PEMA CHÖDRÖN’S TEACHINGS ON FEAR
For most of humanity’s time on Earth, fear was a good thing. Fear is the respect that humans pay to our surroundings and the way that humans can gauge how dangerous an environment is. Think of it from the caveman’s perspective.
The caveman walks out into the Savannah and sees a rustling in the nearby bushes. The instinct of fear kicks in and puts him on high alert. The rustling could be a vicious predator, waiting for him to come out and tear him limb from limb. It could be a rival caveman, waiting to steal his worldly possessions. Of course, it could just be a harmless animal. But by engaging the feeling of fear, it allows him to escape possible dangers.
Fear is a survival mechanism. It stops us facing down lions and starting fights with peers. However, fear is also an ancient feeling that can often be misplaced in modern day society. We are no longer worried about being hunted down, but we still have the fear instinct in our brain. It’s a relic that lives on in all of us.
Pema Chödrön is one of my favorite teachers when it comes to tackling fear and talking about how it affects our day to day lives. A never-ending source of wisdom, she is an American Tibetan Buddhist who has written a vast number of books that blend the wisdom of Buddhism with the realities of modern day life. If you haven’t picked up some of her work, start with either When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (a real classic) or Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better (some of her newer works). Both of these books tackle fear.
Some would think that to tackle fear, you must be fearless. Pema Chödrön does not see it this way. She teaches that fear is the base of sanity. This makes perfect sense. Of course, having too much fear can paralyze us. But equally, having no fear is dangerous. Reality itself is still dangerous. Sure, we aren’t living in fear of being mauled by a tiger nowadays, but there are still things to worry about. Chödrön’s teachings are about connecting with that fear and allowing it to be present.
Meditation is a way of staying present and being mindful. Those of us who meditate recognize the feeling of drifting away in the middle of a session, recognizing that our mind has wandered and gently pulling it back to the present. Chödrön often refers to this as seeing and touching our thoughts. Rather than repressing and fighting our thoughts, it’s a simple touch to know that they are there.
Try taking this approach with your fears. One of the most powerful things I have realized by studying Pema Chödrön is that we can face forward into our fears. We can reach out and touch and know that they are there.
Sometimes it can be tempting to keep all our fears locked up, and try and remove them from our lives. This is what happens when we try to be fearless. Keeping our fears inside a pressure cooker doesn’t help. Our fears have been present for millions of years. They have kept us alive for millions of years. They are incredibly powerful. So don’t fight them. Instead, take Pema Chödrön’s advice.
Face forward towards your fear. Reach out and touch it. Realize that it is there alongside you. Thank that it is, in its own crazy way, trying to help and protect you. Be nice to it. In the words of Pema Chödrön – smile at your fear.
This isn’t easy. But once you accept your fear and start to move forward, you can leap into it and use it. Don’t take my word for it – check out one of Chödrön’s teachings and see how being present with your fear can change your life.