Fear is a tricky little monster. It can make us feel trapped and hopeless. It makes the body submit to weakness or anger. Some of us might react by lashing out at others, or staying stuck in your own heads paralyzed. Theres mental fear which is all stories about the past or future, and then theres physical fear which is in real time and in your face. Either way it all feels very deep and very real, sometimes even isolating.
I was recently reading Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart” and I was totally struck by one of the stories she told. It was about a man who was on spiritual retreat in India and had been sent to a hut to meditate in solitude. When night came he lit a few candles and noticed a snake sitting in the corner of the room. Understandably he was afraid and couldn’t go to sleep with a snake in his hut! One by one each candle began burning out and the snake stayed in its corner upright and looking at the man. The man and the snake continued all night this way, and the man could not sleep. Just as the last candle began to burn out the man experienced something deep and he began to cry. With tears of compassion streaming down his face, he accepted his fear and began to have compassion for himself and the snake as well. This really struck me as a profound moment. How many of us have been in a situation where we have allowed ourselves to feel fear? To be stuck in a room with something so awful, like grief or near death experience, and truly felt every inch of that fear in our bones. How many times have you sat and been willing to experience the intensity without running away?
“He accepted that he was angry and jealous, that he resisted and struggled, and that he was afraid. He accepted that he was also precious beyond measure- wise and foolish, rich and poor, and totally unfathomable. He felt so much gratitude that in total darkness he stood up, walked toward the snake, and bowed”.
The man was so humbled by the experience that he recognized the snake finally as his teacher. Can you imagine what an amazing freedom the man must have felt?! Free of the burden, free of the chains that clung him to a fleeting experience, free to be free in every sense of the word! To experience life not as he sees it but as it truly is. The man fell asleep and when he woke up the snake was gone, never knowing if it was a delusion or reality but being forever changed as a result. And what an incredible transformation! As long as we are human, there will always be something to be afraid of. There will always be a little monster on our backs telling us we should fear this and that. For that very reason we should make it our friend.
My favorite line from a John Mayer song says “Fear is a friend that you misunderstood”. Allow it to be, allow yourself to face it head on. Don’t miss one moment of its purity. The greatest teachers of this world are the ones who make you uncomfortable and challenge you so that you begin to see the truth. In yoga asana we have Sivasana which in its tradition is a meditation on death. Why meditate on death? Because it is humans ultimate greatest fear. To sit still and truly contemplate death is a hard thing to do, it brings up the greatest kinds of emotions, might make you feel dark and uncomfortable.
Once, I meditated on the death of my senior dog Lilu, who is still alive, and I burst into tears. I cried for 20 minutes until I stopped and felt a deep compassion for her and the greatest sense of appreciation. How wonderful that I got to experience life with her, that I got to watch her grow and receive her unconditional love. How blessed am I that I get to experience her presence for years and years. In that moment my fear resolved and I no longer wanted to “own” her but allow her to be as she was, without fear of loss. There are many things we can meditate on and no matter what it is for you see if you can allow it to become a deep experience, one that will elevate you past the chains of your fear. Feel it and allow freedom to come, this is true Letting Go.