“When we wall ourselves off from uncertainty and fear, we develop an ‘iron heart.’ When we develop a true friendship with ourselves, the iron heart becomes a vulnerable, tender heart, a heart willing to be touched by pain and remain present.” (Trunga Rinpoche, quotation condensed)
A Word of Hope
To the edge of tranquility, night’s dark pool of dream and sleep, you come. You cast your line with feathered lures across the surface over and over until a fish rises to the bait, caught by what it most fears: cancer, total dependence in old age, unremitting pain, loss of a job, abandonment, the death of loved ones, betrayal. I speak holy words into the night, like sacred talismen to ward off your power, but you, audacious intruder, hold the line taut as the psyche futilely thrashes against the hook. No peace till morning.
Learning to live with fear is an important spiritual and psychological issue of our time. Not only do we have our bouts of personal fear in the night, but we wake to a toxic political atmosphere where many seek to stir up our anxieties for their own ends.
One of the best wisdom teachers about fear is American Buddhist nun Pema Chowdron. She advises:
“If we choose to take notice of the actual experience of fear, whether it’s just a queasy feeling in our stomach or actual terror, whether it’s a subtle level of discomfort or mind-numbing dramatic anxiety, we can smile at it….It could be a literal smile or metaphor for coming to know fear, turning toward fear, touching fear. In that case, rather than fear setting off a chain reaction you’re trying to protect yourself from, it becomes a source of tenderness. We experience our vulnerability, but we don’t feel we have to harden ourselves in response. That makes it possible for us to help ourselves and to help others.”
Citing scientific studies, she asserts that what we are most afraid of underneath it all is uncertainty and that the very basis of this is doubting ourselves, not trusting ourselves, not loving ourselves. So the very first step is developing an unconditional friendship with ourselves. Unconditional.
That means taking “the very scary step of getting to know yourself, 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.” Meditation and prayer become key practices as we learn to observe whatever floats across the stream of consciousness and not enter into judgement.
Oh Sacred Heart to whom nothing is alien, nothing excluded, may we learn to love ourselves with tender compassion. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon