Midweek Faith Lift
July 14, 2021
Open Heart in the Face of Fear- Part 2
Lean In and Let Go
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
“Whenever you see a fault in others, attribute it to yourself. That way you will get the benefit and will learn from other's mistakes.”
— Kadampa saying in Meditations to Transform the Mind by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Glenn H. Mullin
To Practice This Thought:
Identify a lesson for you in another's offense.
Wow, that is a powerful practice to embrace and the very opposite of what we usually want to do. I don’t know about you, but my response is typically to review my past behaviors with deliberate emphasis on how I DON’T do whatever it is that I am finding fault for in someone else. And then if someone points out that yes, you did do the same thing, I usually respond with detailed explanations of how what I did or said was completely justified and after all, I only did or said it once, so it doesn’t really count! And for the record, being called out in this way is one more thing that elicits a fear response in me for sure. I just don’t want to go there, not even a little bit. And I believe I have company in this, too!
As we explored last week in our curriculum of life, difficult people whose faults are readily evident provide us ample opportunity to recognize and face our fears whether we want to or not. Just for the record, there are reportedly 103 instances in the Bible where we are told, “Fear not!” so we are clearly not alone in wanting to avoid these lessons and teachers. What we fear so often is loss; loss of face, loss of power, influence and opportunity, loss of the good opinion and approval of others, loss of life itself. In each fear-triggering situation, I fear loss of something that I believe is essential to my happiness. When I believe something is “wrong” with me, my immediate response is to think I am in danger. But remember, this is only a thought, and not all thoughts are true.
Pause, breathe, and as you allow your reaction, recognize that it is the result of all your experiences and may well be out of proportion to the immediate, perceived threat. We are seeking genuine freedom, which only comes with a deep sense of our connection to our true nature, our Christ consciousness, our awakened nature, which is deeply rooted in our consciousness. And we only experience this true nature when we let go into fear, trusting in the power and presence of God within us.
This calls to mind two stories. Tara Brach shares the first story on p. 185 of Radical Acceptance and it is the story of a man who jumps off the edge of a cliff to escape a fierce tiger who is chasing him. Fortunately, a tree growing on the side of the cliff breaks his fall. He is dangling from it by one arm, tiger pacing above him and jutting rocks about 100 feet below him. In desperation, he screams, “Help, somebody, help me!” A voice responds, “Yes?” The man screams, “God, God is that you?” And again the voice responds, “Yes.” The terrified man calls out, “God, I’ll do anything, just please, please help me!” God responds, “Okay, then, just let go.” The man pauses for a moment, then calls out, “Is there anyone else there?”
How typical of our human condition and response to fear! And yet, there is another story from Paul in the letter to the Philippians and it goes like this:
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (NRSV)
The very powerful message to us is that only freedom we will ever have is when we let go and lean into and face our experience of fear, even when it brings suffering and even death-the death of something in us that is resisting the experience of our fear.
Paul continues to state what has happened to Jesus as a result of facing the fear of death and the suffering of the cross in Philippians 2:9-11
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)
What this tells us is that in letting go and leaning into our fear, allowing ourselves to feel and experience the very worst fears, we are not alone, and there is a truly freeing experience on the other side of the fear that raises us up and exalts us.
Why is it so critically important that we do this, that we let go and let God? It is because resisting our fear keeps us trapped in the illusion of control and from experiencing our true God-self, or God-ness. Tara Brach says that we must agree to feel what our mind tells us is “too much.” She says, on page 186 of Radical Acceptance:
We must agree to the pain of dying, to the inevitable loss of all that we hold dear. Letting go into fear, accepting it, may seem counterintuitive. Yet because fear is an intrinsic part of being alive, resisting fear means resisting life. The habit of avoidance seeps into every aspect of our life….it keeps us from being present to the moment.
I believe that Tara Brach is saying the same thing as the apostle Paul. In the moment of letting go of numbness to really face what we are feeling, some part of us dies so that we are truly set free to live. In the moment that feels so excruciating we can lean in and ask, “What is really asking for my attention?” The energy is usually right there, and then we can ask, “How big are you?” And then we feel the sting of shame or guilt or pain and we breathe into it. Leaning into fear does not mean that we get lost in it or identify with it. Our usual stance is to back away from our fear. Now with the power and presence of God, we turn to face it directly and learn to just be with and accept what is there.
We can be assured, as Paul says, that the Power and Presence of God exalts us, lifts us up, just as it lifted up Christ Jesus. When Paul tells us to let the same mind be in us that was also in Christ Jesus, he is inviting us to walk the same path of faith and mindfulness as Jesus through all the crucifixions of our life.
It is through the Christ of us that we remain awake and mindful of fear without spacing out or avoiding our fear. We are able to widen the lens to the larger reality that is the power and presence of love, even in the face of our feelings of crippling fear. It is in facing what we don’t want to feel that we find the liberating freedom of love, an openness and spaciousness that can hold both our fear and our facing the fear. It is not easy, but it is truly the only way to lasting freedom. In this way, we relate to fear rather than relating from fear. This is a practice because our mind is so habitually contracted to our human perspective. That is why Paul tells us to let the same mind be in us that was also in Christ Jesus. When we do this, we are free, we widen the lens and cultivate a mindful presence in which we are no longer caught in crippling fear. That is true freedom!
The only way through it is to feel it, be with it and learn to be both open and awake. When that happens, fear no longer runs the show and we are free to make real choices about how we show up, able to be fully present to all that is there. It is not easy and we often need support, help, divine guidance and a lot of prayer. That is how we support each other in leaning in to our path of spiritual growth. The truth of our connectedness is greater than the energy of all our fear. It really is the greater Truth. Myrtle Fillmore has a whole chapter devoted to this pattern entitled “Meeting the Cloven Hoof.” She reminds us that God’s will for us is good and only good and that “we are not punished for our sins, but by them”! Here is what she advises in How to Let God Help You on page 70-71 when we encounter one who pushes all our fear reactivity buttons:
If an individual fails to make wise use of some power, and for the time being disturbs some of our old fixed beliefs or even harms us, we do not stamp his act as a wrong and let such a belief settle back into the subconscious to build up a belief in evil and a fear of evil. We simply bless that individual, and realize that he was not yet in the Christ light in the use of the faculties and power, which he was exercising at the time. We remind ourselves that while he may have the stature of a man, he is still just a child in his development….
What an exercise in compassion for the other, who triggers our fear, and for ourselves when we find ourselves falling short of truly, fully and honestly facing our fear. I fall short on a regular basis! We walk this path of leaning in, learning, awakening and practicing mindfulness so that we can be fully present to all that our life offers us. When we say “yes” to our worst fears, we say yes to life and we say yes to freedom, true and lasting freedom.
May it be so with all on this day that celebrates freedom!
Blessings on the Path,