I had the pleasure and honor of attending Pema Chödrön’s “Smile at Fear” retreat (October 2010). Three thousand people went to the event in Richmond, CA, while another two thousand followed the program in real time on the web. It was heart warming to be in the company of such an inspiring teacher and so many people dedicated to the path of loving-kindness.
As its title implies, the retreat was devoted to engaging with fear. Pema’s teachings came from her “root” teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, and they can be found in his book, Smile at Fear. If you are interested in seeing recordings of the event, click here. Below are some of the pearls of wisdom Pema shared in her Friday evening teaching:
• Welcome the present moment as if you invited it. Let it be your teacher.
• People are more fearful of uncertainty than physical pain. (This has been proven scientifically — not that we needed science to know this!)
• Speeding up in life is a common habit for dealing with fear. The other common habit is becoming paralyzed by fear and then procrastinating, which can look like laziness. Addictions are also a defense against fear.
• Often we distract ourselves so that we do not have to feel fear. This leads to “iron heart”–becoming defended against our feelings, which also shuts us off from the world.
• The fear of uncertainty and the experience of iron heart can keep us from loving and trusting ourselves. We start to fear facing how bad we feel about ourselves. One of the most painful things to witness is that we do not like ourselves.
• The first step to dealing with fear: developing an unconditional friendship with yourself. To begin an unconditional friendship with yourself, start staying with what you are feeling when you want to shut down, especially when you feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even hate yourself. This means staying present to your feelings when you begin to fear what you see about yourself. But be gentle with yourself. Trust in your basic goodness.
• The things that really scare us out in the world are the things that trigger our deepest feelings of inadequacy.
• The basis of fearlessness is really knowing fear.
• If you touch into the fear, and stay with it, you will find tenderness, vulnerability, and possibly sadness. Meditation is the way to touching fear.
• When you open yourself to the horrors of the world, you also open yourself up to the joys. You begin to live with gratitude.
• The question to be asking yourself: How can I open to life? Begin by starting small. Start letting feelings of anxiety and fear come up around the small stuff. Pema gave the example of finding a parking space. With her inspiration, I ended the evening walking to my car with a new mantra: Feel the fear and park anyway.
© 2010 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).