I was born and raised in a very loving, forgiving protestant religion. I was always sure that God was loving and loved all of us, including my quarreling sister. I didn’t understand how He could love both me and her at the same time, and I was absolute certain that She did. We humans are limited by our aversions and attractions, God was beyond that. God was abundant Love, powerful and almighty.
I also was sure that I would get in heaven. Not because of my personal achievements or character, but because God was boundless Love. I could not imagine She would turn anyone away at Heaven’s door. He was too loving for that.
Now I study Thich Nhat Hanh teaching’s on impermanence and interbeing. There is no death, no birth, just the stream of life. As long as we identify with the wave, we get upset with it’s disappearance. As soon as we see that the wave has been water all along, there is no gain and no loss. Just an opportunity to appreciate this unique manifestation of life. Nothing comes, nothing goes, everything transforms.
It hasn’t really helped.
Trouble began when I was 12. I realized Heaven was eternal. I imagined living forever and forever and forever. And forever. And forever. And I completely spooked out. That seemed like being stuck in a nightmare covered in icing!
Even writing it down 1:00 am in the morning, I feel scared. What if you get as terrified as me? What if you cannot calm yourself down when I panic? What if there is no way out of this stuckness?
I have no solution to my fear. Maybe there is none. Maybe I need to accept this fear as part of our human existence. Maybe I can just allow myself to be penetrated by it, and open my tender heart a little bit more. We all stand to lose everything and everyone that is dear and precious to us, including ourselves.
I don’t know. I just hope to stand tall when my time comes. I hope I’ll face my own death with love, openness and tenderness. Maybe that is the only thing I am really striving for.
We never know how high we are,
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies
This post is in honor of my former colleague and first introduction to Zen Buddhism, Karolijn de Heer. May she rest in peace.
I wake up and I feel heavy with fear. Literally heavy. It seems almost impossible to move this heavy weight out of bed.
I remember Pema Chodrön‘s invitation to lean into heavy feelings, to lean into the sharp points, and feel the groundlessness of our existence.
This seems a perfect moment to accept the invitation and lean into my fear.
I breathe in, and bring my attention to this dread, this apprehension, this fear. I let it cycle through me, and scrupulously observe it’s different aspects.
It turns into terror, then blind panic, then an overwhelming blackness and feverish nightmare. It grasps me, chokes me, I can’t wake up from it. I sweat and tremble.
Which idiot ever thought this was a good practice? Which imbecile ever thought that leaning into your fear was a good idea? Pema Chödron probably never experienced such consuming feelings. Never experienced the certainty of going crazy and lose your mind. Like forever. Like really forever being stuck in that nightmare.
I feel my breath go faster. I feel my body tighten. I am noticing I am bringing my attention to my breath. To my body. To my feelings. I feel into my experience. It doesn’t get much more comfortable, ànd it stabilizes. I’m getting calmer, more solid.
I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know how it’s happening. But after five minutes I get up. I feel light, relax, open. I made it. Leaning into your feelings might be a good idea after all.
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There is something about fear that I really appreciate. Something about the moment that fear turns into blind panic and terror. When this happens and it lasts long enough, it dissolves into surrender, softening, letting go.
I’m not talking about the fear that comes up when our live and safety is threatened in this moment. I’m not talking about the fear when bombs fall, someone is coming at us with a knife, we get into a car crash.
I’m talking about anticipating fear. The fear that something will happen in the future. The fear that we won’t create enough income, that our husband is gonna leave us, that we’ll get a disease and die, that we’ll lose connection when we express our authentic truth. Those scenarios our mind chooses from all the possible scenarios and believes to be true. Anticipating fear.
When that fear grasps you long enough, there comes a moment when you cannot sustain it anymore. Your system doesn’t have enough capacity to be and terrified and continue living. It collapses.
Thàt’s the moment to catch. Thàt’s the opportunity to wake up to this moment and realize that all you have is the present moment. That there is really nothing else but this moment. This waking up is not the result of a mental exercise, trying to convince yourself that the future has no reality. It is a visceral experience of understanding your future is beyond your control. You feel in your body that the only thing you can influence is your intention, thoughts, speech and action, right now.
Once that awareness sunk in with me, I completely relaxed. My fears dissipated. All that was left is gratitude. For my hands which are able to hold a pen and write. For the four walls that keep the cold outside, and the warmth in. For the faucet that gives me easy access to water. For the carpenter that made the chair that supports me. For my husband who works, holds me, appreciates me. For my family and friends who are willing to help.
The gratitude list is endless. I giggle. My experiences are faster than my gratitude. There is só much to be grateful for, that I can’t keep up with it.
Trees (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
I venture out in the woods. I walk slowly. Carefully. Joyfully. I feel my feet touch the earth, and let the energy arise through me. Every step a connection to the earth. I enjoy the sun. The bright colors of the leaves: red, green, orange, yellow. My friend told me how rich she feels this time of year. The golden leaves fall on her, fill the streets with it’s riches. It’s golden abundance is available to everyone. I feel cherished and welcomed in the woods. Nurtured.
I have no plan. Just to spend 30 minutes in nature. I see a little creek I have never seen before. The heavy rains created it on the rocky path. Small, tenderly dripping away. It is quiet. Just the sounds of my breath, my footsteps, the breeze.
I hear a tree. It calls out to me. A juniper. It’s branches spread out wide and evenly. Inviting.
I hear my heart. Climb!
I hear my mind. NO!
I climb. One branch. Looping to the other side for the next branch. Avoiding getting stuck in the twigs. A next step. Taking a break.
My heart starts racing. I’m scared. I’m here on my own. I have no belay. If I fall, it might take hours before I’m found. I can’t afford a broken leg. I hug the tree. Lean into it. I feel how solid I am, how strong. I trust my body, myself. I take a next step. I feel fear. I rest, connect to my belly, to my heart. I respect my fear. I treat it with great reverence. It takes minutes. Then I take a next step. I see out over the tree tops. I see the valley, and all the autumn trees celebrating fall in splendid colors.
I rest. I celebrate. My agility. My trust. My strength. My fear. My steps.
This is how I run my business. One step. Feeling my fear. Leaning into life. Finding my balance. My solidity. My trust. Then a next step. Let fear arise, loneliness. Worries. Give them space to talk. Listen. With empathy and compassion. No fixing, reassuring, arguing. Just listen. Listen to life and how it supports me. Then a next step. No fighting the branches for being to far apart. No impatience with my fear. No comparing myself with other, faster climbers. That’s not my path.
My path is to experience what it is like to be me. My path is to experience which conditions support me. Take a step. Connect to what’s alive in me. And then a next step.
Business Plan in a Day book (Photo credit: Raymond Yee)
Do you ever force yourself to chunk along, because you think you have to? Do you ever find yourself on a path, that will probably lead you to the top, while not bring joy climbing it?
I did. With my business. I told my friend about my new business plan. Organized and tidy. Just two marketing strategies. Improving my website presence and finding speaking engagements. No more trainings for organizations, no more workshops, no more tele-classes, no more fun stuff for the sake of it. I felt satisfied. I liked the clarity. No more ambiguity, no more confusion about next steps.
My friend responded surprisingly different: “Elly, the last time you told me about your business, I heard such aliveness and enthusiasm. I heard such tenderness and care for this insecure Elly, taking beginners steps on the path of her unfolding business. Compassionate and accepting of herself. Now you sound forceful -structured for sure-, but not alive and you. It sounds as if your inner critic took over. He compared you with “successful” coaches and trainers and found you the lesser version.”
I love my friend! He is one of these people who see straight through me and embrace what they see with compassion.
I feel an excitement growing. What if I grow my business organically? What if I trust my own intuition? What if I take one step at the time? With a clear vision of whom I want to serve, why, and maybe less how? Just like I climbed the tree? I might never reach the top, but I’ll love the journey. A journey into self-connection. Into my vision and my fears. Into experiencing my business as an experiment. No attachment to results. Just learning. I feel the fear of failure arise in me. “I won’t make enough money. I’ll starve.” Yeah! The experiment is working!
I have a plan for my business. I venture out into the woods once a week. I bring my meditation bell, my crayons and my writing pad. I sit and listen. To the trees, the birds, the grass. To the wind, the silence, God. To my heart, my soul, myself. And then I’ll hear what to do for that week. I’ll do this for six months. Thàt’s my plan!
I am not making enough money. I struggle paying the bills. I panic. What if I never create enough income? What if I end up on the street and die?
I try to reassure myself. “Well, well, calm down. It’s not that bad. You’ll earn enough to survive. You have friends and family who are willing to help.” My mind doesn’t listen AT ALL. “I don’t want to die! I don’t want to live in ever increasing poverty. I don’t want to end up homeless!” “Hush, hush. This is just temporarily. You have SO MANY skills. Of course, you’ll make enough money.” “Yes, but that’s not the point, that’s…”
Then, I remember Pema Chödron. Something I read today. About tonglen. Breathing in the dark, heavy, hot stuff. Breathing out the white, light, cool stuff. Just that. Breathing in all the pain and suffering. Of myself. Of everyone who is in the same boat as I. Everyone who panics, who feels shame, who is overwhelmed by fear. Everyone who wants support, hope, safety. Breathing out lightness, relief, reassurance and hope. She writes about removing the object. Bringing down your experience to the visceral feeling, without thinking about the object. Breathing in the panic, fear, shame. Allowing this pain to penetrate me, to open me up to the suffering of us humans. Breathing out lightness, support, understanding. Nothing else.
It doesn’t work. I breathe in hot, dark, heavy. I don’t breathe out white, light, cool. I am stuck. I am not relaxing in this panic. I am consumed by it. I am crushed by it’s impact. I feel how strong it is. How blinding. I don’t see any ray of hope. I don’t trust there is a way out, there is just fear. I can’t enjoy the warmth of my house, the protection from the pouring rain. I only see myself out on the street, in the same cold, pouring rain, begging disinterested car drivers for money. There is nothing but my panic, and these horrible images.
And yet. There is some shifting, some movement within me. An opening of compassion. Some empathy. Some softening. I understand how scared I am. How terrified that I won’t make it. How horrified that I won’t have support. How overwhelmed by shame to even ask for support. How lonely to face my struggles and demons alone. I totally get how terrifying this situation is for me. I calm down. Nothing has changed. And something did. A splinter of compassion is growing next to my panic. Underneath the fear, the panic, I touch a seed of solidity. A solidity without words. Like a willow in the wind. It’s top sways wildly in the storm, it’s trunk moves flexibly with the storm. The roots are solidly grounded in the earth. I am solidly grounded in the earth.