Transforming Challenges and Fears

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Dear Still Water Friends,

Earlier this year, I was invited to go to Vietnam in order to provide acupuncture to the monastics, including Thay, at Tu Hieu, the Root Temple. The experience was rich and meaningful. It was also challenging.

 This Thursday, after our meditation period, I will share my experience of being in Vietnam and facing my own internal demons.

 When I had been at Tu Hieu for a number of days and had not yet treated Thay, I wondered: Why I am not being allowed/asked to treat him?

 I experienced difficulty dealing with the heat—such a contrast to the cold and snowy weather in Maryland when I left. I had swollen ankles and a deep internal prickling heat sensation that awakened me at night. I thought: Here I am, supposedly a “healthcare provider” for the monastery–the last thing I want is to end up in the hospital, unable to treat.

 I learned that Dr. Fu [a Chinese acupuncturist in the practice] was also there to treat Thay, that he was familiar with Thay and coming regularly. I thought: If this Chinese acupuncturist is what they’re used to and they expect me to do that, I don’t know any of that; I’ll be found out, a fake.

 I worried: this will never work, Thay is very sensitive to needles. I have come all this way, so many people have done so much to support me to come treat Thay…and I won’t be able to. 

 I experienced fear…LOTS of fear! I was afraid of being seen as a fake or a failure, of not being up to the task, of being embarrassed or humiliated.  I was afraid of letting others down. In my room at night, I sat with these fears seeing them and feeling them. Hello fear.

 I meditated and thought deeply and finally decided I would not water those seeds of fear. Immediately, my perspective changed, my fear and feelings of inadequacy diminished greatly.

 As I look back on it, I find that my experience was much as Thay described in “When you see the Buddha, Kill the Buddha.” He said,

When you find yourself grasping or clinging to anything whether conventionally it is called good or bad, make friends with that. Look     into it. Get to know it completely. In this way it will let go of itself.

I concluded that:

I could only be the kind of acupuncturist I was whatever the outcome might be.

I would be true to my self; come back to my true self as best as I could.

I would trust my own skills and experience, while remaining as open as possible to hearing or receiving what I needed from bodhisattvas and any other positive source in the universe, including deep within myself.

I would not water the seeds of fear that I was not or that other people’s views of me were what mattered. I would be true to my self; come back to my true self as best I could.

 I would do my best to reduce the effects of the heat, treating myself diligently, and not water the seeds of the belief that I might need to go to the hospital.

 I was asked to treat Thay and what a relief it was to find that I was able to treat him quite effectively and that my style of treatment was a very good match for him!

 I am grateful for the opportunity to be at Tu Hieu, to practice there, and to have confronted my own internal demons so I might be of service to the community and to Thay.

Our Dharma sharing will explore how we have dealt with fears and challenges.  Together, we will consider the ways we have used the Practice to move through difficulties.

I hope you can join us.

You may appreciate the piece below by Thich Nhat Hanh on transforming feelings.



Nancy Takahashi

(More of Nancy’s photos from Vietnam can be found on the Still Water website.)

Transforming Feelings

by Thich Nhat Hanh from Peace is Every Step

The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize each feeling as it arises…In the case of fear, for example, you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and recognize it as fear.  You know that fear springs from yourself and that mindfulness also springs from yourself.  They are both in you, not fighting, but one taking care of the other.

The second step is to become one with the feeling.  It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear.  I don’t like you.  You are not me.”  It is much more effective to say, “Hello, Fear.  How are you today?”  Then you can invite the two aspects of yourself, mindfulness and fear, to shake hands as friends and become one.  Doing this may seem frightening, but because you know that you are more than just your fear, you need not be afraid.  As long as mindfulness is there, it can chaperone your fear.  The fundamental practice is to nourish your mindfulness with conscious breathing, to keep it there, alive and strong.  Although your mindfulness may not be very powerful in the beginning, if you nourish it, it will become stronger.  As long as mindfulness is present, you will not drown in your fear.  In fact, you begin transforming it the very moment you give birth to awareness in yourself.

The third step is to calm the feeling.  As mindfulness is taking good care of your fear, you begin to calm it down.  “Breathing in, I calm the activities of body and mind.”  You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby.  Feeling his mother’s tenderness, the baby will calm down and stop crying.  The mother is your mindfulness, born from the depth of your consciousness, and it will tend the feeling of pain.  A mother holding her baby is one with her baby.  If the mother is thinking of other things, the baby will not calm down.  The mother has to put aside other things and just hold her baby.  So, don’t avoid your feeling.  Don’t say, “You are not important.  You are only a feeling.”  Come and be one with it.  You can say, “Breathing out, I calm my fear.”

The fourth step is to release the feeling, to let it go.  Because of your calm, you feel at ease, even in the midst of fear, and you know that your fear will not grow into something that will overwhelm you.  When you know that you are capable of taking care of your fear, it is already reduced to the minimum, becoming softer and not so unpleasant.  Now you can smile at it and let it go, but please do not stop yet.  Calming and releasing are just medicines for the symptoms.  You now have an opportunity to go deeper and work on transforming the source of your fear.

The fifth step is to look deeply.  You look deeply into your baby – your feeling of fear – to see what is wrong, even after the baby has stopped crying, after the fear is gone…By looking, you will see what will help you begin to transform the feeling…Looking into your baby, you see the elements that are causing him to cry, and when you see them, you will know what to do and what not to do to transform the feeling and be free…

After recognizing the feeling, becoming one with is, calming it down and releasing it, we can look deeply into its causes, which are often based on inaccurate perceptions.  As soon as we understand the causes and nature of our feelings, they begin to transform themselves.


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