Recently I helped launch something into the world. A creation that I have poured my heart into for over a year now; first as participant, then team leader, then program operator, and now as designer and builder. It’s a collaboration with, and the brain child of Leo Babauta, a wonderful writer, the creator of the Zen Habits blog, and an inspiration to me and millions of other people.
Who Leo Is
Just over a year ago, Leo created a mission to help one million people change their lives, by creating the world’s best training in fearlessness and uncertainty. So many of us are called by our heart to create something in the world. To do meaningful work. To manifest our purpose. And yet so many don’t go all that far in following that signal due to the fears and uncertainties that always arise. We get blocked, and turn back to the path we were on that seems to offer less resistance in that moment. Often that is a path worn deep in our neural programming, one that we continue to choose each day somewhat unconsciously, based more on outside influences – cultural, parental, educational – than our own sharply aware wisdom. To follow a heart-dream often involves stepping out of the worn-in grooves of our lives, and to begin cutting a new path, perhaps through what seems like jungle at first. All sorts of fears generally come up, as happens whenever we take on doing something that challenges our identity. Depending how strongly we cling to who we think we are, to the layers of defenses we have built up over the years, dictates how thick the jungle is. The level of commitment to ourselves of caring how we feel (read my thoughts on that here), as well as to those that we wish to serve, dictates how sharp is the machete that we get to bring along.
In Buddhist philosophy and mythology, a Bodhisattva is someone who, having helped themselves and reached the deepest levels of understanding and self-authorization, directs their focus towards helping others realize the same. There are many real-life Bodhisattvas in our time, some famous, many not. Pema Chödrön is one, a teacher that saved my life with her words. She was my Morpheus that showed me there was a different reality than the dark excruciating one I used to experience. Last year I was at a retreat she was teaching, and there I had such a clear vision of her spending her life offering constant guidance to millions of people seeking the entrance to a path. Standing in the dark fearful places with such grace and boundless compassion. Holding a torch so bright that millions can see it, stating over and over – look, here is a way for you to discover the peace inside you. Your own natural great peace that is your birthright, yet is so challenging for many of us to uncover. But in the striving, in the seeking, in the overcoming, is forged an indestructible strength and resilience when we surrender and allow the struggle to release. This is the way of the cross, that another famous Bodhisattva, Jesus of Nazareth, followed to peace.
Leo too is a Bodhisattva; he holds his torch high – constantly and tirelessly crafting words for those that seek, finding ways to reach many of us. In my own experience I have found that learning something, truly learning something to the extent that it causes us to transform our experience of life, takes what it takes. Sometimes we can hear or read something, or discover a kernel of wisdom within ourselves, and if we happen to encounter it at exactly the right time for us, through that magical synchronicity that life is full of, we can get it in an instant, and transformation occurs. Sometimes it can take years or decades of re-encountering the same idea in many different forms, and then eventually our field of understanding develops the right type of fertility needed for that idea to germinate. Just as some plants require acidic soil and others require alkaline, just as the different percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium will allow some plants to thrive and others to die in a field, so too ideas and transformational actions, which are the fruit of ideas, can blossom in different fields of understanding, that have different types and levels of fertility at various points in our lives.
So often I see people judging themselves heart-breakingly harshly for these kinds of experiences – how stupid am I for not getting this, why can’t I learn this, why do I keep doing the same things over and over when I want to do something else. Through a long and harrowing but ultimately beautiful series of events I have learned to let go of much of this self-judgement, and to rather deeply appreciate the wondrous mechanism of how transformation occurs in humans. I believe that this release of self-judgement is the foundational transformation we must undergo – it changes everything. I appreciate that I must focus my attention on cultivating my field if ideas have any chance of blossoming into transformation. And in particular I deeply, with every fiber of my being, appreciate those teachers who stand tall and constant, shining their light as lighthouses over the landscape. As we, often haltingly, hack our way through our jungle with our machete, there is huge comfort in seeing others standing upright, holding their torch, illuminating the landscape. Seeing others, interacting with others also expressing their purpose renews our own strength. It helps keep ourselves uplifted and turned towards the task at hand, whether that be manifesting our purpose by creating our own business, or being so present for our loved ones that we see the glow of their inner light shine forth and their smile grow huge. Leo is one of these – a Bodhisattva that provides illumination by always being there, crafting words and ideas, sharing boundless compassion for as long as is needed for us to learn whatever it is that we need to learn to transform.
What Is Training in Fearlessness
As we begin to step off the well worn path, the path with the smooth surface that doesn’t require much conscious thought to navigate any more, as we begin to step off this well-worn path and consider going where it is that our heart is whispering for us to go instead of our brain – in these moments our fears and uncertainties come up. On the well-worn path it’s certainly not the case that we don’t have obstacles, of course there are, but this path is mostly made up of the routines and patterns of our days that we follow, day after day, that we are familiar with and expert at, and ultimately are what create our lives.
Whenever we step off this path, out of the groove, even a little, is when our fears tend to make themselves especially evident. I have found that fears manifest in different ways in different people. We seem to have our own particular fear response, made up of loops and whorls of habituated patterns of response. You could call it a fearprint. In my own reactions I have observed that I can be surprisingly deceived about when it is that I am actually allowing my choices to be dictated by fears. These fears can be quite skilled at hiding in the dark yet still exerting an immensely strong gravitational force, like dark matter in the universe – invisible, but affecting the giant trajectory of stars.
My fearprint involves a lot of avoidance – staying aloof, not expressing what I want, just letting things lie. Pretty careful observation is often needed for me to uncover them, as they don’t always appear shouting I AM AFRAID – they are more subtle, yet still hugely impactful, with a high cost in terms of human connections I don’t make, experiences I refuse to give myself, and people I end up not helping. Shining the light of self-love and compassion is what is needed to melt them. Our fears tend to make us rigid, like an ice cube, frozen in a particular pattern. But where do we find the fluid water? It’s right there, in the ice cube. We need only melt it. Staying connected to our heart signal, to our purpose, to our why, is how to connect to the energy we need that is contained in that fluid water. It is what appears when we melt our frozen fearprints with love, with friendliness, with compassion. That energy that is always there for us to take another step, to swing our machete again, and hack a new path through the jungle.
Because these fears and uncertainty affect us most deeply when we step off the path, and stepping off the path is needed in order to create something – something new, something meaningful – then training to expand our capacity to handle these feelings is one of the most important things we can do to support the creators in the world. And, we are all creators – beautiful, powerful, creators.
If we could hear our dream of becoming a writer, feel the fear about writing but still be able to write, and not just write but continue all the way to publishing our book, how many more books could be written, and how many people would be helped by our words? If we know we are called to coach and teach, or be a nurse, or walk around the world, or be a world-class stay-at-home-dad, but are held back by our fears of who we are, or who we are not; if we could feel that fear yet still step in and help those attracted to what our beautiful authentic selves have to offer, how many people would benefit? If we have a business to create, a product to design, a service to provide, but keep putting off this work and aren’t sure why, if we could walk through that uncertainty and come through to design, launch and provide services to others, how rich would our world and the world of those we love become?
This then is the giant vision of the Fearless Training Program. To support all of us called to create something in the world in sharpening our machete and heading off to create our own beautiful path, using our heart as our guidance system.
A little over a year ago Leo put out a call for people to join him on his mission to help one million people change their lives. It was a clarion call asking the question – who do you care about, and what are you willing to do to help them? I signed up. None of us, including Leo, knew where this was going or what it was going to look like exactly. But over the course of the past year and more it has evolved into a deeply valuable training program, and a community of amazing people dedicated to doing the work they need to do in order to bring their purpose more fully into the world. On a daily basis I get to interact with such beautiful powerful people – someone who is bringing touch and cuddle therapy to others, someone who is dedicated to helping those with heroin and substance addictions, someone who has a TED talk and a practice for helping people clearing the clutter in their life, someone creating documentaries on change-makers in the world, writers, business owners. On and on, so many beautiful people creating beautiful things, and above all being helpful, answering the call of the Bodhisattva path, to not turn away from this world, but rather dig in with our bodies, our minds and our speech, and truly help all of us sharing this amazing but challenging world.
And we train. Each day we train in how to be fearless. In how to take action towards our purpose even when it’s hard. How to swing that machete and move through our jungle, even when it seems impassable. If we can recognize our own fearprint, those particular fears that hold us back from engaging in what our heart truly wants to give, and if we can practice melting those frozen ice-cubes, over and over when they come up, then when we go to do our purposeful work, we find that it’s suddenly much easier. It’s a Karate Kid approach…. wax-on, wax-off, if you remember the movie. Training and repetition prepares us when the fears come up in life, and indeed in death.
And boy has it had results in my life. I developed the capacity to have difficult conversations. Ones that I would have avoided before now hold no fear. Or rather it’s more that yes there is fear, but I simply recognize it as fear, and move on through. The fact that there is an emotion I feel called fear no longer has a much of an impact on whether I have the conversation or not. I developed the ability to take actions based on what my heart was telling me. I was able to leave my secure job and take off into the world to follow my heart signal. I was able to go through every thing I owned, and give away most everything. To go through all the papers and paraphernalia of the various stages of my life and look at them directly, deal with them directly. That was a hugely fearful task for me, but I walked through it with this training, with a more developed capacity to handle the fears that looking through the papers of my husband who committed suicide brought up for example, papers related to the financial crisis and debt that I used to be in for example. And it enabled me to begin to write and share my story, very personal stories, in the hope that they may help others.
I now work as Director of Operations for all of Leo’s work including this Fearless Training Program. I began working with him at the beginning of this year, and transitioned into working essentially full-time, in addition to writing, coaching others 1:1, and exploring the world. It’s a beautiful marriage for me of my spiritual and work lives, that used to be separate, into one joyful experience. I made a vow at the beginning of the year to break down any remaining walls I had in life, to show up authentically as myself in as much of my life as possible. And while at first I did this at my previous job, and we can indeed be ourselves more authentically to a certain degree whatever our job, this work is even more supportive of this integrated approach I’ve committed to.
I have poured my heart into developing this training with Leo, and sharing it with others, as it has massively helped improve my experience of life. If you are interested in joining me and the whole community of fearless machete-wielders who are out to bring our purposeful work to light, and clearing beautiful new paths exploring the jungle, I encourage you to check out the Fearless Training Program that Leo creates and teaches and that I run. You can sign up for free and evaluate for a week. In addition Leo has just written and published an amazing book into which he has poured a lifetime of learning on fearlessness and purpose – called Fearless Purpose. It’s not just a book but a whole package of training videos, and indeed there is a meditation video in there recorded by me!
If we can learn how to love ourselves, and our entire world, no matter the circumstances.
If we can understand our fearprints as habitual patterns.
And if we can form new patterns around moving through these fears into birthing our purpose into the world.
Well then, we can do anything and everything.