Fear

In her book The Places that Scare You, Pema Chodron writes:

LEAVING THE NEST

All too frequently we relate like timid birds who don’t dare to leave the nest. Here we sit in a nest that’s getting pretty smelly and that hasn’t served its function for a very long time. No one is arriving to feed us. No one is protecting us and keeping us warm. And yet we keep hoping mother bird will arrive.

We could do ourselves the ultimate favor and finally get out of that nest. That this takes courage is obvious. That we could use some helpful hints is also clear. We may doubt that we’re up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: “Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?”

When Pema writes of warrior-in-training, she is using a Shambhala term that refers to a kind of brave confrontation of life as it is, a sort of spiritual warrior, not a military one.

How many of us are afraid of success and so don’t try? How many of us prefer to sign petitions online and post images and stories on Facebook (good things to do) but would never dream of getting to know someone who is actually impacted by the problems we protest? How many of us dare to step out boldly, and how many of us sit by passively waiting for someone else to take the lead – and then not following when someone does step out? In fact as we age we will find ourselves less physically able to do those things, which may be the best argument for forcing ourselves to do them while we can.

To be sure, we are not all called to be activists or to march in protest. We all can engage in relationship, regardless of age or ability. We can engage our neighbor, the person in the check out line at the grocery store or at the next table in the coffee shop, or the person we find sitting on their porch as we take a walk in our neighborhood. For slightly more than a year now I have been doing occupancy and property inspections in urban neighborhoods. The advice given in training is to not get involved in conversation because it slows you down. I can’t follow that advice, because when someone engages me I choose to respond with compassion rather than self-importance. I understand that living on a block with boarded up homes brings with it fear and uncertainly and, while I often can’t provide solid answers as to what the future holds, I can listen to people and share what I do know.  I can help them to see that I care about what happens to their neighborhood.

It’s possible that addressing the larger issues facing our world though Facebook activism and online petitions. I find that a compassionate conversation absolutely impacts the lives of those we meet. I cannot help but wonder if changing things on a more global level is possible without changing things on the local level. Working for change locally requires personal engagement and so can be intimidating because it absolutely requires leaving the nest. As Pema Chodron points out, the nest is familiar – so familiar that we may not notice it has started to be a bit dingy. In stepping out of the nest, we open ourselves to new possibilities and a vital life. Our fear represents a certain entrenchment in the familiar, and our nature like the devil we know more than the angel we don’t. We can overcome that fear, regardless of our limitations, by engaging another human being. What’s holding you back?

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