A story about fear

Today is the feastday of St Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226), a town I visited just a month ago, so a story from his life about working with difficult emotions.

We are told that there was a wolf terrorizing the town of Gubbio, attacking and killing several people. The townsfolk locked their doors, afraid to leave their homes. Francis heard about this and went to Gubbio . When he came upon the wolf, it lunged at him, about to bite. Francis stood calmly and greeted the wolf, calling him “Brother Wolf” and told it not to harm him. The wolf stopped and lay down at his feet. Then Francis and the wolf made a deal: the town would provide food for the wolf for the rest of its life, in exchange for the wolf’s ceasing to attack. We are told the wolf placed its right paw into Francis’ hand, and lived in peace with the people of Gubbio for the rest of its life.

These legends speak to the different parts of our lives. We all have many fears that push us to close our doors and withdraw. And we have emotions that arise within us and scare us, like anger, jealousy and the stuff that relationships bring up in our lives. Our normal first response is to be disturbed or frightened by these strong emotions and we move to push them away. However, in themselves, these are not the problem, but it is our mind’s relationship to them that is. So what we learn from Francis is to approach the things that frighten us – the frightening wolves within us –  by looking at them directly, as if they are part of the family – “brother wolf”, “brother anger” “brother fear” – and welcome them to the table. This is the practice: to first experience the anxiety as an embodied feeling, with no shoulds or shouldn’ts about it. Our fears do not need to become a moment for showing ourselves further violence.

We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become  increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. .
We always have this choice
Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

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