Loving Your Anxiety

Love Your Anxiety (Or at least get to know it)


I know it sounds crazy to even imagine “loving” your anxiety. But one of the fundamental truths about being human is that we have emotions, including anxiety. What makes us human is that we also have the ability to make meaning of our experiences and that meaning-making is what turns a simple emotion into a recipe for disaster.

Anxiety is fear of a future negative outcome. Stress has to do with not wanting to be in the present that you find yourself in. We imagine that outcome over a range from slight discomfort to a major catastrophe. 

Some amount of sympathetic nervous system activation (which causes stress and anxiety) is needed to keep us cautious and therefore keep us safe.  But the anxious state is meant to be a short-term, action-inducing state. So when anxiety runs amok, our bodies suffer. There’s a fascinating book called “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” that describes all the different body systems that are affected when stress hormones predominate in the body.

Stress and anxiety happen in the mind and the body. The mind has a random thought that we believe, and the body reacts with tension and often uncomfortable sensations in the gut or the chest. Tightness in the body often restricts breathing as well which can lead to a hold host of other sensations. All this discomfort creates a state of mind that is geared toward getting away from the discomfort at all costs, leading to smoking, drinking, overeating, yelling at your loved ones, etc. Too much anxiety can even lead to a crash, which then feels like depression. 

So what’s the solution? Love your anxiety (ok, I know that’s not going to happen!). At the

very least, though, to change and anxious state we need to acknowledge and accept that it is happening. Anxiety is part of our self-protective capacity. It is an indicator of something that needs attention. It is a call to action. 

What’s your anxious feeling telling you? Maybe it’s telling you you’re overworked and need a break? Maybe it’s telling you that you don’t feel safe or fulfilled in your current relationship or career? Or maybe it is telling you that you have some work to do on your self-confidence or ability to set boundaries? In order to figure out what it is telling us, we need to pause and listen while recognizing that the emotions don’t have to control us, we do have a choice about how to feel. 

Some simple ways to work with an anxious mood in the moment:

  • Allow it to be without judging it as “bad” or “wrong” or somehow a sign of your failure. The extra layer of “shoulding” just makes the anxiety worse.
  • Be curious about what triggered the anxious state.
  • Give your anxiety something to do. Anxiety often shows up in the body as a jittery feeling. This is excess energy in need of direction. So dance, shake, shimmy, walk, run, do some vigorous yoga. Get the energy out and then try to do something a bit more quieting.
  • Notice the anxiety as body tension and let go of tension in the muscles. Tight shoulders? Let them drop. Tight jaw? Let it drop.
  • Uncomfortable sensation in the belly? That might be just the result of the abdominal muscles tensing. You might take over the tension (tighten your ab muscles) and then stop tensing, allowing the muscles to let go.
  • We humans seem to have a natural tendency to catastrophize. Maybe instead of catastrophising, ask yourself: “OK, it feels like everything could go wrong, and is there any way this could go right?”
  • Pay attention to your exhales, even making them longer. Exhaling lowers your heartrate, which gets elevated during stress.
  • Ask for help. Social interaction with a safe, supportive other is one of the ways that we humans calm down.
  • Stay away from coffee – yep, coffee drinkers have been shown to have random spikes in their anxiety during the day.
  • Look around your environment, recognizing that you’re physically safe and that there aren’t any threats in your immediate vicinity. You might notice and name 3 objects that you see, 2 sounds you hear, and one thing you feel with your sense of touch. or you might count all the objects you see of a certain color or shape. Anything that breaks up the circular or negative thought pattern that is making you anxious.

Of course there are many other ways to deal with anxiety, including lifestyle habits of getting enough sleep and exercise. Do you have a favorite? Share it with us! 

New possibilities for compassionate transformation

Happy New Year!

I love this time of year.  It feels so fresh with possibilities.  But that’s an illusion, though, right?  Every moment of every day is fresh with possibilities.  Yet maybe it’s the collective agreement about the specialness of the New Year that provides an extra wave of optimism that we can use to feed our own New Year resolutions.  I’ve also noticed a growing wave of cynicism this year.  There seems to be an expectation that no matter what your resolution is, it won’t take long for it to fade away.  Again, that may be a collective tendency, but why assume that will be the case for you? We don’t have to be victims of the collective influence.

When we choose to do something different with ourselves, we almost always move away from a comfort zone and toward something we have to learn to be comfortable with.  New possibilities can trigger the fears that live below the surface of our minds. Years ago I was talking with my husband about an issue I had been struggling with for a long time.  “Why can’t I just let this go?” I wondered.  He offered (and I accepted!) the possibility that it was because I had held on to this way of thinking for so long and it had become a part of me.  He suggested that it was because I didn’t know who I would be without it that I chose to hold on.
Sometimes we hold on to the most uncomfortable aspects of ourselves because they are familiar.  We are afraid of who we might be without them – afraid of the unknown and unfamiliar.  Fear is a powerful motivator – you only have to look around at the political and economic climate to see evidence of that.  Fear sells a lot of products, garners a lot of votes and keeps the status quo in place. Even the prophecy around 2012 is feeding into that collective fear which affects us all and yet goes largely unacknowledged. Fear can also warn us of impending danger, or be an indicator that we’re growing out of our comfort zone – it’s all about how we choose to see it.
I believe that we each are integral parts of the collective that is humanity.  Goswami Kriyananda writes that we are each “microcosms of the macrocosm.”  From this perspective, when one of us makes a change to our way of thinking or being in the world, it creates a ripple that affects the whole collective.   
So what if we were to create ripples or even waves of change this year by acknowledging and stepping out of the vortex of the collective fear of gloom & doom through the recognition of our individual fears?  I don’t mean “fighting” or “pushing through” or “ignoring” your fear. Just being willing to see it with compassion is itself a revolutionary act of courage.

Sometimes just seeing clearly is all it takes to recognize anticipation of the new versus an actual threat to well-being.  Imagine if, as a collective, humanity could recognize change as a marvelous potentiality versus impending doom & destruction.  In a comment to a post about Fear as Opportunity that I wrote in 2010, a reader named Christine offered a wonderful mantra she uses when faced with fear:  “I am willing to dance with you.”  I think that just about sums it up.

So how do we cultivate this capacity to view ourselves compassionately?  I offer below a version of the Buddhist Metta meditation that has helped me to cultivate self-compassion.  It has helped me in the process of acknowledging, and in many cases moving beyond, the many fears that held me hostage for years.  
Have I overcome all my fears?  Heck no!  I don’t even know if I will, and that’s actually okay with me.  What I do know is that seeing a little more clearly and a little more compassionately helps me to be curious, rather than contemptuous about myself and this mysterious, fascinating, sometimes-seriously-hard-to-deal-with adventure we call Life. 

So here are the 4 phrases that I use for my Metta practice:

May I be filled with loving-kindness,
May I be peaceful and at ease,
May I be free from suffering and self-deception,
May I be healthy and happy, and free from fear.
The traditional phrases are:  May I be safe, May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I live with ease.  (I know, a lot less words!)  For more information on Metta, Sharon Salzberg, a well-known Buddhist teacher, talks about the traditional practice in which you also offer these phrases for others.  Personally, I like to do “drive-by Metta” silently for strangers I pass on the street, for the patients in passing ambulances and even for politicians & acerbic TV talk-show hosts!  It provides me a small way to transform a wave of apprehension, anxiety or fear into an act of possibility.
Namaste, and may 2012 bring you peace, curiosity, compassionate self-awareness and ease of well-being!!

Loving Support

I just completed a wonderful 4-week meditation workshop, and in their feedback the participants mentioned how good it was to be able to share the journey into meditation with others who were understanding, kind and supportive.  Even in such a short time, (an hour and a half once per week for four weeks), there was a sense of community and shared intention that provided support for all those who were in it.  Meditation in many ways is a seeking into oneself, and yet this inner seeking is easier to do with the support of others.  

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about this sense of community and how we connect and separate ourselves from each other.  From a yogic point of view, the sense of an individual self is an illusion.  “No man is an island” was an old tune I used to hear my parents listen to as a child.  “No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief is my own.  We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend.”  (Of course as a kid I wondered “what about the women?” but in the interest of the deeper meaning, we’ll let that pass for now!) 

All the world religions teach that we should care for our fellow human.  Yet watching the political news over the last few years, it has become so evident that we don’t, as a culture, live by that maxim.  In fact, our culture seems to be becoming more and more polarized into “us” and “them” and all based on ideas, thoughts and opinions, and the fear of these being somehow threatened and destroyed.  We identify with these opinions and beliefs and therefore when they are threatened, it is perceived as a threat to our very identity.

Even as yogis we are not immune from “separation-thinking.”  How often do yoga practitioners defend their chosen style of yoga as “better” or “more effective” than another?  Whenever we identify with a practice, an idea, or a way of being (what the yogis call ahamkara), we run the risk of thinking that we are that.  What follows is the assumption that “I am right” from which the logical premise that seems to follow is “they are wrong.”  Yet with billions of people on the planet, all with their own collection of interests, constitutional predispositions and life experiences, how is it possible that there could only be one way for us all to be, think or believe?  

 From a yogic perspective, we are not separate – we are manifestations of the same stuff – awareness, life force, whatever you choose to call it – we are manifestations of the substance of life which is One and yet each of us is a unique expression of that One.  Goswami Kriyandanda describes each person as a microcosm of the whole. Just imagine – you are a hologram of the whole Universe!

 
We are all the same stuff – just packaged in a different way, yet we spend so much time, energy and effort feeding the illusion of our separateness – this sense of “I, me and mine” that yogis call asmita.  The thing about feeding our sense of separation is that it also creates a sense of isolation and brings very little satisfaction.  When we build walls to keep ourselves, our opinions and our beliefs protected and safe, those walls also keep others out.  Those walls prevent us from hearing other people, from having sympathy and understanding, from recognizing in “others” not only our own brilliance, but also our own shadow.  And if we are too afraid or too ashamed to see ourselves clearly, we run the risk of projecting our own disfunction on to others and condemning them for it.   On the other hand, if we are able to really see ourselves with compassion, and even with humor, we can begin to free ourselves and to break down the walls that separate us from each other.
I remember the first time, as a teenager, that I realized that I wasn’t the only one with a particular trait of which I had been ashamed.  I had perceived this trait (can’t even remember what it was now) as a personal failing and when I found out someone else had it too, it was amazing!  I remember the sense of relief and freedom when I realized I was “only human.”  I could let go of that burden and stop blaming myself for not being perfect.  Being in a supportive community provides the opportunity to see yourself in others and be accepted as you are.  But you can do that for yourself and for others at any time if you think of all of humanity (and even all sentient beings) as your “community.”  Meditation is one way practice seeing yourself with gentleness and compassion, accepting yourself as you are – hang-ups, past life history, neurosis, judgments, opinions and all.  It all begins with the choice to accept ourselves as we are, with love & a healthy dose of light-heartedness.  Then we can create and/or find supportive communities where we can share this loving acceptance with others. 
What if we were to just expect loving support from our communities and especially from ourselves?  I wonder what would happen then?
In loving acceptance of you, just as you are…

Namaste.

Unlimited potential

Are there limits to your perception?  How big do you imagine the Universe to be?  How far does your energy field go?  Where do you end and the space around you begin?

My husband and I have an ongoing discussion/debate about the limits of human potential.  I don’t think that there are any limits.  He thinks there are things humans just weren’t designed to ever be able to do.  Maybe I’m just opinionated (an existential hazard of being born with 4+ planets in Aries) but I really believe that as humans we are only limited by our perceptions of what is possible.
Think of all the inventions of the last century.  I was explaining to my 5-year-old daughter tonight that my grandmother Mary, born in 1900, didn’t have television as a child – and read books by lamp light.  And when I was my daughter’s age, TV (in Jamaica) was in black and white!  She could hardly imagine such a horror!  Technology has shifted what we believe to be possible.  And I would argue that our belief in what is possible has accelerated the phenomenal technological and consciousness shifts of the last century.  Because of technology my dad survived a heart attack 8 years ago that would certainly have killed him 50 years ago.  Because of technology we also know immediately when tragedy has occurred anywhere in the world and we can rush to help relieve suffering. 
As technology has supported our belief in what is possible we have dared to dream bigger dreams.  And because we are human these dreams of course have been fueled not just by our altruism and generosity, but also by our fear and our greed. And so even as some people dream big dreams, others are afraid that these dreams will destroy us.  We live in fragile human bodies – the identification with which leads us to be afraid of death.  This fear of death, the yogis say, is one of the things that binds us to suffering.  (It also keeps the majority of us from jumping in front of moving trucks!)  This fear of death (or of annihilation – or non-being) also seems to underlie much of our resistance to life – what I would describe as contraction.
One of my first experiences with Reconnective Healing was through a process called The Reconnection.  This axiatonal realignment process is designed to reconnect us with our true potential.  During this 2-day process I had the realization that I was participating in something much larger than myself that was happening all across the planet and directly impacting human evolution.  It was amazing to me – mind-opening in fact.  It was so amazing that it scared me silly.  I felt that I was on the edge of a precipice – that I had been brought to the edge of the Void and my next step was to jump in – to something I didn’t and would never fully understand – at least not with my mind.  In the Reconnective Healing training I asked Eric Pearl about it and he said “Isn’t it exciting?!”  Exciting? Heck no!  It was terrifying!
In the years since my Reconnection I’ve come to some realizations that my mind still has some trouble wrapping its mind around.  I’ve come to accept that the Void is everything.  There wasn’t anywhere for me to jump because I was already here.  What was missing was my perception.  The Void is awareness and awareness is all that we are.  Some of us have amazing experiences of it, others more subtle realizations.  But whether we are aware of awareness or not, it is the ‘substance’ of which we are made.  Each of us is all that is – “the world in a grain of sand.”  This is why I believe in the immense potential of humankind – if we choose to embrace it.  It’s not an imperative in my mind – it won’t make us better humans than we are now – but I think it would be really, really fun!  I also think our expansion into this understanding is happening whether we like it or not.  We can be immensely joyful and compassionate, or we can be immensely selfish and greedy.  Through it all we are being – whichever choices we make, wherever we go, whatever we do.  We are the Void – nothing and everything.  Immense, unlimited potential.
In this Universe, as we experience it, is the potential for contraction or expansion.  So as we approach the dawn of a new year, the question arises – how expansive can you allow your perception to be?  As you imagine the vastness of our human potential, does contraction eventually kick in?  What form does it take?  Is it fear, is it a belief system or an adopted “truth?”  Is it a sense of how things can’t be or should be?  Is it sadness for the way things are?  So, what if you could open to let even your contraction be expansive?  In other words, what if you could just allow it to be okay to have all those thoughts and welcome them into this sense of expansion or possibility?  Then how much could you allow your heart or your joy to expand?  And in the midst of all of this, how much could you love yourself, just as you are – contraction, expansion, resistance and all?
To quote Blake (don’t be impressed, this was my first time actually reading the poem! These lines actually stopped my breath for a second):
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
You are the world in a grain of sand – all the Universes in one human body.  What could be impossible?
Have a blessed, expansive, loving, joyful, perfect-as-you-are New Year!! 

See you on the other side…

Making friends with yourself

What would you do if a friend confessed to you that she felt really badly about something she had recently done, or really didn’t like something about herself?  You would probably feel some compassion for your friend and try to think of something to say to help her feel better, right?  And yet what do you do to yourself when you feel badly about something you’ve done?  What thoughts come about when you think of the things about yourself that you don’t like?  For most of us those thoughts aren’t about being compassionate! 

It’s not a secret that we tend to treat others better than we treat ourselves, often to the point where we can offer compassion to others, but have difficulty offering it to ourselves, or even receiving it from others.  How much we are able to love ourselves, I think, is directly related to how much we can allow others to love us.  If we beat up on ourselves, on some level we begin to think of ourselves as inherently flawed and unlovable.  This breeds suspicion and disbelief when others see us differently. We might even back away from people or relationships because we aren’t used to allowing the light of love and compassion into our hearts.  To be loved or lovable is unfamiliar.

A few months ago I told someone that I felt I had made friends with my mind.  The person responded first with surprise and then with disappointment. “I wish I could do that,” she said.  In our culture we tend to think it unlikely that this could ever be possible.  Instead we believe that we need to control, cover up, pretend, medicate and distract.  And yet, it is possible.  In Buddhism, this acceptance of self is called ‘maitri.’  Pema Chodron, a wonderful Buddhist teacher describes maitri on this youtube video as “unconditional friendliness toward oneself.”  She describes maitri as “the basis of compassion.” 

Think of it, what if you were able to just think of yourself as being okay?  What would your life be like if you were able to cut yourself some slack and just love yourself as you are without trying to be more perfect, more knowledgeable, more attractive…  How much stress do we put on ourselves trying to be more or ‘better’ because we are so dissatisfied, so averse to what we are now?  And yet, have we even looked to see what is actually here or is it just an assumption that what we are couldn’t possibly be enough?

So, how to go about cultivating this self-compassion?  I think the first step is really to welcome the possibility that you could be unconditionally friendly towards yourself, that you could be worthy of loving.  From there, I’ve found that the universe is only too happy to lead you into more and more lessons and revelations.  Sometimes the lessons are easy and sometimes not.  It is not that life suddenly becomes a bed of roses, but that you begin to see the difficulties as more ways of deepening in relationship with yourself and with others.  Any relationship takes effort and most relationships work better if the focus is on the other person’s positive qualities vs. judging their flaws.

In my experience, a simple way to begin to cultivate self-compassion is to spend some time acknowledging the aspects of yourself that you actually do appreciate.  Since we have such a tendency to judge things as good or bad, let me be clear that the other aspects aren’t bad per se.  It is just easier at first to love ourselves based on those things we perceive as ‘positive’ qualities.  It might take some time (it took me days the first time I tried to come up with one thing), but just finding one thing you appreciate about yourself is like clearing a little hole on the grimy window of our past perception so that the light can begin to shine through.

Make a phrase with your one ‘positive’ quality (or more if you have more than one).  For me it was “I am compassionate.” Notice how your body feels when you say this phrase.  And when you find your mind going into the place of self-judgment or self-criticism, let this phrase be your ray of light. Once that tiny ray of light is experienced, the shadows become less dense and the darkness begins to give way.  Repeat your phrase whenever you think of it.  Eventually you might find it pops up on its own! 

In the next few blog entries I’ll be offering more tools that have helped me to bring light into my shadows.  If you have other tips, comments or experiences to offer, please feel free to share those as well by clicking on the Comments link below.

Until next time, may you live with ease ☺

Is there such a thing as “negative energy?”

Realizing this topic can rub people the wrong way, I offer the disclaimer that this post, like any other I might write is simply meant to cast a few ripples and see where they settle.  I’m not preaching or saying it is definitely so, just offering my ponderings on the subject and hoping to clarify as I learn from others.

That said, years ago I attended a lovely talk at Unity in Chicago with Katerina Pellegrino.  She is a spirit medium who works with John of God in Brazil.  Someone asked a question about how to deal with evil and she presented the notion that what we call evil is actually just a separation from God.  As a Reiki practitioner for many years, I was taught to clear “negative” energy from the person I was working on before sending Reiki to them.  It always seemed a little awkward to me, all this clearing and containing and disposing of other people’s negative energy.  Then I heard Eric Pearl speak and read his book and he had the opposite view.  He said all this avoidance of ‘negative energy’ was fear-based and unnecessary. I came to the conclusion that he thought there was no such thing.

So now that begs the question.  What is it that you feel when you walk into a room where someone has just had an argument?  What is it that people feel when they go to former sites of epic battles or mass human suffering?   What is that icky vibe you get from people sometimes? Isn’t that negative energy?  As humans we like to categorize and simplify.  So light and dark become associated with good and bad, positive and negative.  It’s also very convenient to label someone as being “negative” or having ‘negative energy.’  Then we can feel very positive and separate and good.

But what if we looked at it a different way?  What if we thought of energy according to the principles of expansion and contraction, as the yogis have?  When we are afraid, we tend to contract – physically, emotionally, energetically.  The more fear, the more density and darkness.  When we are feeling joyful, we feel expansive, connected, light and free.  So what if all that ‘darkness’ and ‘negativity’ is really just fear that we are unwilling to face.  We avoid the fear within ourselves, we are repulsed when it appears in others.  Yet if we could connect with our own fear compassionately, maybe we could see that contraction in others with the same compassion, rather than with aversion.  Then, instead of feeding the fear with more fear, we could allow the possibility of light and love.

Whaddya think?

Fear as opportunity

After the last blog entry I had a question from someone I love dearly that touched me deeply.  To paraphrase her question:  What if when you start to bring your fears to the surface it seems that there is nothing but more and more fear, and you realize that you’re living your entire life from a place of fear?

I wish I had a quick and easy answer to that question, but fear is such a huge issue.  One thought that kept coming up for me was the judgment of fear as being pathological. I was reminded of this by a comment to my last post.  Rather than being a black hole of despair, the recognition of fear can be an opening into a place of seemingly deep mystery – your own mind, heart and soul.  It can be opportunity to see the ways we have taken on other people’s ideals and judgments and made them our own without questioning their validity.  Recognition of fear gives the opportunity to question the fears themselves and chose whether to continue to live with them, or just let them be.  It gives us the opportunity to love & be compassionate toward ourselves because we are fearful, not in spite of it.  At the same time we are able to cultivate compassion for all those in the world who also feel overwhelmed by fear.  And rather than becoming caught in our fear, we can recognize it as part of the tapestry of life that also includes success, joy, courage, compassion, love and expansiveness.

Of course frightening things do happen and fear arises as a natural response.  Many people – maybe even a neighbor or a friend – live with a real threat of physical harm, sometimes from the very people who are supposed to care for them.  For them, vigilance is necessary until a safer environment is possible. Recognizing our own fear and feeling compassion for the fear of others we might see opportunities to help those who suffer from the constant threat of physical harm.  From the yogic perspective, the body is not the totality of who we are, and its destruction does not mean our annihilation.  But even from this perspective, death or harm of the physical body is one of the last & most difficult fears to be released – and for the sake of human survival, I’d say thankfully so.

For many of us who have the blessing of living in physically safe circumstances, however, this fear of harm still exists – though perhaps on an unconscious level.  Often, regardless of contradictory evidence, there is the fear that we are unable to handle life’s challenges as they arise.  At a deep level there is the fear that the threat will lead to death of some kind: “Oh my God, if that happened, I’d just die!”  or “It would kill me to not get everything done.”  Though we might express it casually in words, this is often not a conscious fear, and yogis would say that what is actually threatened is the “I” or the “ego” – our own perception of who we are, or how we think other people see us:  If I don’t succeed, other people will think I’m a failure – or even worse, I might think that of myself; if I loose this job, maybe I’m not good enough to get another one; if I let go of blaming someone else for my fears, I’ll have to take responsibility for my life…

Years ago I got really tired of being afraid all the time.  I was tired of always feeling powerless in the face of life’s challenges.  Though fear or itself isn’t “bad,” I doubt anyone would claim it as their favorite emotion!  Living from a place of fear can feel like being in prison, knowing you have the key, but still unable to leave.  So I sat down and made a list of all my fears and prioritized the list based on level of difficulty.  Just the act of naming the fears and making the choice to do something about them diffused some of their power over me.  Putting them on paper gave me a chance to question their validity.  Deciding to be rid of them offered the possibility that they could be temporary. 

Yoga and meditation continue to help with this effort. Strengthening my body, working with the chakras, noticing the ways that I hold fear in my body and learning tools to work with this held energy have also been very helpful. Meditation helped me recognize the difference between presence and avoidance and acknowledge the fleeting nature of emotions.  It has also helped to cultivate a witness consciousness – the willingness to view the rise and fall of emotions from a place of stillness and choose whether to stay “caught up” in them or let them go.

I believe that once you decide to go on an adventure like this, the Universe (God, Source, Higher Self, whatever words you use) supports your intention and the help comes in ways you might not have expected – a chance word, an article in the paper, a book suggestion from a friend or an ad that jumps off the page.  Of course it takes courage to acknowledge your fears, and sometimes your hands will shake and your heart will pound as you decide to “just do it.”  Fear arises, but since we’re here (on the planet in these bodies), why not explore the possibility that just as a smile passes, fears could pass too – if we let them?

May you be healthy.  May you be happy.  May you live with ease.

Bringing the shadows into the light

I’ve been scared of the dark ever since I was a child.   As an adult I used to be embarrassed to talk about it – a childhood fear that should have long been overcome.  Yet, bringing this fear into the open was less embarrassing that I thought – actually nobody seemed to really care.  Exposing the fear to the light of day also gave me a chance to explore it rather than hiding it away.  What I discovered was that I actually wasn’t afraid of the darkness itself, but of what might be lurking in it.  I imagined strange and threatening creatures – monsters against whom I would be powerless.  Discussing this fear with others and working on it through various means I’ve come to realize that the shadow, the demon that I was most afraid of discovering in the dark, was myself.

I was gifted recently with a link to a wonderful excerpt from Osho (The Spiritually Incorrect Mystic) called Greatest Fear of All.  Osho’s words always stir up for me some uncomfortable but simple truth.  In this excerpt he says: “The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom. Buddha has actually called it the lion’s roar. When a man reaches an absolutely silent state he roars like a lion.”

As I read the article I began to wonder.  What is it that we’re really afraid of?  Through my own work and working with others, it’s clear to me that there is always the deeper fear beneath the one we’re willing to admit to.  I wondered – is it that we actually fear discovering our own selves?  

Sakyong Mipham pointed out in “Turning the Mind Into an Ally” that we spend most of our time thinking about ourselves.  Yet the thoughts we’re thinking about ourselves are not usually compassionate, complimentary or generous.  Even the habitual ways we react to our own behavior can be so hateful.  We get into the habit of scolding ourselves for minor ‘failures.’  Off-handed statements like “I’m such an idiot” or “I’m such a clutz” become unconscious habits that create impressions in the shadows of our minds.  Then in our interactions with others, a fear arises.  Maybe on some level we know the imprint is there, and maybe we’re afraid that it will be brought into the light of day and confirmed as truth.  Maybe our greatest fear is actually of meeting ourselves and not liking who we are. 

But what if meeting yourself could be liberating instead of terrifying?  In yoga we frequently talk about samskaras – latent impressions that influence the way we think and behave.  It is sometimes described like spinning on a wheel – you can’t get off the wheel because you’re controlled by these unconscious impressions.  So you relive the same story over and over again, not knowing how to change it.  And still these impressions, these habits are constantly being reinforced through lack of mindful awareness and, I think, through the fear of seeing ourselves clearly. To get off the wheel we have to see these habits for what they are – our own shadows in the darkness.  Brought to the light of day they have very little substance.  Left in the darkness they are monsters keeping us on the wheel and away from a full appreciation of ourselves.

From Resistance to Appreciation

Yesterday I took my 4 year old daughter son and 9 year old to my meditation teacher training.  I couldn’t find a babysitter and my teacher was gracious enough to suggest bringing them and letting them stay in a room close to our meeting room.  Her suggestion brought an immediate feeling of resistance and fear.

For some parents the thought of bringing their kids is a non-issue, but not so for me with my disciplined Caribbean upbringing.  I had visions of my daughter laughing out loud in the middle of a meditation segment; of people in the class being annoyed by these pesky kids; of having to constantly leave class to attend to them or quiet them down; of them trashing the room they were staying in and in the end of my teacher being displeased with them being there. 

Ah, the workings of the mind and the scenarios it creates to reinforce its resistance!  None of these fears were justified!  My children, though they can be raucous and challenging at home are generally very well behaved in public.  The class is full of other parents and gentle, loving souls who might actually enjoy the sound of a child’s laughter in the midst of their meditation.   And my teacher suggested I bring them!  So the fear, like most fears, was not logical at all.  In fact when examined closely, it was a manifestation of the ego worrying:  “What will people think of me?”  So of course I had to take them!  I also didn’t want to miss the lecture on Chapters 7 & 8 of the Bhagavad Gita (definitely worth reading if you haven’t already!).

Amazingly enough, pushing through my fear actually helped me appreciate my kids even more.  Neither one complained when I explained what was going to happen.  My son did a wonderful job of monitoring and helping his sister.  They occupied themselves with the activities we brought, and he was very quiet the two times he did need to come and get me.  We had to leave early to take him to soccer (especially since we were bringing snacks!) and he kept track of the time so that he changed into his soccer gear before we had to leave.  My daughter made lots of little foam crafts and cleaned up all her scraps.  She had pretty much reached her limit by the time we had to leave (in the middle of the lecture), but still they were both very considerate of being quiet as we left.  

Later that day after soccer, my daughter handed me a juice pack and straw, and sweetly asked:  “Mommy, would you help me with this please?”  In that moment I recognized again the sweetness of their presence in my life.  Even though there might be actual (rather than fear-imposed) limits to what I am able to do as a result of having to care for them, they are such beautiful beings and I am so blessed to know, love and be loved by them.

A ghost in the house – shaking up the “I”

I’m working on trying to be brief and use less words – let’s see how I do…

Last October I asked my Akashic Records how I could live from a place of deeper clarity.  The answer was surprising:  “Be willing to be wrong – about everything.”  What?!  I had to ask for clarification.  The reply: “Being willing to be wrong doesn’t mean you are wrong.  It means you give up the need to be right, which is holding you back.  It means shaky ground… Release the need to be right.”  All my life I’d seen knowledge as a reinforcer of my worth.  Being wrong was to be avoided at all cost.  But what the heck, I was intrigued.  Besides, I could always go back to being right if it didn’t work out.  What I got was a big surprise.  As I let go of the need to be right, something shifted inside.  It was like when you’ve eaten too much and then you loosen the button on your pants – relief!  I understood it later as being freed from the constant effort to protect and reinforce my “I.”

Sutra II of the Yoga Sutras describe the five klesas as the sources of our discontent, the obstacles to freedom.  The klesas are: avidya, or not knowing our true nature as beingness or oneness; asmita – identification as “I,” “me” or “my”; raga – desire for pleausre; dvesa – aversion or avoidance of pain; and abhinevesa – fear of death.  When I first read this sutra and the notion of the identified “I” as being problematic, I thought that was ridiculous (those crazy cave-dwelling yogis – what would they know about real life?!).  After all, who would I be without a sense of my own individuality? If I let go of that I’d be left with nothing – I wouldn’t exist!  At the very least it seemed to me a prescription for mental instability.  I didn’t realize that even that resistance was the manifestation of this “I.”

Dzigar Kongtrul in his book It’s Up to You suggests:  “This mind that we identify as the self, which we could call ego-mind, controls everything we do.  Yet it can’t actually be found – which is somewhat spooky, as if a ghost were managing our home.”  Michael Stone in The Inner Tradition of Yoga describes asmita as a storyteller, and the stories as a rubber band ball, wrapped around and around with more and expanding preconceptions about ourselves.  Even when these stories cause us suffering and separation, we still hold on because we identify them as who we are.  A Course In Miracles Lesson 69 begins:  “My grievances hide the light of the world in me.  My grievances show me what is not there, and hide from me what I would see.  Recognizing this, what do I want my grievances for?  They keep me in darkness and hide the light…” 

So last month when I decided it was okay to be me, I found she was very elusive – like mercury, hard to pin down.  At the same time I found the klesas.  Ah the humor of it all.   It’s been fascinating – sometimes funny, and sometimes really unpleasant – to recognize the storyteller arising, especially when I’m wanting to be right, or in control.  I often recognize my “I” when it is acting up as a shadow that when noticed and acknowledged, shifts slightly to the left to reveal a sliver of light behind.  A long exhale follows, a tightness releases in my chest, and in that moment, I can allow.