Fearlessness in Difficult Times

An enlightened way to cope with fear requires awakening to courage, love, and compassion.

BY: Pema Chödrön

 
Excerpted from "The Places That Scare You" by Pema Chodron, by arrangement with Shambhala Publications.

When I was about six years old I received the essential

bodhichitta

teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart."

Right there, I received this pith instruction: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice. If we were to ask the Buddha, "What is bodhichitta?" he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.



Chitta

means "mind" and also "heart" or "attitude."

Bodhi

means "awake," "enlightened," or "completely open." Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, "Everybody loves something, even if it's only tortillas."



Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion--our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it, we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot--our innate ability to love and to care about things--is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment--love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy--to awaken bodhichitta.



Continued on page 2: »

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