Feel The Fear

We are often taught that fear is for cowards.  For so long I believed, when I felt that growing pit of anxiety in my gut, that I was incapable of being courageous.  Fear was my greatest nemesis.  I recognize that fear often stems from the unknown.  A favorite quote of mine which happens to be from a Disney song has always been, “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact it scares us.”  Fear can stop us dead in our tracks.

Don’t get me wrong, there are healthy amounts of fear.  The prickle on the back of our necks when someone approaches in a menacing manner.  The fear of physical or emotional harm that allows us to remain alert. Let’s also not forget our love affair with being scared.  Horror films rake in millions of dollars each year.  We will watch Saw 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… (I know there aren’t this many but you get the idea).  Freddie and Jason still haunt my nightmares and I’ve never even seen one of their movies.  We have a love/hate relationship with fear.

Now, I ask you to contemplate this question.  Can you sit with your fear?  I don’t mean your fear that comes from the movies you watch or the books you read, I mean the fear that cripples you.  The fear of public speaking.  The fear of heights.  The fear of being alone.  The fear of losing your financial stability.  The fear of failure.  The fear of success.  The fear of death.  Step one is to pinpoint your fear.  What are you most afraid of?  Once you figure that out, stop and take a deep breath.  What feelings are stirring inside of yourself?  Do you have the urge to think of any topic other than your fear?  Are you in flight or fight mode without even thinking about it?  Use your meditation techniques to bring awareness to these feelings.  Don’t shy away from them.  Don’t allow judgement to overtake you.

Often what gives fear its power is the judgements we place on it.  Your mind tells you that you are weak because you have this feeling.  Emotions, like fear, are neither good nor bad; positive nor negative.  Emotions just are.  So take a moment to sit with the fear and anxiety you are beginning to feel.  If it begins to overwhelm you stop and focus on your breathing.  When you feel stronger begin to let your mind fall back into the awareness of your emotions again.

Now, it’s time to delve a little deeper.  What is the root of your particular fear?  Abandonment?  Poor relationships?  Absent father or mother?  The loss of loved ones?  Be honest with yourself.  You cannot glean the lesson if you are not willing to be honest with yourself.  This may take several meditation sittings.  You may never completely lose your fear. But discovering the root causes of your fear and your ability to sit with it without judgement will take you a long way in dealing with the fear (or any emotions for that matter) that keeps your from growing mindfully and spiritually.

Fear can be debilitating.  It can also be the key that unlocks your greatest potential.  If you learn to embrace your fear and move beyond it you have the power to accomplish greatness.  Make a daily or weekly appointment with your fear (or again any emotion you’d like to “conquer”) and truly take the time to sit with it.  Get to know it, embrace it as an old friend.  The fastest way to abolish fear is to get to know it intimately.  Years ago my mother bought me a book that still sticks with me, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”  I don’t actually remember much about the book itself but the title and what it means has never been lost on me.  Embrace your fear and move beyond.


Choose Wisely Your Words

“Careful the things you say, children will listen.” – The Witch from Into the Woods.

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite musicals.  But, I would go one step further and say, “everyone listens.”  Words can be a healing salve to the wounds of the heart or a painful knife blow to the soul.  It is a wise man that chooses his words carefully.


Words (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

My favorite step on the Eightfold Path of Buddhism is “Right Speech.”  Don’t get me wrong I endeavor to work on each of them, but “Right Speech” is the one I struggle with the most.  I am extremely guilty of running my mouth a mile a minute.  I interrupt people in mid-sentence just to get my “brilliant” idea out there. My mother loves to tell a story of when I was a toddler and we made the four hour drive to Miami to visit my father’s family.  I would not stop talking.  My mother kept trying to silence me but my grandmother finally said, “let him talk, he’ll eventually stop.”  Boy was she wrong.  As the story goes my longest pauses were to take a breath or to laugh at my own jokes.  No one interacted with me; I just kept talking.  Of course the family joke is that things haven’t changed much in the 30+ years since that story took place.  I rarely need an audience and I can amuse myself by talk talk talking.  I often think I became a teacher just so I could hear myself talk and have a captive audience.

True, this is a funny and only slightly embarrassing story about my youth.  But, on the more serious side I have harmed people, whether intentionally or unintentionally, with my words. I have allowed words to tumble out of my mouth that hurt friends, family, and loved ones in a visceral way.  I could see the pain and disappointment register, no matter how briefly, on their faces.  I have (and I know this is the worst) tried to verbally “one up” my students which often ends in me doing emotional harm to their fragile egos. I am not proud of this in any way.  I knew I had to change when I got into a verbal altercation with a student during class and as he stormed out the door he yelled, “real mature, you’re supposed to be the adult.”  WOW!  I had allowed my emotions to get so far away from me that it took an 11 year old to bring me back to the reality of how damaging my words can be.

It was very soon after this kick in the teeth from my student that I began this blog and sincerely started my Buddhist practice.  Growing up I received the best piece of Buddhist advice from my devoutly German Catholic grandfather.  He often said to us (me especially) after we had made some silly or stupid comment, “you need to engage your mind before you engage your mouth.”  I have not always listened to that before my mouth got me into trouble, but I have often contemplated it following a bout of “foot in mouth” disease.  Today I might even change my grandfather’s wizened advice to, “engage your heart before you engage your mouth.”  For if we truly speak from the heart it is much more difficult to wound others.

Growing up I was never comfortable with silence.  Silence, to me, meant someone was mad at me, or I’d done something wrong.  Silence was often used as a punishment.  Now that I’m nearing my fourth decade of life I struggle with seeing silence as the positive that it can be.

English: Chinese Buddhist monks performing a f...

English: Chinese Buddhist monks performing a formal ceremony in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many monasteries (no matter the faith) silence is the norm.  It is the best way to focus for inner prayer and contemplation.  Words cannot get in the way of spiritual growth.  I am not a monk; nor am I well suited for monastic life.  But, as I practice more and more I do recognize the importance of silence.  It may sound cliche but it truly is golden.  As I go forward my hope is to be silent more often; to listen more closely to what is being said around me and to me. This is a great exercise for each of us to consider.  Where can you be more silent in your life?  Do you suffer from “foot in mouth” disease often?  Can you listen more and talk less?  Do you need to engage your mind or heart before you engage your mouth?  Let us all begin taking the Buddhist tenant of “Right Speech” more to heart and allow our silence and our words to spread love, peace, and mindfulness to the world.


Overwhelming Desires

English: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

English: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I shouldn’t be making this judgment but, I was a complete failure in my practice while I was in Las Vegas.  Now, that being said and putting the dramatics of my ego aside I know I let my desires get the best of me.  We all have desires that’s natural; Financial desires, emotional desires, sexual desires, physical desires.  In Buddhism our practice is to control these desires and eventually realize that our true peace comes from the cessation of these desires that ultimately bring us pain.  So, how do we do this?  Well, I’m still working on that.


I had quite a bit of time alone in Vegas.  At times it allowed me some quiet contemplation.  But mostly it allowed me boredom and some bouts of depression.  I have to admit here that as a Buddhist that contemplates impermanence I have never been very good with change.  I don’t do well in changes of routine, changes in lifestyle, changes in how things operate as I am used to.  Of course, I don’t let that stop me.  Because as an ironic twist I am a lover of adventure.  I love to explore and observe.  And that’s what I did to help jar me out of my malaise when I was alone.


The Forum Shops - Caesars Palace - Las Vegas -...

The Forum Shops – Caesars Palace – Las Vegas – Nevada – United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Vegas my solitary adventures often took me to the Las Vegas Strip.  The center of this hotbed of sin and degradation in the middle of the desert.  I say this with a grand helping of sarcasm.  I love the strip.  But, where most go to the strip to gamble I went to the malls and walked through the hotels.  Fashion Show Mall, The Forum Shops, The Shops of the Grand Canal.  I went to them all and wandered in and out of stores.  I found things I wanted and knew I couldn’t have because they were ridiculously overpriced.  I found things that were on sale and I immediately jumped and bought them.  Hats, shorts, shirts, headphones, a charger, a mug; it was retail therapy at its most obvious.  In the moment I didn’t care.  I talked myself out of items to find my self back in the store an hour later purchasing the very product I’d talked myself out of.  I’d get back to where I was staying, purchases in hand and wonder to myself, “was all of this really necessary?”


NOOOOOO, it was not necessary.  It was me trying to cure my loneliness and mild depression of the changes I was experiencing.  It also didn’t help that I was lax in my meditation practice.  These events merged to form a perfect storm of shopping until I dropped.  While I was in Vegas I blogged about the importance of maintaining your meditation practice while on vacation.  But, that post was the perfect example of, “do as I say, not as I do”.  I recognize that much of this could have been avoided if I had stuck with my meditation or stepped it up and meditated more often.  Sadly, I did not.


As a Buddhist and as someone who is working very diligently not to be so hard on myself I should not be passing judgement.  As I work back into my full meditation practice, now that I’m home, I should and will focus on how to avoid these emotional pitfalls in the future. Treat your practice the way your GPS device treats you.  (I love this analogy and I admit fully that I stole it from Dr. Oz and his co-author on many books Dr. Michael Roizan).  Your GPS calmly gives you directions.  If you miss a turn it does not scream at you, “YOU STUPID FOOL!  LOOK WHAT YOU DID, YOU MISSED THE TURN!  YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN SUCH AN IDIOT!”  Instead the GPS simply tells you, without any judgement whatsoever, “at the next available opportunity make a U-Turn and proceed to the proper path.”  Simple right? When you make a wrong turn in your practice don’t beat yourself up, simply make the U-Turn, without judgement, and return to your proper path.  You must treat yourself gently with love.  That is what I am currently working on now that I’ve returned to my regular daily routine.  I am trying to remain mindful of where I needed adjustments to my practice and aware that I do not and must not beat myself up over my behavior.  So, I now tell myself and anyone else that is struggling the way I am…


…welcome back to the path.