now how to respond to this difficult emotion.
Being In A BardoThe word bardo is a Buddhist term often used for the after-death experience. But it also describes the gap triggered by any unexpected crisis. The shock of illness, death, or any kind of loss can be the most brutal of interruptions. Your life’s timeline no longer makes sense. You feel vulnerable and alone. But we’re not truly alone. We’ve just dropped out of everyday life into a new dimension, a bardo-world that appears as if out of nowhere.
For example, my elderly mother had a fall one night and ended up in long term care, never setting foot in her home again. Suddenly all her reference points were gone, the little things and routines that gave her life meaning. Another vivid example of a bardo is happening as I write this. Friends living in wild-fire zones are packing grab bags for an emergency evacuation. When life pulls the ground out from under your feet, how do you decide what to take and what to leave behind?
A bardo is an emotional free-fall. We’ve moved into a strange new neighbourhood, or we just lost our job. It’s the morning after a painful fight with our lover. It feels like a sink hole has opened with our past on one side and our future on the other. We are refugees from the life we thought we had. Like refugees, we need to know where to find support, shelter, and nourishment.
The path of awakening through fear is with love. Love is stronger than fear.
Central to working with the bardos of everyday life is the understanding that there are three very different kinds of fear.
Awake Fear: when you learn you have cancer, the shock can wake you up to the reality that you will die some day. The bad news is actually good news. We’re alive right now!
Frozen Fear: Waking up through fear shows us the edge of our denial, which is frozen fear. Denial of reality is denying the flow of goodness in our own body, our relationships and our ability to learn from our experiences.
Core Fear: At the root of denial is the hidden fear, the background anxiety that there is something wrong with who we are. This self-doubt keeps us turning away from the truth, which is our basic goodness.
To work with these three kinds of fear, we can look at three kinds of love.
Loving Presence: Being willing to be present with whatever experience we’re going through is the way to support Awake Fear. Allowing the truth of the present moment to be our teacher, with the gentle acceptance of loving kindness, is the best way to enter the bardo of change in our life.
Compassionate Insight: The way to work with denial, or frozen fear, is with compassion, feeling the pain of shutting down, and insight, being curious about where our ideas and opinions come from. Frozen fear depends on ignoring, or toxic certainty. Like frozen water, the ice will melt in the warmth of clarity.
Mother-Child Reunion: Our core fears go back to the misunderstandings of early childhood when we formed ideas about who we are to stay in relationship with the caring adults in our life. Somewhere along the line we concluded that there was something wrong with who we are, “I’m unworthy, unloveable, unforgivable, unwelcome”. When we discover our basic goodness, it’s as though the loving mother of wisdom brings the lost child home, showing us our true nature.