Play Through Fear is blending…

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Strong is Free is about health, physical and mental fitness as we go through change, and outdoor adventure as a means to feel your way more comfortably out of a comfort zone that doesn’t serve you anymore.

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The Trick of Security

“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘How can I find security and happiness?’ we could ask ourselves, ‘Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace – disappointment in all its many forms – and let it open me?’ This is the trick.”  – Pema Chodron

I have a friend going through a divorce. It hasn’t been the worst divorce I ever saw, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than two “nice” divorces in my life, so it’s reasonable to say it has been rough. There are a lot of decisions to make, about money, children, property; and more subtle decisions… what words to use to communicate, or how she will choose to feel about any given circumstance that arises.

She has a new relationship that seems promising, but closing up the details of the marriage when someone new has a stake in how those decisions go poses an interesting challenge. She holds firm that the decisions are hers alone, despite who else they may affect. The reactions triggered in others by this assertion have been strong, to say the least, both positive and negative.

Is deciding alone a selfish and hard-hearted act in this case, or is it empowering? Does it have to be cast either way?

the thinker

Our decisions ALWAYS affect others. Everything we do, or say, or even think, ripples out into a shared experience. Does that make our decisions any less our own? Do we really need to consult anyone who might be affected by a decision we make? Why do certain relationships warrant this extra step? And why do we really WANT to be consulted on the decisions of others that (may) affect us?

We talk with great certainty about our “right” to know what others are doing and planning, especially spouses or other family members. We claim this is not about controlling another person but merely about our ability to react or weigh-in. We get such easy agreement from others about this need-to-know that it rarely gets explored. What is that NEED really about?  Why do we believe we should get a say in what affects us? What do we fear will happen if we are not consulted; if we allowed ourselves to be affected, out of the blue?

As humans, we are led to act by love or by fear. There are times that consulting others is a form of love. It is overt communication; it shows we care about the other’s opinions or that we believe we can benefit from their experience or instincts… as long as that is REALLY why we are doing it.

Unfortunately, most of the time insisting on consultation is an expression of fear. If I don’t call my husband when I am out of town for a few days, (and he therefore does not know what I am doing) is this an offense against the marriage? Everyone knows where this goes, right? How hard is it to just check in so I feel better? What if you are meeting someone else? I could be marginalized, not missed enough, cheated on!!! I DESERVE to be made safe and certain that none of this is happening!


In the case of my friend’s divorce, her new partner undoubtedly has concerns about financial arrangements, how some unknown ex might make a move that uproots his new-found happiness. Understandable fears, but do we really have a right to force others to try and free us from fear? Do we actually believe that ANYTHING another person tells us, no matter how advance the warning and no matter how great our participation in the decisions, will quell our fear once we have chosen to indulge in fear in the first place?

We cannot feel love and fear at the same time. We cannot act out of both. We really do have to choose. We are connected beings, but we are ONLY TRULY connected by love. When fear steps in we experience life alone. If we want to experience the magic and joy of loving connection we have to stop expecting others to dole out our security.

Security that is given to us by others is an illusion we grasp at; a search that is never satisfied by finding. We are safest when we stop worrying about safety. We are happiest when we stop wondering what will make us happy. Trust is not “earned,” it is simply experienced by knowing that this life is a wild ride and that we will be o.k.

fragile love

Sometimes we throw the board in the air, send the pieces flying. We look at others and say, THAT JUST HAPPENED. Sometimes we are the other that sits staring in amazement, maybe in horror, as our playmate has upended the game.

Don’t tell me you didn’t sign up for this. You did. You do. Every day, you re-sign. Can you learn to sit still as order falls away? Let every feeling about it pass through you and mean nothing about your safety?

This is the trick. It’s really REALLY worth learning.

Being Fear-Resistant

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

The first time I heard someone talk about fear not being “real” – fear as an illusion – I thought, interesting. I’m open to almost any idea, and this one sounded pretty attractive. But I can’t say I understood it. If fear is not real, then how is it that I experience it?

illusion on the path

The simple answer is that fear is classified as an illusion because it passes; it is not enduring. Even the most fearful of us forget our trepidation from time to time and stumble joyfully into doing what we love, lost and unencumbered in the moment. We think that it is the inspired idea, or the foray into joy that is fleeting. But why? If fear never came around to take us down a notch, why wouldn’t the inspiration endure?

It would. And it does, to a much larger degree, if you practice becoming fear-resistant.

One of my favorite stories from Buddhist teaching is about Mara the demon god and his visits to the Buddha. The two had done epic battle in the past, and though the Buddha had won and had driven Mara away, Mara still came around periodically and lurked about the house. When this happened, the Buddha simply made two cups of tea, set them down at the table, and invited Mara in for a visit. Each time Mara stayed a while, and eventually got up and left.

buddha and mara

That is fear-resistance. Hello, fear, I recognize you, and since you are here let’s have some tea. Other possible reactions might be to start another battle, or to run and hide. Both take a lot of effort, and both ultimately feed your fear, even when they are “successful” in the moment.

Each of us DO have our epic battles to fight with fear, and some are important. When fear shows up as a demon, a big push past it with a battering ram may be the way forward. But we need not suit up in armor and fight a battle every time the irritant version of fear shows up unannounced in the driveway. This is fear masked as generalized worry or doubt, or unpleasant thoughts about those we love.

The flight response to fear is sometimes justified for our own survival, too. But we know there are times when we look around and say, oh wow, I just ran about a mile away from what I was doing before I even realized it, all because I got a tiny glimpse of fear out in the garden. Fear in that situation looks more like procrastination, sudden tiredness and loss of focus, or forgetfulness about things we know are deeply important to us. We find we are off track, disorganized, and it takes time to remember what we were doing before we dropped it and ran. Sometimes we never get back to it.

dead flowers

Fear-resistance is the practice of staying conscious so you can make an intentional choice about your interaction with fear, regardless of the form fear takes in any given moment. It is resistance to the unconscious reaction that disrupts your ability to see the reality of peace that is always inside you. This practice turns Mara, slowly perhaps, from a demon-warrior-god, into an angry weirdo banging on the door, into an irritant in the bushes, and eventually into a foggy silent presence who just drifts around and gives you a little shiver.

Fear is still present, but the worst that happens is a little wasted tea.

Extreme Presence


The view upon stopping

I would like to nurture an easier metaphor for living than that of mountain climbing. I am 46 years old and I believe life does not have to be like slogging up an unforgiving and indifferent pile of rock and ice. I try, sometimes, to make an allegory of my childhood stroll across my neighborhood to school. Familiar, easy, friendly, full of tiny mysteries and successful arrivals. Full of play without fear. But at some point I always lift my eyes and look up the hill. Something is up there that I want to reach. I want to see from above. I want to find the way up.

So for now, mountains are still my framework for life. Choosing a route, picking a pace, resting, noticing, persevering. Sometimes rescue is required. The decisions are simple, but consequential.  It is play. There is no reason for it but to do it. Some think the danger is death, but I think the danger is fear. We cannot live to avoid death. We only live to overcome fear.

When you take the first steps up a mountain, you have yet to make any critical mistakes. You are climbing perfectly, steadily, clearly in the direction of the summit. If you have done this more than once, however, you know it won’t be long before the first voice of doubt speaks up. “You aren’t ready for this. Look at yourself, you’re already tired and you’ve barely started.”

Everyone understands the presence of fear up high, but I have come to believe that fear is more insidious down low. Disguised as indecision, irritation, a sudden recoil from the idea of discomfort, fear infiltrates and clouds your curiosity. Fear drops a storm of identity between you and the summit.  You decide that you know yourself, and you are just not the type who does this. You decide that the endeavor is not worth it. Your wise, old story infects you like a virus. You find plenty of company in these safe, dark places. You give up and forget you ever wanted to climb.

Once you are higher, the decisions feel bigger, but you have learned to make them with the bigger parts of your mind. You have made several mistakes by the time you reach any meaningful altitude. You have climbed to fast or too slow, brought along too much or too little. There is no fixing it. Giving up the summit and going down is no guarantee of safety. You are where you are, in extreme presence. What do you want most? The answers come quickly.

no trail to top

The question I am trying to answer is no longer how to climb and succeed. I want to know how to be  both the mountain and the climber; how to sit still and know I make the weather from outside this human form that clings to me. There is no space for fear in this question, and yet fear remains. Nothing to do but play through.