Embrace Your Fears
by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, Jigme Pema Wangchen
We have so much to feel good about, yet we spend all our time worrying about the things that aren’t quite right, that might go wrong or that we might lose. It is the ‘not knowing’ that sends our minds into a tailspin – playing out possible scenarios and how we might react to them and wishing we could just know the outcome, rather than be faced with so much change and uncertainty in life. We try to forge a path of certainty: if we don’t take any risks, then maybe we’ll be ok and not have to face anything too difficult.
But it is often in our attempts to safeguard our happiness that we instead stifle it and become increasingly fearful or anxious. And if we do not look after our minds, then uncertainty can easily become associated with and attached to fear: fear of the great unknown, fear of death and even fear of life. Worrying is a mental drain; believing instead that anything is possible requires the same investment of energy, only channelled differently. You put your energy to good use, rather than letting it burn away for nothing.
The teachings have taught me to trust myself and to be confident, to be fearless. You need to be a little bit brave to look your idiosyncrasies in the eye and work on yourself; to develop your life and get closer to your nature. Looking in the mirror-like this can be a painful process but as His Holiness said to me once, if you don’t cut now, when? So in the past years, I have been cutting the ties created by my mind – all the fears and worries about who I am and how my life is turning out. JIGME SEMZANG
FREE YOURSELF FROM FEAR AND ANXIETY
Happy is the man who has given up worrying. Attaching yourself to your worries limits you and robs your mind of the mental freedom that allows you to be happy. It’s a perpetual circle of the same kinds of thoughts feeding off each other and going around and around. They take up precious time and they stifle happiness, keeping it suffocated and invisible beneath the surface of a tense, stressed-out mind. Even small, daily worries can build up over time, leaving little room for other things. Then you feel small and inhibited, your thoughts become small and inhibited and, as a result, the same thing happens to your words and actions. So you feel limited in your potential, meaning that you are restricting yourself by allowing worries to take centre stage all the time in your mind.
If you are someone who tends towards worrying, and you certainly won’t be alone if you are, then if you begin to practise even a few minutes of meditation, focusing on the breath and releasing thoughts as you breathe out, your mind will begin to feel more calm and spacious. Instead of holding on to worries and constantly turning them over and over, wearing out your mind, you will begin to acknowledge them for what they are and allow them to dissolve or float away.
Focus on happiness
If you could take a picture each day of your happiness, what would it look like? One day it might be a familiar face, another day something completely surprising and new. It might be a challenge or fear that you embraced and stepped through. It might be a connection you made. Every day is a chance for happiness. If you take one small action each day towards your happiness, in time those small actions will change the bigger picture and transform your life.
WHERE THERE IS FEAR THERE IS HOPE
I meet many people who feel they could do so much more if they could just throw out their fears and anxieties. But rather than try to ignore fears, perhaps there is something to be said for looking into the heart of them, accepting them and then walking through them. If you can look at your fears or worries from another angle, you will often find something inspiring, something you truly want to do with your life. Someone who is afraid to get married, for example, also knows deep down the potential for happiness in being in a loving, committed relationship. In exactly the same place we imagine failure there is success.
There should be no shame or regret when we turn away from our fears and walk away, but equally, why not jump in and use them as our inspiration? They hold great potential for growth.
Nowhere to hide
Kate does not practise Buddhism, but comes to the retreats for the philosophical teachings, to explore ideas:
I have been to Druk Amitabha Mountain three times on retreat, and each time I am confronted with the realisation that there is nowhere to hide there, physically, mentally or emotionally. The image I have of myself comes right up to the surface and then crumbles away as I quickly realise I am not special, but at the same time we are all as special and important as each other. I arrive with the labels, ‘I am not a Buddhist’, ‘I am shy’ and ‘I am not a group person. And then I realise that to the nuns I am simply a guest who is staying with them for a few days, no labels required. I remember one morning I received some bad news over the phone and I came out of the dorm room crying. As I was passing a nun, she touched my face and said, ‘Don’t be afraid’. It’s funny, with English not being her first language she made me realise just how much I can let fear and anxiety get in the way of my happiness. But I can also be quite good at letting go and jumping in, giving things a go. That’s how I ended up at this incredible place at the foot of the Himalayas in the first place, the place that reminds me to let go of the fussiness, be myself without the need for labels and keep jumping in.
I love this question. It makes my mind happy! It is understandable that people often fall into the trap of trying to come up with excuses why they shouldn’t do what is their heart’s desire – why they should let some kind of fear or anxiety put them off. But these two little words – why not? – help to dissolve the monsters and propel us forward. Why not give it a go? Why not take that chance? Why not take a leap? Many very famous and successful business people in the world tell stories, with big smiles on their faces, of all the times they tried and failed at things. We might wonder how they can be so happy about their failures, but not one of them ever felt sad about giving something a try, even if it didn’t always work out. It seems that even bumps along the path can be a source of happiness in some ways.
I’m not saying we need to take risks to be happy, but rather that we should be less controlled by the limiting thoughts that prevent us from giving things try. Doubts will give our minds the impression they are there to protect us, but it is when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable that sometimes we do the most amazing things with our lives. We might fall in love, or accomplish something we never thought possible. We stretch the boundaries of our minds, creating new space to grow.
DEVELOP YOUR LIFE
If you are somehow fearful of doing what you really want to do in life because you feel you lack the back-up of support or somebody to rely on in case things go wrong, then this is the perfect time to develop yourself. You are overlooking the one person who you can lean on, who gives you strength and courage. That person is you. Many people have lost confidence in themselves. They worry that if they make a big mistake, no one will be there to pick them up, so it is better to play it safe and avoid risks as much as possible. This is a very understandable position, but it relies on the fabrication or self-delusion that if we don’t change, the world around us will remain the same too – our job will be secure, our house will be safe and so on. And yet industries are changing all the time; the world economy almost completely collapsed just a few years ago.
Nothing is certain; nothing stays the same forever. So when you look into your heart, beneath the worries and the fears and the uncertainties, and see the confidence you who feels inspired by something or wants to take a new direction, allow yourself to start connecting and interacting with that inner confidence. You will see that life is too short to waste so much time working through the fifty possible scenarios that may result from one decision or choice. Why don’t you see for yourself what is going to happen and really experience the richness of your life?
Putting positive thoughts into action
Ask yourself: if you could make the world a happier place today, and you couldn’t fail, what would you do? You may want to contemplate this question or even write down your thoughts – whatever works for you. Consider what really motivates you. For me, I always feel ‘activated’ when I consider what we might be able to do when it comes to being more friendly with the environment and with nature. We have turned these thoughts into focused action by collecting all of our rubbish for recycling, putting up solar panels and asking guests to be mindful of their water usage when they visit our monasteries.
So today, I invite you to turn your own positive thoughts into positive words and actions, deepen your connections and interactions with the world around you and share all the wonderful love and kindness that you have in your heart.
FEELING THE FEAR
We contemplate the ‘Five Remembrances’ (below) to help release ourselves from fear. These are designed to remind us of the changing nature of life, and when we reflect on that we become less clinging to our self-beliefs and our fears of what might – or might not – happen. If we are afraid to let go because we have been let down or hurt in the past, or if our past mistakes still loom large in our imaginations, we need to remind ourselves to live in the present, to appreciate everything good in our lives today, to know that we are going to do our best today and not live under the dark cloud of expectation.
1. There is no way to escape growing old.
2. There is no way to escape ill health at some point during life.
3. There is no way to escape death.
4. Everything and everyone that I love is subject to the nature of change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. The only things that I own are my thoughts, my words and my actions. There is no escape from the consequences of these; they are the ground upon which I stand.
Contemplating these statements gently allows us to bring our fears right into our consciousness. Rather than deny them, we put them into a context that reminds us they are really the same as everyone else’s. We cannot stop time, every second we are getting older, we will experience ill health at some point in life (although, of course, there is much we can do to promote good health), and eventually, we will die. Once we genuinely accept these things we awaken to our lives as they exist right now: we rejoice in our relationships, rather than looking for the cracks; we make the most of our body and health, doing everything we can to take care of ourselves; we accept past hurts and mistakes, but no longer allow them to influence our present or our future.
The remembrances are raw and honest, and because of that, they cut through the usual layers of excuses and justifications for not facing our fears – for maintaining the status quo of life, rather than rocking the boat. As you are honest, your inner nature will come to the surface, so that you may begin to feel even more comfortable in your own skin and more fearless in how you approach your life. You will hear what is in your heart and have the courage to follow what you are telling yourself.
The realisation that the only way to change your life is by changing your own thoughts and actions, frees you to focus on what you can improve, rather than holding on to mistakes or hurts that have been and gone. Today is what really counts – come back to your present and you will come into the richness of your life.
Time waits for no man, so don’t put off your own happiness for another minute.