“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have a choice.”
Our fears, anxieties and the stories we tell ourselves can leave us feeling stuck and frustrated. There are ways to recognize the things that hold us back and take control of our lives. Pema Chodron approaches this subject beautifully in her book The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. In writing that is clear, concise and feels like a conversation with a dear friend, she provides a guide to recognizing our fears and moving past them. Here are some of the points she discusses:
1. Get to know your fears, don’t run from them. Observe objectively, without judgement.
“Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well. …We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build the walls: what are the stories I tell myself? What repels me and what attracts me?”
2. Recognize that nothing is permanent, everything is always changing.
“Life does continually go up and down. People and situations are unpredictable and so is everything else.”
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Work on stepping away from beliefs and assumptions, becoming okay with the unknown. Don’t close yourself off to possibilities.
“Self-importance hurts us, limiting us to the narrow world of our likes and dislikes. We end up bored to death with ourselves and our world. We end up never satisfied.”
4. Accept that pain and suffering are a part of life.
“…it is only by practicing through a continual succession of agreeable and disagreeable situations that we acquire true strength. To accept that pain is inherent and to live our lives from this understanding is to create the causes and conditions for happiness.”
5. Be able to sit with discomfort. We tend to try to block the emotions we are feeling when it is too unpleasant. Accept the present moment and be kind to yourself, practice self-compassion.
“Rather than appreciate where we are, we continually struggle and nurture our dissatisfaction. …no matter how shut down we get, we can always look outside our cocoon and connect with joy.”
Sitting meditation “gives us a way to move closer to our thoughts and emotions and to get in touch with our bodies.”
6. Practice the four limitless qualities: loving kindness, compassion, joy, equanimity.
“Cultivating these four qualities gives us insight into our current experience. It gives us understanding of the state of our mind and heart right now…In practicing the four limitless qualities, we aren’t trying to convince ourselves of anything, nor are we trying to hide our true feelings. We are expressing our willingness to open our hearts and move closer to our fears.”
7. See yourself clearly. “The essence of bravery is being without self-deception.”
“As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny – judgmentalness, pettiness, arrogance. …The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power.”
8. Practice forgiveness, allow yourself a fresh-start.
“There is a simple practice we can do to cultivate forgiveness. First we acknowledge what we feel – shame, revenge, embarrassment, remorse. Then we forgive ourselves for being human. Then, in the spirit of not wallowing in the pain, we let go and make a fresh start.”
There is so much more to gain from this book and if these summarized points speak to you at all, I definitely recommend reading The Places That Scare You. Hope it can provide the wisdom, guidance and inspiration you may be searching for.
“May we go to the places that scare us.”
“May we lead the life of a warrior.”