Cultivating joy through fear

    November 14, 2016

    I’ve been mulling through my thoughts in the past week, trying to determine an equilibrium. I move quite seamlessly from anger to frustration to hope and back. As time passes, I find my anger receding, and hope settling in. This weekend, I read a chapter from Pema Chodron’s book “The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.” I started this book a few weeks ago, and have been slowly enjoying her sage words, savoring them like a good cup of coffee on a Saturday morning. And wouldn’t you know, sometimes things hit you right when they need to. The chapter I read this weekend was titled “Finding the Ability to Rejoice.”

    It was perfect timing. The chapter looks at one type of meditation, and how we can cultivate a place in our hearts for joy to expand.

    The basic premise is thus: Think first of yourself and find reason to rejoice, even if it’s in the smallest thing, like you didn’t burn the toast this morning, or there was a cardinal outside your bedroom window when you woke up. Then, once you have fully appreciated the ordinary joy in your life, move toward a loved one. Take time to appreciate their good fortune, their everyday joys, try to be glad for them. Next up is a friend, then move to someone neutral, someone you do not know but harbor no true feelings toward. Appreciate their good fortune, and wish them joy.

    Then comes the hard part. Think of someone you dislike, someone who brings difficulty into your life. The practice here is to still wish them joy and appreciate their good fortunes. Finally, expand out to every human living today, and feel their ordinary joys.

    Woof, right? Not an easy task.

    As I was reading her words, for the first time I felt I really had someone I truly disliked for the final practice. And as I read, her words hit home more and more.

    “Difficult people are, as usual, the greatest teachers,” she writes. “Aspiring to rejoice in their good fortune is a good opportunity to investigate our reactions and our strategies. How do we react to their good luck, good health, good news? With envy? With anger? With fear? What is our strategy for moving away from what we feel? What stories do we tell ourselves?…These reactions, strategies, and story lines are what cocoons and prison walls are made of.” (emphasis mine)

    Fear, man. She hit it right on the head. Much of what I heard after the election stemmed from fear. And I won’t lie, I’m afraid too. But seeing this fear, recognizing it, and learning to live with it and, one day, possibly move beyond it, is how we begin to expand our joy.

    We cannot let fear get in the way of our innate goodness. Even through the fear I read in social media posts, and text messages exchanged with friends, there were threads of goodness. The day after the election, when many were suffering from a political hangover, I saw goodness and hope. And this is what we need to cling to.

    No, it won’t be easy. But by seeing fear, and finding ways to soften our hearts to fear without condemning the fact that we are fearful, we can begin to make change. It’s okay to be afraid, but find a way to bring joy to your fear. If you are afraid of Planned Parenthood being defunded, send a donation, or buy a Nasty Woman t-shirt.

    Worried the appointment of Myron Ebell to the EPA could lead to environmental ruin? Sign a petition and let your voice be heard.

    The point is, there can be fear in our lives. But from fear, we can learn to find joy. It may be painful, it may be hard, but we can do it. And from what I’ve seen in the last week, the joy that comes from fear is sweet, because it’s come through struggle.

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