Yoga Wicca Buddha

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Fear. We’re in it all the time. The cancer patients I teach, friends on the financial edge, my husband who has nightmares. A disturbing childhood vision--an intruder climbing a ladder to his room but somehow never reaching the sill--means he hates to be alone in the house. 

I don’t fear death or burglars, just failure and ferris wheels. But that’s been enough to affect many life choices. I don’t drive or have a career (or enjoy amusement parks). I lead classes and ritual, but both make me sweat. I imagine my friends rolling their eyes as I seek reassurance for something I’ve done a hundred times before.

In myth, our fears take the shape of underworld spirits appeased with silent, bloody libations, whose names must never be uttered, whose forms are never seen. Or they take the shape of monsters with multiple regenerating heads or snake-haired Medusas. If you dare to meet the Gorgon's gaze you will be turned to stone. There are certain things, the stories seem to imply, that we're better off not facing.

But shouldn’t we face and vanquish our fears? Kill the monster, slay the dragon, and thereby win the princess or the treasure? Shouldn’t I grasp the nettle and get a driver’s license, train for something that pays more than yoga? Take up my sword and hack my way through?

No. Because that would be answering to my greatest fear: what other people think of me. What I think of myself. Better than trying to conquer fear is learning to live with it—because for every monster’s head you cut off, there’ll be another one. 

Buddhism tells us not to run from fear, but not to try to get rid of it either. Rather, become familiar with it, agree to it. Pema Chodron suggests we “let ourselves be nailed to the present moment” by our fear. In that place all bets are off and all that matters is the ability to steep in the fear without acting from it. And that’s enough for one day.

Doctor Who (in the recent episode “Listen”) goes further. The Doctor postulates that there are entities that need to hide but also to haunt: sensed but never seen, felt but never heard—uncanny presences, lurking behind our backs or underneath the bed. I think these creatures (and who hasn’t felt them?) mirror the part of us that needs to hide even as it haunts, longing to connect. The part that is so vulnerable and secretive that we sense it only as our shadow. The part that is afraid. We fear our fear, but what we really need to do is have compassion for it. For ourselves.

It will always be with us, its deepest roots obscure. We can’t explain it away, and so we must be brave enough to tolerate its presence. It’s our legacy. And it's what makes us human.

For not only does fear give us the power of survival—the adrenaline rush that has all our senses burning—but it is “the crack where the light gets in,” the constant companion that reminds us both of our own vulnerability and that of others. “Fear makes companions of us all,” says Clara, the Doctor’s current comrade. “Fear doesn’t have to make you cowardly or cruel. Fear can make you kind.”

Fear can make you kind. For that alone, we need it.

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.


  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Monday, 22 September 2014

    Oh what a lovely post! My partner and I have been talking about just this very thing for the past several months. She "faced down" a fear only to find out that she was really scared of this thing and that running headlong at it actually stirred up much more than she felt ready to handle. Noting that the fear was there and saying "ok - That 's a big scary bear I'd rather not poke" is often not talked about much. But it can be the best practice... sometimes.

  • Archer
    Archer Tuesday, 23 September 2014

    Thank you! For me, it was learning to live with the feeling of fear--not to be afraid of being afraid--that helped me move through it and do what needed to be done (and occasionally avoid things that really weren't right for me).

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