"Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth." - Pema Chodron
Sometime last year I was in a book store in need of a book. Nothing in particular, but just in "need" of something, which usually leads me to the Buddhism section when I'm unsure of what I want but feeling as though I "need" something. That day I picked up Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart", and it wasn't until a couple of days ago that I finally started reading it. "Heart Advice For Difficult Times" it says on the front cover -- this purchase happened before any of the deaths that would come in the year -- and sat on my bookshelf, collecting dust, but patiently waiting until I recognized the need to pick it up and read it. It has become, mostly, nighttime reading before falling asleep. It goes against my general principle of reading anything too "heavy" before sleeping, yet I felt something significant about carrying these words into the dream state and internalizing the healing there. The very first chapter is on "Intimacy with Fear", and the quote above is the first line shared... I caught my breathe when I read it, and held it... shit.
As someone who practices and teaches about breathwork I knew what it meant to hold the breath, to internalize this fear about fear, and it made me laugh, because it was like the cliched comparison to a game of Monopoly, heading back to "go" but not collecting anything. I sat there, rereading that one line over and over again, and realized how true, this whole time, how true that revelation was, and how silly it was of me to not recognize it sooner. Not a judgmental silly, just a matter of fact silly, as though somehow I was 'supposed' to know this.
We have entered October 1st, and for those who know my "story", my background, the pain and trauma that led me to Now, well, you know this time of year is both beautiful and horrific for me, and that this month in particular holds the balance of both light and dark in its extremes in my life. We're in October -- a month for the past 15 years that has held me hostage to replay the events that terrified me and sealed a layer of fear I thought I would carry with me for life.
15 years ago. I almost can't fathom what that time was like anymore. I haven't forgotten, no, darkness isn't forgotten, it's remembered, and the reality is as the seasons change, so, too, does the memory change. It is a combination of being both better and worse over time, but still there, tender, painful, frightening, and tormenting, if you slip back into the rhythmic pattern it cycles through. Every year is easier, every year more acceptance comes, though somehow last year I really believe I let it go. This year... I realize that I completed a layer of becoming intimate with fear -- if fear is that "natural reaction to moving closer to the truth", then the truth unfolded itself without me needing to prod or pressure it. Hm... who would have thought, simply "being" and "allowing" would actually bring the truth after all... note the sarcasm that pokes me, but it feels like a sense of relief. I can breathe, and I am not that 16 year old girl who was traumatized and later tried killing herself.
I'm not her.
It's an interesting revelation. The thing that has been playing over and over in my mind for over a week now, perhaps in mental preparation for what this month has brought to me in the past, is that I'm not the story.
I am not the story.
It's liberating. I carried this story, the pain, the incident, the characters, the result, the aftermath, the fear... I carried it all in this never-filling Mary Poppins-style backpack as a constant reminder of this pain. It wasn't a story I shared with others, so it never became about "look at what I've been through, pity me"; instead it became a way that my dysfunctional self kept me in the dark. Then it shifted to my inner child clutching onto the "devil you know", completely scared, afraid of, well, everything. I realized that part of the story I told myself was that I wasn't afraid to die, but that I was afraid to live, when the truth wasn't that at all. The truth was that I was afraid of being nothing, of not following my purpose and being a Being that could easily be nothing -- forgotten, unloved, or too loved... we're a species of storytellers...
When I look back I don't think much about that time anymore. It's odd to realize that. To actually see that I have let the story fade. It's there, dusty on the bookshelf for me to read later if I so choose, but it's no longer my story, not in the same way. That story was written by a broken 16 year old girl who never thought she'd live past that week, never mind a decade and a half later to be staring fear in the face, sometimes winning, sometimes scraping my knee and falling down, but never dying.
"The point is not to try to get rid of thoughts, but rather to see their true nature. Thoughts will run us around in circles if we buy into them, but really they are like dream images. They are like an illusion -- not really all that solid. They are, as we say, just thinking."
I spent 15 years "just thinking" instead of "just seeing". It's the fear. Fear says "do this", and like a child being scolded, I did. Then the empowered womyn within says "just be", and so I am, until that undefinable scent pierces the senses, and it's the fear once more, returning, sometimes toxic, other times like a lost little child itself. It presents itself as scary, but instead it just wants to be listened to. Not believed, just understood. I let myself live in the illusion, because the "truth" was that I was scared of what it meant to fulfill a contract I had here. My spiritual mother once told me that my contract was *here*, it was then that I started dancing the dance with fear. Not being controlled by it, not even understanding it fully (yet), but simply being, as I would with anyone, just be.
"Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."
I'm feeling the layer of this upcoming cycle as truly being healed. I'm not interested in the story anymore. I don't have time for it, I've got too much on my own agenda to be concerned with a pain that I don't hold anymore. I suppose some of it comes with the perspective of death: what really matters?
A friend of mine recently asked me why I haven't healed that part yet -- why I haven't gone back to that time and done soul retrieval for my loss parts? I looked at him, ready with an answer, realizing I had no answer. He stumped me, and I felt the breath collapse once more. I have done healing work for aspects that followed, that were related to that time, the "domino effect" of that incident, but not for that time specifically. Why? I'm still uncovering much of it, though I realize it's partly because I subconsciously was punishing myself for my role -- the role the 'victim' plays in believing it is their fault and what they could have done differently... I never looked at myself like a 'victim' of the situation. Instead I looked at it as a painful lesson. Does that change the mentality? I don't know, maybe.
So while I haven't finished reading the book yet, it's proving to be enlightening thus far, especially as my heart continues to heal from loss, I imagine it will be a similar journey of taking the advice I share with my students and clients when faced with their own pain: be gentle with yourself.
"Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior."