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Meditation and Fearlessness

June 5, 2023   |   1 Comment

In the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, we say that meditation trains us to be warriors in our lives—fearless, open hearted, and genuine. Today I want to talk about fearlessness and its connection to meditation practice and I’ll start out by relating a story I heard Pema Chödrön tell in one of her books. It is about her teacher, the founder of Shambhala Buddhism, which is the lineage I practice in: the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Trungpa Rinpoche and some attendants were approaching a monastery on foot and for some reason no one was there to greet them. A large guard dog, a mastiff, protected the entrance to the monastery and apparently he was snapping and fierce, frothing at the mouth, straining to get at them. At some point, the dog actually broke free and began to run toward them. Understandably, the attendants began to run the other way. Chögyam Trungpa started to run, too—right at the dog. At this point, the dog became afraid. He stopped. He looked at Trungpa Rinpoche. He turned and went the other direction.

So this is a great lesson in how we train in fearlessness. We all have such giant mastiffs in our lives—whether they take the shape of financial fears, relationship woes, basic survival concerns, or simpler things like being afraid to ask for a raise or worrying that we will fail a test or just have too many emails to answer and people might be mad at us. (OK, I’ll claim that last one, but I’m sure I’m not alone.) What would our version of running at the dog look like?

It’s tempting to think that this means we need to DO something and, well, perhaps we do. But this is not necessarily the warrior’s approach. The way we face our fears is by first and foremost feeling them without trying to banish them or crank them up. Allow them. Open to them. Not to embrace or coddle them, but because we are not afraid to be afraid. A warrior is one who is not afraid of himself. We don’t hide from ourselves and there is a continuous commitment to giving up all our hiding places, even—especially—spirituality. Chögyam Trungpa writes in his wonderful book, Smile at Fear:

If you are afraid of seeing yourself, you may use spirituality or religion as way of looking at yourself without seeing anything about yourself at all. When people are embarrassed by themselves, there is no fearlessness involved. However, if someone is willing to look at the self, to explore and practice wakefulness on the spot, they are a warrior.

Of course our meditation practice IS exactly this practice—of seeing ourselves. So don’t think it has to involve grand gestures or the breaking down of barriers or any kind of giant leap. It is simply what we are about to do: sit, turn toward our experience, and allow ourselves to be exactly who we are. We don’t know what we’re going to see. We may be delighted. We may be terrified. Most likely, we will simply be bored. It’s all OK. It’s the willingness to face ourselves that is the ultra-important starting point.

When we are not afraid of our capacity to love, we discover the depth of our compassion. When we are not afraid of our fear, we discover our unending capacity for warriorship. You can do this. If you’ve meditated, in fact, you already have. As we go forward in our practice today, know that on one hand we are simply sitting on the earth and breathing. But on the other, we are cultivating a kind of bravery that has no end.

If you’re seeking a supportive community for your meditation practice, I invite you to join the Open Heart Project sangha. We’d love to sit with you and discover warriorship together.



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1 Comment

  • Posted by:  David

    Started reading “Smile At Fear” slowly a couple of weeks ago.
    It syncs beautifully with many of my learned ways of navigating my unfolding life while nudging me to reconsider and refresh.
    Got it from our local library, hyalfway through purchased it as I know it will be a useful reference to revisit again.
    …and again.
    As always enjoyed your weekly reflection,

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