TGIF: Transforming Fear

When one doesn’t have a job, the expression TGIF begins to lose its meaning. Other than the realization it’s the end of another precious week of unemployment. Precious because unemployment is my main source of income right now, and its duration is limited. After it’s through, I’m left to my own devices as to generating enough income to pay my bills.

Staying in a place of faith and not fear continues to be a challenge. One thing that has helped is something I heard Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chödrön say in one of her audio CD programs. It is only one word but the practice of it has had tremendous results for me.

The CD is a recording of a workshop she held and she is giving an example of someone who was having flashbacks of childhood abuse coming up in meditation. Pema discusses helping this individual through those times by being nearby and when an episode would occur, compassionately looking into her eyes and saying “stay … stay … stay.” Quite the opposite advice most of us would think to offer in such a time.

If you’ve ever listened to Pema Chödrön, you know she has a voice that is incredibly kind and gentle. She is also one of the most wise and insightful teachers I’ve come across. I find her message(s) to intuitively ring true and I’ve learned a lot from her teachings. When I first heard this story I had no idea that the memory of her voice as she told it would stay with me so clearly.

“Stay …. stay …. stay.” One word. Four letters. Incredibly simple and yet incredibly difficult. Learning to stay with what I am feeling and not run away has been one of my biggest challenges.

Although the fear of my future has become a constant static in the background of my psyche, most the time I can tune it out by keeping busy. Unfortunately, a lot of my busyness isn’t what I’d call productive. Most the time I tend to avoid what I’m feeling (fear or otherwise) by distracting myself with an on-line computer game, a Netflix movie, or looking at the newsfeed in Facebook.

Actually stopping to sit and stay with my feelings doesn’t happen very often. I have accepted that doing so will probably be a constant struggle, however I believe the more I can practice it, the easier it will get. This of course, requires a commitment to actually do the practice, and honestly my commitment waivers.

What I have been able to do is remember the sound of Pema’s voice and her one simple word when I am hit with a big wave of fear. Usually those come early morning or late at night when I’ve shut off all the distractions and am left with only the thoughts in my head. It’s amazing how loud thoughts can be in the silence.

I’ve known friends who have had anxiety and panic attacks, but until recently I couldn’t really relate. My self-perception has been as an easy going person who is pretty chill. However, as I’ve had these waves of fear, a new understanding and compassion has developed for those who have them often.

What has changed is that when those waves come now, I remember the sound of Pema’s voice and I repeat it to myself. “Stay …. stay …. stay.” I breathe deeply INTO the feeling instead of trying to immediately push it away. As a result, not only does it seem the wave passes quickly, but the residual ripples are less.

When I don’t allow the feeling to be there, it actually lingers. It can then become unconscious and create more distraction, more procrastination and more of the very thing I was trying to avoid, namely my fear. As I’ve stayed with it, I’m discovering my trust that all things will work out is growing.

I know I still have a long way to go in the arena of allowing my feelings. I have a long history with avoidance and a pattern that is deeply ingrained. Today, however, I am celebrating the small steps I am taking towards learning a new skill.

The key is to stay with the feelings without adding to the story that created them. I invite you to try this the next time you have a strong emotion and see how it works for you. Drop me a note and let me know how it goes. Perhaps together we can transform our experience and discover greater freedom.