On Reading the Places That Scare You.
As the days reach towards their shortest and the nights grow into our waking hours, many of us begin to wrestle with ourselves. The sun shines less and we take it personally. The temperatures drop and our bodies are confused, begging for blankets to hide in. We sleep more, or try to, and our motivation to move around and get fresh air dwindles with the daylight. At this time of year, I ask for help. Help was recently dropped in my lap as an assignment from my yoga teachers.
What was the assignment? Read The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron. At times, I am very aware that the winter is a beautiful time. When I walk my dog at night, it is quieter. The air is crisp and I am happy to have a fuzzy hat, a long puffy coat and warm boots. My dog is in his element and ecstatic to feel the possibility of snow.
The dark winter can also be a time of fear and loss. Things everywhere are sleeping. My garden is stuck until spring. The earth is hard and hidden. Our deepest selves know that we are at the mercy of the seasons. Having a warm home is survival. The balance is more delicate.
Winter can be “the place that scares you”.
Pema’s book allows us to explore our fears, our envy, our egos and anger. Her book invites us to acknowledge and then make a choice. What do we choose to cultivate? Where do I allow my mind to stay? Do I choose resentment towards the cold, or do I choose joy in the mystery of the seasons? Each moment we have a choice to nurture our compassion. As jealousy sneaks up on us when our dear friend is blessed with good fortune, how quickly can we choose to get out from under our ego and join them in their joy?
In the beginning of her book, Pema speaks of “egolessness”.
“The fixed idea that we have about ourselves as solid and separate from each other is painfully limiting. It is possible to move through the drama of our lives without believing so earnestly in the character that we play. That we take ourselves so seriously, that we are so absurdly important in our own minds, is a problem for us.”
I feel like I can exhale further after reading that. How liberating to know that I don’t have to take myself so seriously. Rigidity and seriousness do not work for me, yet some days I cling to them tightly.
“In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious – to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs – is the best use of our human lives… egolessness is a flexible identity. It manifests as inquisitiveness, as adaptability, as humor, as playfulness. It is our capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, with not being at all sure about who we are – or who anyone else is either.”
Exhale further still.
“So it is with all of us. We are certain about who we are and who others are and it blinds us. If another version of reality comes knocking on our door, our fixed ideas keep us from accepting it.”
How free we are when we recognize this tendency in ourselves, and then let it go. It is this tendency that is our biggest challenge and screams for us to stand up and be warriors.
“When we are escaping the present moment with a habitual reaction, can we recall a slogan that might bring us back? Rather than spinning off, can we let the emotional intensity of that red-hot or ice-cold moment transform us? The pith of slogan practice is to take a warrior’s attitude towards discomfort. It encourages us to ask, ‘How can I practice right now, right on this painful spot, and transform this into the path of awakening?'”
Can we be aware of ourselves when the fear, the anger, the sadness finds us? Can we recognize, and not fall? Can we use the energy of our pain to transform us into more open-hearted, compassionate beings?
We reverted to daylight savings a few weeks ago. The week we set our clocks back, it rained… a lot. It was cold and wet and completely dark by 5pm. It was the first week in months that I did not go to a yoga class, or go for a run, or ride my bike and I was pretty invested in being sad. After a week, I finally stood up. I found my warrior mind and my warrior heart and my warrior body and realized my investment was not paying off. Without too much thought, I put my warm fleeces on, pulled my bike out and biked to a yoga class.
It took me a bit, but I changed my response to the cold dark. I got out of my own way and choose a new path, because the old path was bringing me some place I did not want to be. Thanks to my teachers, to my courageous friends, and to a warrior’s written word, I was reminded of my choices. May we choose with deepest awareness and may our warrior hearts keep us present, curious, flexible and strong.
Nicole Maniez is an acupuncturist, herbalist, yoga teacher and childbirth educator in the Boston area. She is lucky to get to combine multiple loves into one sweet career, doing what she loves and helping people move closer to health and wholeness. She is also a momma, an art maker, and an out-of-tune music maker. Hoping that she will never lose the ability to laugh at her follies (and yours), she cultivates her curiosity in an attempt to keep life entertaining. She loves mail. Send her something inspiring – www.nicolemaniez.com.