I have referred to Robert Bly’s book, Iron John, several times in this blog. Iron John is a character who appears to a young boy as a monster. Iron John symbolizes the boy’s need to face his fears and to become a man. Iron John sleeps in a pond.
I am currently studying Pema Chödrön’s book, The Places That Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. When are times not difficult?
Her explanation parallels Bly’s explanation. It gets scary when we venture into the swamp our emotions, self-talk, and misconceptions about ourselves and the world create for us. To put the next quote in context let me say that bodhichitta means something along the lines of open heart, or open mind. I take it to mean seeing our own worth and that of the beings around us.
The irony is that what we most want to avoid in our lives is crucial to awakening bodhichitta. These juicy emotional spots are where a warrior gains wisdom and compassion. Of course, we’ll want to get out of those spots more often than we’ll want to stay.—Pema Chödrön
Juicy emotional spots? We are taught to embrace our fear, and to offer it a cup of tea and a warm seat by the fire. She quotes Patrule Rinpoche, a name new to me. He said:
To make things as easy as possible to understand, we can summarize the four boundless qualities in the single phrase “a kind heart.” Just train yourself to have a kind heart always and in all situations.
Piece of cake, since I’m a warrior.
Just about everything in modern life shouts at us that we are separate, isolated, and living in a threatening environment that could close in on us at any time. The teachers tell us the opposite, that we are connected to all beings. As we inventory the damage done to us by false teachings we encounter our fears, misconceptions, and anxieties in an up-close and personal way.
The pond where Iron John sleeps intimidates us, but until Iron John turns into a handsome prince we have our work cut out for us. Pema tells us not to be hard on ourselves when by all appearances we are losing ground. She said,
Although plenty of meditators consider it, we don’t run screaming out of the room…Never underestimate our inclination to bolt when we hurt.
When I am tempted to scream and run I turn to the wise teachers. It always helps.