I recently wrote about how love trumps fear. Truly, love is the only game in town as far as trumping goes. We are programmed by our culture to dismiss fear and equate it with cowardice. When I was a boy, the one who showed fear was called ‘yellow’ and teased about being a baby. An image of General George S. Patton slapping a young WWII soldier who was overcome by fear is an iconic example of our disdain for succumbing to it. Love is not always easy to find when fear shows up.
But love is always present and always ready to be discovered. Overlooking it is the problem. We tend to try finding relief from fear by being brave, and by ascending above the troublesome circumstances we face. Though there might be some validity to rising above fear, the solution is only temporary. By shoving fear aside, planting it deep inside, and never dealing with it, we are setting up lifelong chronic survival responses. We are trying to grab control and hang on for dear life. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be brave. I’m saying that there is a time in which we must descend into the fear in order to find our true identity. Love can only be found when our tough exterior is cracked open.
“Up is nowhere special at all, but hidden inside of down. Up is dangerous for the soul, while down is communal and comforting.” ~ Richard Rohr
The descent into fear is well chronicled in religion, mythology, and tales handed down to us over the millennia. The Bible story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale, Luke Skywalker and friends caught in the bowels of a garbage compactor, Jesus’ forty-day desert experience, and Muhammad’s revelation in the cave Hira, all reveal the necessity of facing our greatest fears by entering into the depths of innermost being. The result is a mystic transformation. This is what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey. So, being bold enough to descend into fear leads us to the tunnel of liberation. This is authentic courage. It is not made up of violence and retaliation. It is an embrace of our true selves and hence, a full embrace of infinite love. In what seems to be brokenness we experience wholeness…and we find God.
“God will bring people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them, they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.” ~ Thomas Keating
People come to us as mentors by surprise. One of these wise people bestowed profound wisdom upon me back in 2000. I was wrestling with problems in my life that existed in my past but that were seriously affecting the way that I related to other people in the present. I respected this fellow very much. My decision to ask for help, however, was postponed several times with a variety of excuses.
Finally, I found myself sitting in front of his desk. I felt more like a 12-year-old boy than a 49-year-old man. My words spilled out for several minutes. He listened patiently. There, it was done. The barbs and foibles, miscues and mistakes, lies and disguises all summed up in a blubbering mass of emotion. His response was heartfelt and brief.
He said “If you don’t forgive yourself, you have missed the whole point.” That was it. No lecture, no judgment, no pontificating over my dilemma, just those few words. I thanked him and took them back to my apartment. Nothing has really been the same ever since.
Dr. Doug Talbott’s words have guided me in my personal and professional relationships for eighteen years. They taught me to afford myself the opportunity to heal. I had to stop punishing myself for my mistakes and begin living gently and constructively in the present. I have learned that forgiveness is a key to happiness. I must offer it to everyone in order to be free from resentments.
This letting go of resentment has proven to be a touchstone of life. I have learned that there is absolutely nothing that I can do to change the past. All I can do is learn from it. There is no point in holding grudges, bearing resentments or harboring ill will. All of those are heavy burdens that I (and only I) choose to carry. Their weight is too much for anyone to bear. Putting them down allows me to focus on the important mission of living well today. I can do the next right thing. I am not a victim.
Today I will listen to the wisdom of people that God has put in my life…for in it I may find divine directions.
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.
In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.