, being present, I fail? What if I am rejected even by my analyst, my family, my friends and acquaintances? Better to bury the fear in telling tales in which I look better that I was, to paint a future that shows me as an accomplished and successful person, perhaps even somewhat famous. Being stuck in the now leaves me so ordinary, less than ordinary in my own eyes. And so I become defensive stuck in fear.
“Fear does not allow fundamental tenderness to enter into us. When tenderness tinged by sadness touches our heart, we know that we are in contact with reality. We feel . That contact is genuine, fresh, and quite raw. . . .
Sometimes people find that being tender and raw is threatening and seemingly exhausting. Openness seems demanding and energy-consuming, so they prefer to cover up their tender heart. Vulnerability can sometimes make you nervous, It is uncomfortable to feel so real, so you want to numb yourself. You look for some kind of anesthetic, anything that will provide you with entertainment. Then you can forget the discomfort of reality. People don’t want to live with their basic rawness for even fifteen minutes. When people say they are bored, often they mean that they don’t want to experience the sense of emptiness, which is also an expression of openness and vulnerability. So they pick up the newspaper or read anything else that’s lying around the room – even reading what is says on a cereal box to keep themselves entertained.” (Trungpa, Smile at Fear, pp 58-59)
I find myself doing this too much, finding creative ways to distract me from being present in life: problems with sitting still in my meditation, drifting into a mindless experience with Netflix, surfing the Internet to read almost anything just so that I can be distracted from my self. Being present is too much hard work. Being able to actually hold emptiness, to hold the idea of vulnerability, to hold onto the fact that even the idea of who I am is a fiction leaves me feeling very raw indeed. So, like almost everyone else I find some way to avoid all of this, even if it is just to once again do a statistics check to see meaningless data about this blog site. I don’t like coming face to face with shit, with my shit, and calling it shit. It is best to flush it away and pretend that it never existed, better to imaginary castles and kingdoms inhabited by heros and villains and gods and goddesses. Or, so I try to convince myself.
But in the end, I can’t escape the rawness, the vulnerability, the emptiness.
The first words of the photo’s caption are taken from a song called Suzanne. Earlier this morning I was playing this song on my guitar, working on the fingering for the melody between verses. This song by Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite songs along with a few others by him and by another Canadian singer, Gordon Lightfoot. Both of these men came to my attention when I was a teenager so many years ago. Both men wrestled with what it is to be human, the human condition of suffering which is the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. My current reading of Chogyam Trungpa’s book, Smile at Fear, is allowing me to look at the nature of suffering and in doing so, allowing me to come to accept the naturalness of my own suffering as a child and youth, not accepting the suffering in terms of being a victim of that suffering, but accepting the fact that I am a human, not a superhuman as I had hoped for in my desperate desires to escape life as it was given to me.
Like everyone else, I was afraid and I did my best to hide my fear, to hide from the broken and bruised parts of my self as I knew me. I pushed back at the shadows and the darkness that was lurking within the depths of whoever it is that I was. Like everyone else I invested in the outer world, in work, in activity, in relationships and in trying my best to grasp at happiness in any form in which happiness decided to present itself. I played music and sang for others hoping to not only create a sense of happiness but also a sense of being confirmed through their listening and their positive responses. I wrote and sought the same result when others would read the words, a result that said that I was worthy of relationship, worthy of happiness. I invested in my work, in my play, in my athletic pursuits, in parenting, in loving, in teaching, in counselling, in listening to the suffering of others. Somewhere in all of that engagement with the outer world I had hoped that the inner world of darkness would simply disappear or somehow be transformed into a place of pure light and joy. But, now I find that I must finally face my fear of that inner darkness if I am to be whole. And, as Trungpa counsels, I must “smile” at that fear.
Playing music such as the songs of Cohen and Lightfoot were and remain authentic ways in which I have looked my own fear and darkness in the eyes without realising exactly what I was doing. Picking up my guitar off and on over the years to gently approach this inner sense of self has kept the darkness from overwhelming and possessing me. And now, thanks to daring to smile at fear through a combination of analysis, self-reflection, music and Buddhist meditation, I am beginning to learn that there really is light as well as darkness in the depths of whoever it is that I am.
I know that I am more than my ego, more than the bits and pieces of thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations and physical aspects of Robert. I am not any of these things. These things are hints or signs of a deeper, fuller Self. It somehow gives a sense of relief to not be limited and defined by my ego, to have the freedom to be more, much more than the conjurings of my thoughts, my complexes, my fears and hopes. Like everyone else, I am a human and it is okay to be afraid. The trick is to acknowledge that fear and to smile at it rather than flee from it.
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.