The Warrior and Fear

I am currently reading a book entitled When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.  She is a Western Buddhist and has some very interesting perspectives.  She tells a story in the book about a warrior battling against fear; this story has me thinking a lot these days.  Currently my husband Jim is in the hospital.  Although he has been very ill for some time battling chronic Lyme Disease that left his muscular and neurological systems attacked, he had a particularly scary turn with his breathing recently.  It turns out that the ventilator he is on punched a hole in his left lung and it collapsed about 30%.  The good news regarding this latest worry is that the lung is easily fixable and the surgeon has already taken care of things; Jim’s lung is on the way to repairing itself.

But why has the story been pursuing me so?  Here it is (pg. 41-42):

Once there was a young warrior.  Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear.  She didn’t want to do that.  It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly.  But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle.  The day arrived.  The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other.  The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful.  They both had their weapons.  The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”  Fear said, ‘Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”  Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”  Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face.  Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say.  If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power.   You can listen to me, and  you can have respect for me.  You can even be convinced by me.  But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”  In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.

What stood out to me from the story was Fear saying he talks fast and gets in your face.  This is, of course, the truth.  We focus under stressful times on the intensity of it, the need to say something of meaning, to make sense of it, to run away.  But really what needs to happen is that we need to pause and reflect.  We need to realize the bigger picture of the issue, not just the current anxiety-ridden moment.  We need to decide to take control ourselves and move in that direction – directly move toward Fear and not to run in the other direction.  It is the only thing that makes sense.

The other part of the story that speaks to me is that the warrior is not passive in the story.  She is confident enough to ask the question “How can I defeat you?”  This again emphasizes that the control is all really and truly up to her, she just has to pause to make the assessment.  Fear tells her to listen to him and have respect for him.  I definitely think there are lessons and signs to gain information from by paying attention to fear.  Respect it, but don’t let the fast words get you off course.

Many months ago my then 4-year old son said of his daddy’s health, “Daddy has warriors and knights in him fighting the bad guys – fighting the Lyme.  These fighters have different ways of attacking which is good.  They will get the bad guys.”  How astute of my sweet son.  He has no doubt that his daddy will win the battle because the warriors within him are working to beat the bad guys.  Jim’s warriors are often mental fighters setting up the stage so that the physical fighters can do their job.  Jim, and each one of us, truly has warriors within him to defeat the bad guys, such as fear, Lyme bacteria, and a variety of other “bad guys.”  To get your warriors into action, you just have to pause to call on them.  Analyze the fear and ask the questions to face and defeat it.

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