The snowstorm was on its way to NYC, and there was an eerie quiet to the city. Students kept asking, worried, whether classes would be canceled the next day, and when I went out to my favorite pizza place, my friend insisted that we meet early to beat the storm and we found an empty restaurant, instead of the usual long wait. I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest, or maybe it’s because I was out of town when the blizzard hit a couple of weeks ago, but I kept thinking: it’s just snow.
So I when I got home I looked online and discovered saw that the city’s response to the last blizzard was less than adequate, and indeed it had caused a major disruption. Everyone was worried it would happen again and, as a result, they were changing their plans and hunkering down.
It made me think about a beautiful teaching I received recently from Douglas Brooks, on the four true enemies of happiness (they are really four pairs), the things that get in our way of being content in our lives and accessing our heart’s desires. The first one is what is called bhaya, or fear. Yes, fear was taking over New York City. It was the kind of fear that is based on past experience (the “I’ve been burned before” scenario) rather than on present circumstance, and keeps us from going for what we want. Fear is an enemy of happiness when it becomes paralyzing, when it keeps us from acting. If you live from the place of fear, you can come up with a reason not to do anything; just getting out of bed is dangerous (of course, not getting out of bed can also be dangerous, but we won’t go there).
Interestingly, going to the opposite of fear doesn’t lead us to greater happiness, either. Abhaya, fearlessness, can also be an obstacle to happiness, if we’re fearless in a way that’s reckless or foolhardy. NYC’s response to the December blizzard probably falls into this category; perhaps they were thinking, it’s just snow, and so failed to take the necessary measures to ensure safety and the smooth functioning of the city. Abhaya is problematic when it makes us rash, and we act without concern for the consequences.
So we’re not trying to get to the opposite extreme. Instead, the gateway to happiness is where we can hold both fear and fearlessness in the same place, as a co-mingled, simultaneous experience. We need them both. Bhaya gives us just enough respect for the circumstances to have a little caution and pay attention. Abhaya invites us to go for it anyway.
I woke up the morning after the snow storm to a sparkly, radiant Fort Greene. This time, the city had planned better: the streets were plowed, the sidewalks were being uncovered, and the subways were functioning normally. Out in the park, the fearless (kids and adults alike) were sledding and crashing and doing it all over again. The city had gotten it right.
This class and practice is all about holding the simultaneity of opposites, of caution and fearlessness, in the place that opens the gateway to our greatest joy. Douglas always says that when you can hold two things in the same place, you are on the path to the divine.
Inner Spiral (and Thigh Loop): They key aspect of this principle that we’ll focus on here is getting the thigh bones to set back into the hip sockets. This involves a kind of stepping back, a kind of cautionary approach that creates just the right amount of respect and protection to enable you to move forward safely. However, if we take the thigh bones back without adding the next principle, we will feel blocked, as if living from the place of fear.
Outer Spiral: This