Fearlessness, Courage, and Uncertainty

A Saturday story time for you, with excerpts from The Hobbit.*

On The difference between Courage and Fearlessness, and the nature of quests. How to bring our best selves into the parts of the life that say, “Here there be dragons.” Knowing the difference between the fear that comes from not knowing what comes next, and the fear that comes from a valid assessment of dangers to come.

From one of my many past projects… it mentions a blog and FB page which no longer exist, but you can still find me on Facebook.

and sign up for the newsletter right below this post. Includes spiffy free stuff, a several-part (still growing) sequence on bringing practices off the mat (or cushion) and into everyday life.

What Do You Want?

How many of you have done visioning sessions? How many of you found yourself saying, “Well, I don’t really know what I want”? I’ve been writing about this a lot recently – in the book I’m working on, but also in today’s newsletter.

Here, an introduction to the problem, a nod to the question of knowing what you don’t want, and a caution about replacing the messiness of reality with the perfection (but unattainability) of fantasy.

Mentioned in the video:
My email sign up… for practice tips, and a decision-making guide for tough choices. (I hear life’s fulla those.)

The FB Page.

Things Take Time

“Quick, kid! You’re taking too long! You should be, like, 17 by now, or something!”

“But I was only born 8 years ago…”

“That’s no excuse! Don’t you know that time is money? You’re going to get left behind, and then how are you going to get into law school? What are you doing just lying around looking at fish?!?”

(Please lie around and look at fish.)


Are You Really Stuck?

Are you actually stuck, or are you unwilling to pay the price of getting yourself unstuck? (In the literal sense of “finding a place to live,” but also in the metaphorical sense.)

Come for a walk with me through the snow on the second day of spring, and I shall consider what to do with our minds if we decide we are unwilling to pay the costs of getting our roots pulled up.

Breathe First, Then Act

This week’s Tuesday Tuneup addresses the question of motivation and difficult emotions. I have heard a lot of people say essentially: their anger is justified, that letting it go lets the people they are angry at off the hook, and (besides all that), if they didn’t have these difficult emotions, they wouldn’t take any action at all.

Here’s my take on it:

Fear and anger, even if they motivate us, are *terrible* at telling us what we might do in response.

Even if “everything is ruined forever,” taking a deep breath and calming down before acting still benefits us. (The quote is from the voices in my head.)

Finding the Intelligent Edge

“Just challenging enough, where you are in no danger of injuring yourself, but you’re a little outside of your comfort zone.”

Strategies for taking this principle off the mat and becoming more aware of the point that you are approaching your limits in daily living. Also, backing off at that point.

Let Your Life Speak

This week, I’m adding Saturday Storytime, in which I will make recommendations of books, with excerpts.

This week’s book is Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer. This lovely wee book has been influential in my thinking about callings and vocation, and I think everybody needs a copy on their shelves.

Everybody, I tell you! (Well, maybe not if the word “God” makes you squirm, or really angry. But even then, it might help.)

You Need Whitespace!

On what I realized after several years of trying to perfect my time management.

Resting in Uncertainty

I find it incredibly difficult to hold space for the amount of pain I’m seeing at the moment. I think it was apropos that I made a blog post last week with drowning as the metaphor.
I fear for the future. I feel like all the knowledge I bothered to acquire in the last 45 years has just been replaced with “Because I said so.” There isn’t even any appeal to authority, just a bluntness that overwhelms me, and I find myself doubting my own eyes/ears/reasoning/observations.
The thing that is bothering me most, though, is that I’m also afraid of the judgement of my friends, fearing that I won’t be considered to be doing enough.
I am trying to hold onto a longer story, the world that we have been yearning for with all our various activisms and actions, research and resistance, our permaculture, democratic reform advocacy, alternative social structures… the list is endless. What I’m trying to speak of in this video, which I titled, “Resting with Uncertainty,” is the need now, more than ever, to believe that they are all necessary simultaneously… and to recognize that no one of us actually has the capacity to hold them all at once.
I certainly don’t.

Three Practices for a World in Turmoil

“Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad.” – Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility

I think a lot of us are in that state, caught up in fear and grief, and the anticipation of more grief to come. We want to do something, but we are entangled in the emotions, and it is hard to know what actions to take.

Today, I want to introduce you to (or remind you of) three practices that can help you clear that grief so that you can find your way back to action. These are beyond self-care; they are ways to walk through the fire to get to the other side.

1. Metta – Loving Kindness meditation

Counter-intuitively, Metta, or the focus on loving-kindness, can be a very difficult practice. It involves cultivating a sense of love and kindness in your heart, and then giving it away. So far, so good. You start with yourself, and the people who are close to you, but as you practice, you move out to further and further removed people (and beings), to eventually encompass all sentient beings.

This means that, at some point, you have to pass a level of sending loving kindness to somebody with whom you have a conflicted or difficult relationship. In my experience, my mind often focuses on whoever is triggering the most pain for me… and you can probably guess who that is at the moment.

However, with regular incorporation, Metta can be a beautifully expansive practice that connects your senses to the entire community of sentient beings. And I’m not gonna lie – when you hit the stride, it really feels good. Bonus!

I recommend finding a recorded Metta meditation, as it can be difficult to sit through this practice without guidance. If you are having trouble finding one that works for you, let me know and I will see what I can do to help. I’ve been having good luck with the Insight Timer guided meditations recently, but Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield are particularly good teachers in this practice.

2. Tonglen – Sending and Receiving

Tonglen is an incredibly powerful practice for transforming the experience of suffering. The “receiving” part of this is a moment of allowing yourself to take in the pain (on the inhale) and exchange it, sending relief on the exhale.

Caution: One must not get lost in the pain! For me the practice of tonglen becomes one of balance, because for each in breath there is an out breath, so each experience is limited in time. I know I only have to endure this (whatever this is) until the change of the tide. At times that you are absorbed in the pain of the world, you may benefit from sending relief… because you, yourself, will have the opportunity to experience that relief.

Pema Chodron offers some of the best instruction in Tonglen, and has such a gentle and thorough approach. I would recommend listening to her instruction before trying this at all, as she also says that it might not be for everybody, and it might be something to set aside for another time. In this talk she calls our attention to our everyday experiences of relief, like putting on a sweater, and how much we can acknowledge and take inspiration from those moments… and then have the thought, “May others experience this.”

3. The Work that Reconnects

If you feel that you need a more comprehensive/intensive set of practices, Joanna Macy’s Active Hope book is very current.

Subtitled, “How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy,” it feels needful, in the face of the distress I’m seeing around me at the moment. If you’re not familiar with her work, she is an eco-philosopher who teaches from a position of “Engaged Buddhism.” She (along with others) proposes that we consider ourselves to in the midst of a “Great Turning” away from a destructive Industrial Growth Society and toward a life-sustaining society. If this is to come about each of us has a role to play.

Through these sets of practices (which are really meant to be done in community and connection), she talks about the need to come from gratitude, but also to face our despair head on before transforming it through engagement with others.

The overall body of work, including connections to facilitators and workshops, is available at “The Work that Reconnects“. There is also a series of 17 videos which walk through the entire process.


Those are some starting points. If you have any other suggestions, please add them in the comments below or join the conversation on The Art of Yearning’s FB page.