In this transcribed excerpt from Pema Chödrön’s talk on “The Fearless Heart: The Practice of Living with Courage and Compassion”, Ani Pema tells us how we may begin to work with fear by not shutting down or running away, as is our first inclination, but by going into the fear.
This morning I wanted to begin with a short teaching on working with emotions that comes from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and if you would like to write this down, the name of the teaching is “The Lion’s Roar” and it appears in the March 1997 edition of the Shambhala Sun, which had a picture of me on the cover. So maybe there is some way you can locate that article and read it.
This is a teaching that has influenced me a lot over the years, and I was re-reading the article last night and I thought that I would begin this morning with this instruction that comes from Trungpa Rinpoche. One of the opening sentences is that enlightenment is not just for pacifists, but it also means relating to energy, strong, intense, waves and waves of energy. So enlightenment is not just a peaceful experience as some of us may be wishing. It is not just the ultimate chill out, but it also means relating or rather being comfortable with or relaxing with or joining with waves and waves of energy. So needless to say, this is something that has had a great influence on me in my own practice and in my teaching.
So, even talking about abiding in the experience of discomfort, abiding in the experience of fear or any other kind of discomfort, fear as it manifests and how it manifests in many different forms. And in some sense, it doesn’t really matter what the energy is or what the emotion is. The instruction is on abiding in that experience without believing in the judgments and opinions about it. This is very important because it is quite predictable if you were to do a poll of the entire human race, what you would find is that when energy arises that is uncomfortable, it triggers our conditioning and we forget about any kind of rational approach at all. We go sort of nuts. So this is to say even very wonderful people such as us who perhaps have been listening to this kind of teaching for years and trying to apply it and something happens in our life. It might be a phobia; perhaps we have strong fears that are phobic. Fear of heights — that has been one that I’ve worked with in my life. Fear of flying, fear of elevators. There are different kinds of fears that we have. And when the phobia hooks in, we somehow just shut down and the last thing that occurs to us is to go into the fear.
People who work with a phobia, they actually encourage this approach. Not to necessarily have to get up on top of the highest, you know, walk across a tightrope across the Niagara Falls if you are afraid of heights, but to get used to the feeling of fear that arises with heights or with flying or elevators or spiders, snakes, whatever it might be, space — there are a lot of phobias. And many of us have them. So the approach is to go into the feeling and to do it in a situation where you are not right on the spot, on the brink of the Grand Canyon, or going down the Grand Canyon on these donkeys. If anyone has ever done that who is afraid of heights, it is a very uncomfortable experience. The donkeys get very close to the edge and the bottom is a long way down. So going into the fear like, getting in touch with the feeling and going into it, abiding in the experience without feeding it with our opinions and judgments about it.