Fear and Joy

Once there was a young warrior. Her
teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do
that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the
teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle.

The day arrived. The student warrior
stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very
small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons.

The young warrior roused herself and
went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to
go into battle with you?”

Fear said, “Thank you for showing me
so much respect that you ask permission.”

Then the young warrior said, “How can
I defeat you?”

Fear replied, “My weapons are that I
talk fast, and that I get very close to your face. Then you get completely
unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no
power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be
convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

In that way, the student warrior
learned how to defeat fear.

     -Pema Chodron, from When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for
Difficult Times
  p. 34-35

Right smack in the middle of moadim l'simcha, these joyful fall holidays, I received an email on the Center for Courage and Renewal facilitators' list serv asking for poems, readings or stories that are about dealing with fear. And then a stream of amazing readings started flowing to my in-box, like the above excerpt from Pema Chodron's book.

Fear is real; it lives in the body and the mind, and is an intense force of energy. The same can be said about joy. Racing heart, sweating palms and electricity in the body; fear and joy are both palpable, powerful and at times overwhelming, like the invisible tightrope between giddy laughter and sorrowful weeping. 

I don't know what's right and what's real anymore

I don't know how we're meant to feel anymore

When do you think it will all become clear?

Cause I'm being taken over by the fear.

–Lily Allen

Maybe fear and joy have a connecting door between them, sort of like those connecting doors between hotel rooms. If we restrict the depth, range and intensity of our emotions in order to put a lid on the difficult ones, one result is that we also restrict the fullness of our joy, delight and happiness. 

I'm not suggesting that we all just run around with out of control, boundary-less feelings spilling all over the place; actually, I am advocating for something very different. When we have useful frameworks for understanding and mindfully attending to our emotions, we no longer need to stuff a cork in them, or let them ooze out everywhere. 

Bowing to fear like Pema Chodron's warrior is a tough example to live up to, but I'd like to give it a try, trusting that I can get right up close to fear, but I don't have to do what it says. I don't have to give in or give over to it. I can respect it, learn from it, listen to it, let it go. 

Hafach'ta misp'di l'machol li.

You have turned my mourning into dancing.  

–from Psalm 30