There is a Zen story of a general and his troops who marauded province after province. The people of one town, hearing of his cruelty, fled to the hills. His troops searched the town and reported to the general that only one person, a Zen priest, remained. The general stormed into the temple, pulled out his sword, and said, “Do you know who I am? I’m the one who can run you through with a sword without batting an eye?’ The Zen priest looked at the general and quietly said, “Do you know who I am? I am the one who can be run through with a sword without batting an eye.’ The general bowed and left.
When I first heard this Zen story years ago I loved it…both the Zen master’s tremendous presence and equanimity as well as the general’s recognition of this in another. Yet, underlying all this was an unanswered question for me. Was the Zen master fearless or did he feel fear…knowing he would feel pain…and had the capacity, in that moment, to remain open?
Working with the material that comes to us in our dreams, one of the most frequent feelings that emerges is that of fear. It is a fear that closes our heart, a ‘fear of.” A fear of loss, of pain, of rejection, of being hurt, of being judged…and so to avoid these very painful places, we develop a strong resistance. We learn to mistrust, be cynical, shut down, judge and control. We are doing this it is because we don’t know there is another way. We believe we must protect ourselves from feeling these painful places. We don’t know we are separated from soul…don’t know there is inner support through relationship with the divine that is there with us in that place. In that ‘fear of’ moment, we believe we are alone and bereft…a very scary place, indeed. If we were truly alone…it would make sense, wouldn’t it, to have a ‘fear of?’ In working with my own dreams I have experienced this fear…this ‘fear of.’ And my dreams patiently and relentlessly show me places in my life where I learned to defensively close my heart…had misunderstood fear.
As my inner work deepens, as I’m reconnecting to my soul self, no longer feeling alone, instead feeling the presence and connection to the inner divine, something is changing. In my willingness to stay with these scary places within me, something has shifted and I am experiencing a different quality of fear, something underneath the surface fear that turns us away from the moment. Fear still arises but now it’s more the soul fear that is present when we are in our open heart, a ‘fear and.’
One of the core qualities of soul is its capacity to be vulnerable…to be wounded and to be hurt. Rather than vulnerability being a weakness it is one of the soul’s strengths. When, in dreamwork, we speak of the soul feeling it all…love and pain…joy and sorrow…that includes fear. But it isn’t the ‘fear of’ feeling pain, rejection or hurt. The soul knows that to be in relationship there will be hurt, pain, loss and sorrow. It doesn’t try to rise above or transcend these feelings. Instead, it opens itself to them…letting them be felt all the way through. So when those difficult moments approach us, of course we feel fear…they will hurt. And in that moment, we have a choice, to feel ‘fear of’ and to turn away, to close our heart…or to feel the ‘fear and,’ to turn towards the moment with our heart and soul open. What an incredibly alive moment.
And so I wonder about the Zen master. Instead of a ‘fear of’ pain at the prospect of being run through by the sword, was he, in that moment, feeling ‘fear and’, knowing he would feel pain, would die…and had the capacity to remain open, present and vulnerable?
This capacity to be vulnerable…to feel it all…is the soul’s greatest potency…and the soul’s healing gift to the world. In that moment we are in our full nakedness, fully present, fully alive. As Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa said…“even a tiny mosquito landing on our raw and tender heart will cause excruciating pain.” What can the world do to someone who is their soul’s capacity to feel it all?