In his Shambhala teachings, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche tells of traveling with his Master as a young novice. Approaching a temple one day, they found it to be guarded by a large and ferocious dog. As they drew near, the dog began barking and snapping, pulling mightily at the chain that held it. The dog suddenly leapt at them as the chain broke, and the whole group of terrified pilgrims turned and ran. The young novice looked back over his shoulder and, to his horror, saw his Master running directly at the dog. The dog skidded to a stop, put its tail between its legs and ran pell-mell back to its place by the gate.
When the pilgrims had again gathered around their Master he calmly said, "Always, always run at the fire." They then proceeded through the temple gates while the dog lay docilely by, watching them pass.
The point that Trungpa Rinpoche was making with this tale is that we need to face our fears and anxieties directly and without quarter. More, he was intimating that what it is we imagine is often much worse than the reality; what on the surface appears to be quite perilous is more likely rather benign.
So, on the face of it, running at a charging hell-hound doesn't seem like the best choice. But, if you think about it, it is the only choice. Would you rather be mauled from behind, or be mauled while quite literally putting your best foot forward? I'm thinking Door #2.
What gives us the ability to run at the fire or, in this case, the dog, is the realization that we are not, have never been, nor ever will be in control of anything...ever. Owning this realization provokes the confidence that we will be able to manage whatever eventualities arise in the moment because, as soon as we stop living in fear, we begin to live authentically and in the certainty of ourselves.
In establishing this certainty of self, all sorts of other things happen - we become clear, we become present, we understand limits, and boundaries and, most importantly, we develop compassion, both for ourselves, and for the people, things and circumstances that populate our world.
Anxiety, when we dispense with all of the fancy interpretations and definitions, is fear. Our sense of anxiety is an interpretation of the primal fight-or-flight survival mechanism as filtered and distorted by thousands of years of civilized living. So what, in this age of anxiety, are we anxious about? The things we can't control -- which means we're anxious about everything because we've been taught that we're supposed to be in control of everything. We have become capable of literally thinking ourselves into frenzy. Now, there's a vicious circle for you.
If we surrender ourselves to the idea that we can't actually control anything, but acknowledge that we have the ability to confront in the moment the eventualities posed by those things we cannot control, -- to be present -- then our fear evaporates, and we approach freedom.
© 2013 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved
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