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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2011 48 the bodhisattva ideal. in the shambhala teachings, we talk about it as warriorship, or, you might say, spiritual warriorship. at its most basic, it means working on ourselves, developing courage and fearlessness and cultivating our capacity to love and care about other people. it involves taking good care of ourselves, but whatever we do, it’s all in the bigger context of helping. when we look at the world around us—our immediate world and the bigger world beyond—we see a lot of difficulty and dys- function. the news we hear is mostly bad news, and that makes us afraid. it can be quite discouraging. yet we could actually de- rive inspiration for our warriorship, for our bodhisattva path, from these dire circumstances. we could recognize the fact, and proclaim the fact, that we are needed. who are “we”? you and me and every one of us—each of us on this earth is needed at this time. why are we needed and in what way are we needed? we’re needed because there are hun- dreds of thousands of billions of beings who are suffering. if even one small segment of us, one sub-community, took it upon themselves to live their life in a way that helped their families, their neighborhoods, their towns, and indeed the earth itself, something good would begin to happen. if we come to the understanding that we are needed and com- mit ourselves to doing something about our own pain and the pain around us, we will find that we are on a journey. a warrior is always on a journey, and a main feature of that journey is fear. this fear is not simply something to be lamented, avoided, or vanquished. it is something to be examined, something to make a relationship with. Fear is a very timely topic now, because fear these days seems so palpable, so atmospheric. you can almost smell the fear around you. the polarization, fundamentalism, aggression, vi- olence, and unkindness that are happening everywhere on the planet—these bring out our fear and nervousness and make us feel that we are on shaky ground. the truth is that the ground has always been shaky, forever. But in times when fear is prevalent, that truth is more obvious. all this fear surrounding us may sound like the bad news, but in fact it’s the good news. Fear is like a dot that emerges in the space in front of us and captures our attention. it is like a doorway we could go through, but where that doorway leads is not predeter- mined. it is up to us. Usually when we’re afraid, it sets off a chain reaction. we go inward and start to armor ourselves, trying to protect ourselves from whatever we think is going to hurt us. But our attempts to protect ourselves do not lessen the fear. Quite the opposite—the fear is actually escalating. rather than becoming free from fear, we become hardened. as our fear spreads within, it makes us harder and more set in our ways. a lot of the most painful conditions in the world are initially motivated by fear. Fundamentalism, for example, comes about when we feel we need something definite and solid to protect ourselves from those who are different from us. that arises from the fear of losing control. Likewise, our addictions come from trying to assuage the discomfort we feel inside, the fear that things are out of our control and we have no secure ground under our feet. whatever form fear hardens into, it continues to escalate and results in actions that can do great damage. it escalates into wars and riots. it escalates into violence and cruelty. it creates an ugly world, which breeds more fear. yet the raw fear initially emerges as a dot in space, as a doorway that can go either way. if we choose to take notice of the actual experience of fear, whether it’s just a queasy feeling in our stomach or actual terror, whether it’s a subtle level of discomfort or mind-numbing dramatic anxiety, we can smile at it, believe it or not. it could be a literal smile or a meta- phor for coming to know fear, turning toward fear, touching fear. in that case, rather than fear setting off a chain reaction where you’re try- ing to protect yourself from it, it becomes a source of tender- ness. we experience our vulnerability, but we don’t feel we have to harden ourselves in response. this makes it possible for us to help ourselves and to help others. we’re all very familiar with the experience of fear escalating, or the experience of running away from fear. But have we ever taken the time to truly touch our fear, to be present with it and experience it fully? do we know what it might mean to smile at fear? about a year ago, i was traveling on an airplane and the man who was sitting next to me had just finished his copy of Time magazine and he asked me if i wanted to read it. i started leafing Smile at croissant.