Here are some listener’s notes on a dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm on “Befriending Inner Fear”. It could perhaps be summarised as a talk on right view and framing our experience in such a way that we shine and benefit others most.
Befriending Inner Fear
1. Three Questions: When? Who? What?
There are three important questions: 1) When is the most important time? 2) Who is the most important person? 3) What is the most important thing to do? I will answer these three questions. The most important time is “now”. The most important person is “the one right in front of you”. And the most important thing to do we will come to later, but it is not to do things at all, but “to take care of things”. Stop choosing what to be aware of — what is in front of you right now is the most important, so take care of it, don’t try to brush it aside or get rid of it. With this in mind, let’s meditate for ten minutes. [The moment he falls silent, a toddler bursts out crying and keeps crying and cries continuously.] This is a good practice! Don’t tell it to be quiet. Care for it. [But the parents are too embarrassed so after repeated shushing without success the frustrated father carries the child out of the lecture hall for a while until she calms down.]
2. Positive Framing: The Wisdom of the Great British Philosopher
It’s supposed to be the most fearful thing you can do to give public talks. When I first started, I thought there would be only two outcomes. Either people would walk out, it would be terrible, I couldn’t connect with them, which would be great because I could sit back and be a hermit and take it easy. Or if they liked my talks and came in great numbers, then I could inspire people and give them happiness which would be marvelous! Either way, I didn’t need to worry. The best way to overcome your fear is to look at the world with a positive outlook!
It reminds me of a lesson by the great British philosopher whom I’m sure you’ve heard of. His name is Winnie the Pooh, or Pooh Bear! When Little Piglet and Winnie the Pooh were walking through the forest through a raging storm, first twigs, then branches and then whole trees started falling… Piglet worried that a tree might fall whilst they were underneath it? To which Winnie the Pooh replied, “Supposing it didn’t?” What if it fell where we weren’t underneath it? Fear is “what if…” followed by something negative. Replace it with something positive. A woman who had recovered from cancer worried, “What if my cancer came back?” The fear was crippling her and no-one was able to help her. She asked me and my answer was, “What if it doesn’t?” She got it straight away and it didn’t come back. Fear actually makes what we fear more likely because of the stress it causes. Like the TV show I saw when little about the grasshopper crossing a plank over a pool of acid, who gets nervous and falls only to discover it is just water: it is just the fear which pushes him in! So how to overcome fear so it doesn’t “push us in”? It isn’t by overcoming, but by befriending it, embracing it, caring for it, allowing it to be without trying to get rid of it.
3. Let Go of Being Right & Share Getting your Way
For those of you in relationships, something you will discover sooner or later is never try to convince your significant other that they are wrong. However good at debating you are, even if you are a successful lawyer with great skills at persuading juries, with your partner it’s different. I have a solution for this: simply check the calendar! If it’s an odd-numbered day, then the woman is right, if an even-numbered day the man is right. The observant amongst you will notice there are more odd-numbered days than even-numbered days in a year, but give the women that. As well as not trying to convince, don’t try to change. If you take care of each other, the change often happens naturally.
4. Stop Worrying What Others Think of You (they are thinking mostly of themselves)
For those of you not in relationships, there’s something worth knowing which I wish I had been taught when young. It’s to stop worrying about how others think of us and to stop trying to put on some kind of act for them. What both men and women want in a partner is someone clean, trustworthy, kind, and happy. We spend our youth worrying what others are thinking of us. We do not realise others are worrying about themselves and not thinking about us at all. Let go of the fear of what others might be thinking. This self-confidence also turns out to be attractive. Maybe if I’d known that when I was younger, I wouldn’t have become a monk. But I’m very happy being a monk.
5. Stop Putting Off Happiness: When you are happy, that is success!
We spend our lives putting off happiness. “If only …, then I’ll be happy” First, it’s succeeding at exams, then finding a job, a partner, a house, a car… but the happiness never comes but keeps getting pushed back. Finally, it is looking forward to retirement, or for some people even death and the paradise to come. But happiness doesn’t come from success. Psychologists turn this around and say that success comes from happiness. The truth is different however. When you are happy, that is success!
6. You are Beautiful Because of your Imperfections
“I am enough” as I saw once on a T-shirt. I love T-shirts because they are full of wisdom. Another I saw once said on the first line: “Nobody is perfect.” Then below that: “I am nobody. Therefore, I am perfect.” If you go to a wood, there is no such thing as a perfectly formed tree. Every tree is crooked and has damaged leaves and broken branches. In fact, your favourite tree is probably the most bent and crooked. Broken branches are where birds nest. There is beauty in all your faults and perfection in all your failings. When we do things, we tend to be downhearted by our mistakes and focus attention on them, but like the wall with two crooked bricks, look at them instead as a “feature”!
7. Hearting the Shadow Self: A Practice
There are parts of ourselves for which our fear is too great to connect with and befriend intellectually. And so, I recommend this practice. Imagine the doorway of your heart, a big Valentine heart, opening and a staircase descending from the part of you which you love and accept to those parts of yourself that are excluded or that are full of fear, the child in you who feels rejected or hurt. And lovingly invite these excluded parts and memories up the staircase into your heart to comfort and accept them, saying “you are part of me”. Embrace them. Embrace your shadow side. The catharsis that comes from this process is incredible.
1) stay present and aware and take care of whatever is before you now,
2) put attention on positive aspects of experiences and people,
3) do not try to convince, push aside, change or cure or failure will be disheartening, but instead focus on doing your best to care for people,
4) be trustworthy and kind, but also be confident not fearing what others think of you,
5) success is happiness now,
6) there is beauty in all your faults and perfection in all your failings, and
7) open the door of your heart to welcome in and fully accept your shadow selves and so realise your beautiful and perfect wholeness, not just intellectually but from your heart.