“Scary things seem to exist only in your imagination.” -Erich Schiffmann
This sentence from Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, from the reading in class last week, brought up a lot of push-back from people, culminating in one woman after a post-class discussion around it leaving the room with the emotionally-charged statement, “Erich Schiffmann, you’re full of shit!”. In polling classes after the first person contradicted his statement, about 2/3 of people disagreed with his statement.
Before I say more, I’ll admit my own challenges with the statement as well. Living in the “first world” in our little bubble of heaven with adequate resources and no overt and immediate life-threatening forces, it’s easy, and perhaps, naive to make such statements. I had in mind to write more about Erich’s statement after all the conflict around this statement last week, and then before I could sit down to write it, one of my students yesterday said that was probably the last time she would see me as she is going back home to Kurdistan in Iraq, which I imagine is a scary prospect compared to the “scary” things we have to deal with in our lives, most of those who are reading this.
Beyond that, “Scary things seem to exist only in my imagination” is a fairly threatening statement that seems to invalidate my own experience and results in me being defensive of my fear, a situation I, personally, don’t want to be in. One woman even wondered how it is helpful to tell people that. Maybe Erich IS full of shit!
It’s important for his quote to be put in context. It’s in Chapter 3, “Why Yoga?” in the final section of the teaching part of the chapter entitled, “Self-Realization, Third Dimension” (of three). The first dimension is “just getting down on the floor and doing the exercises,” basically just DO the yoga practices, in order to arrive at some degree of stillness and peace and thus to come to a different realization of ourself. The second dimension is essentially to learn to be led by the Intelligence of Infinite Mind/the God Force/the All, which we are a part of. Then the third dimension is to realize and experience our Oneness with the All/Infinite Mind/God Force/whatever you call it, which THEN has us realize that there is nothing to fear. That is where that quote above comes in: it’s a result of the deepest Realization of our True Nature. It is NOT something that we can simply believe or try to convince ourselves of; we have to EXPERIENCE it for ourselves personally, and he’s (and many others are) saying that we WILL, if we apply ourselves to the practices.
In that light, then, the challenge that Erich’s statement offers us is potentially to really want to know the truth: is HIS statement true that fear is only in my imagination, or is my experience that my fear is real true? Ultimately it all boils down to perspective, and perspective is everything. All the people in classes who agreed with his statement, as far as I could tell and from what I heard, were seeing that it’s all a matter of perspective. Just because I don’t yet or always have that perspective that there’s really nothing to fear does not invalidate the possibility that I can get there or can be more fully established in it. Certainly it will take some very deep introspection and inner work to get there, but in my experience, too, if we spend a bit of time observing our own mind, his statement will ring more and more true, even as we still continue to experience fear in our lives.
Until the time we experience and live from that bigger perspective of our Universal Oneness with Everything and as long as we see ourselves as a separate self, our fear will continue to be what it is: either a main driving force in our life, or simply information, a form of energy, again depending on our perspective, or lack thereof, at the time. On the mat, of course, as I teach, inspired by Joel Kramer, Erich’s teacher, if there’s fear present, then I back up to just before the fear creeps in, and then work from there, practicing taking the fear as information/feedback from my body/inner being. In life, that’s not always possible, but on the mat it TOTALLY IS; however, this is a practice that is supremely damaging to the “pusher-ego.” In life, of course, though, fear is not necessarily a reason to not do something, as we all know.
Fear is a natural result of maintaining a perspective of being separate from the Whole and therefore in need of protecting myself against the Whole (or at least parts of it). It springs from believing/feeling/thinking/experiencing that the continued existence or relatively pain-free existence of my separate self is threatened, which in some instances of Life, it actually is. In all that, fear requires that I BE out of the Flow and disconnected from my Truest, Deepest Self/the All/the God Force, and its continuation demands that “I” remain out of the Flow. These are not things we have control over yet, and so we need to remember the importance of “Self-Realization: First Dimension:” JUST DO THE PRACTICES, something we CAN do and can have control over!
One sneaky mental nuance of fear is that it also relies on us consciously or unconsciously holding the thought, “AND it (what IS) shouldn’t be this way.” This thought is simply not true since at the time, whatever is IS that way. This incorrect thought IS something we can potentially counteract and correct by asking ourself, inspired by Byron Katie, “Is it true?” and if I say “yes,” then “How can I KNOW it’s true?” in order to penetrate a bit deeper into our mental processes and get more to the Truth, which everyone is seeking. For the time being, we operate under so many untrue thoughts and suffer the consequences, either consciously or unconsciously.
All this having been said, it’s EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that we not let our awareness that “I’m experiencing fear” and “I believe it shouldn’t be this way” be highjacked by the inner critic to use for continued self-flagellation. Our mental/emotional energy would be better spent with the purposeful thought, “I love you, I love you, I love you….”
But assuming we don’t criticize ourself for having the fear, which we probably won’t anyway since fear is such a powerful force, at least we can be honest that fear is present when it is, and I would include that in “Self-Realization: First Dimension:” just doing the practices. If I can acknowledge that fear is here, then I have gained a little space from it, I have allowed myself a bigger perspective, which will, in turn, result in more choice! Hence the title of this blog, “Don’t Indulge the Fear.” If I don’t acknowledge that fear is there, if I’m not conscious of its presence, then I am unconsciously indulging it, and it will continue to drive me from “behind the scenes,” causing me to think and do things that I would probably ultimately rather not do. But if I see it for what it is, AND if I can hold to Love, or to some kind of Higher Vision, then even while going through fear, I can be feeding my Soul AND bringing/spreading some healing energy to the world. And then ultimately we may realize the truth that Erich speaks of when he said a little earlier, “Love conquers fear,” similar to the Biblical phrase, “Perfect love casts out fear.” We do have the potential to “rise above” our fear, which is a root chakra issue, up to our Heart and Highest vision/aspiration, and we all know this FEELS better and often more true than our fear. This change of perspective and the natural results of it is how perfect love casts out fear.
It seems appropriate to end with Amma’s prayer: “Everyone in the world should be able to sleep without fear, at least for one night. Everyone should be able to eat to his or her fill, at least for one day. There should be at least one day when hospitals see no one admitted due to violence. By doing selfless service for at least one day, everyone should help the poor and needy. It is Amma’s prayer that at least this small dream be realized.” May it be so, and may all beings everyone, including YOU and all beings, experience Life free of fear.