Witches & Monsters: Why We Celebrate Fear + 3 Practices for It
Reading time: 5-7 minutes
It’s a strange custom: Everyone’s putting out ghosts, vampires, witches, headless horsemen, monsters, zombies, etc. We are encouraging fear. We are celebrating fear by watching scary movies, going to haunted houses, getting stuck in mazes, whatever you’re doing during this season of fright.
Why do we do this? And why does it feel joyful? It’s a true holiday. It’s not just the candy on All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a comforting, excited feeling of dressing up as some sort of monster. We love to get scared on purpose. To cause fear on purpose.
It’s an indulgence, for some of us.
Naturally, I turn toward children for wisdom on how the world works. Why is it that my boys love being scared but hate it at the same time? It’s so confusing sometimes when you’re playing with them, acting like a zombie who’s going to eat them, and you can see that they’re thrilled, but you can also see that they’re really scared. Should you stop or not? Do they love it or do they hate it?
Are we torturing them with these kid-friendly scary movies or are we helping them in sort of spiritual way? My oldest does not want to go back to super-scary house this year, but you know what? I’m going to make him because it’s the only house he talks about from last year, and when he talks about it, there is this sense of affection and pride. Plus, it was so fun. It’s the only house he remembers. He can’t miss that experience. And we got donuts. Just saying.
In my experience, doing the scary thing is exhilarating. It makes us feel alive. Everything’s at stake? Great. Getting this awful thing off my plate that I’ve been putting off? Wonderful. The scary thing is the edge: it’s where the growth happens.
We often talk about the edge in yoga. For every person it’s different. Where you can stay in the pose, but you are also being challenged on every level: physical, mental, and spiritual. This is how far you go into the pose and how long you stay. It is unique to you, and everyone must respect her edge.
Pema Chodron (have I been talking about her a lot lately?) talks about this edge, this jumping off point. This is where fear challenges us. She says, in the Buddhist tradition, this is where we surrender, where we grow, where we expand past our boundaries. “Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again. That’s where you’re challenged; that’s where, if you’re a person who wants to live, you start to ask yourself questions like, ‘Now why am I so scared? What is it that I don’t want to see? Why can’t I go further than this?’” (from The Wisdom of No Escape: Loving Yourself and Your World.)
So if you’re going through your own scary season (and who the hell isn’t?), you’re not alone. You’re meeting your edge. You’re in the journey of awakening, which “is one of continually coming up against big challenges and then learning how to soften and open.”
But how do we do that? Well, you know I’ve got some specific instructions and practices.
3 Practices to Deal With Fear:
1. Accept and make friends with your fear:
I love this season because we look at our fears deeply and almost lovingly. We intentionally choose to feel fear and have a little fun with it. We use humor to approach fear. It’s nice to laugh with, not at, your fears. Your fears know they are being silly. It’s a little silly to believe that everything will fall apart if you make too much money, isn’t it? Or that your boyfriend will leave you if you tell him what you really need to say. These fears demand to be taken seriously at first. But with a little playful poking and laughing, those fears come around.
The fears, by their very nature, are exaggerating the outcomes of your actions, in most cases. They are, after all, anxieties. Their job is to think of the very worst that could go wrong. They’re here to protect the most tender, vulnerable and loving part of you. But by doing that, they also armor up and close that part of you. And tenderness, vulnerability and love are your powers—the only kind of energy that can really make a lasting difference.
We have to start taking that armor off. With too much protection comes a lack of energy flow. Your heart can’t breathe. Its energy can’t flow. It’s being suffocated by your fears, by your armor. The protection has become too much, restricting the use of the most important thing that we have to affect change and make things happen: the heart which uses love energy to make a true difference in this world. Especially in your own little world.
But you can’t just take off the armor. Fear is an energy form. It clings (it’s clingy by its very nature). It’s not like you can snap that armor off, you have to talk to it, rationalize with it, lay with it and loosen it up. Like any energy form, this fear just wants your attention. In other words, you have to give fear your unconditional love, like the love of a mother.
Because if our love were conditional, we would be angry that this fear is ruining stuff and restricting our energy and flow. Then we would punish the fear and ignore it. Maybe that’s what we’ve been doing. Until it doesn’t work, and we see the need for a higher love. Bring me the higher love! (Had to.)
As the soul raisers that we are, rising to higher heights, we mother the fear like any other scared thing. We talk to the fear and comfort it, like a mother comforting a scared child. “It’s okay, I’m here. I know you’re just trying to protect me. What you’re scared of is not real, and everything is for love, by love, is love. Even you.” The latter words are the kind of words that come from the soft, warm, clear center of energy that animates you—your soul.
This loving energy does not coddle and nurture the fear, though. We don’t want to spoil the scared child, reward it. Just a little objective, conscious listening and attention, and some soft, loving reasoning. (We’ll talk more about good balance in the next practice).
Personally, I think that this is what the Halloween season is all about: learning how to be friends with and have fun with your fear. In fact, the spiritual path is that of scaring yourself over and over again until you are one brave mother. A warrior on the path.
The spiritual equivalent of watching a scary movie during your scary season is meditation. Oh yeah.
In the Wisdom of No Escape, Chodron talks about the Tonglen practice, which “has to do with cultivating fearlessness.” It’s a meditation, which is the best way to get to know your fear. “Since meditation has this quality of bringing you very close to yourself and your experience, you tend to come up against your edge faster. It’s not an edge that wasn’t there before, but because things are so simplified and clear, you see it, and you see it vividly and clearly.”
Try this quick meditation:
To get in touch with the boddhicita, which means ‘courageous heart,’ we must touch on a sense of openness and spaciousness. For 5 breaths, imagine your heart expanding on the inhale, and on the exhale, you create spaciousness. This opens up the space.
Now on the inhale, imagine breathing in the dark, hotness of fear and then on the exhale, we breathe out white, cool, light pleasure and love. 5 breaths like this.
Then we call to mind something in our lives that is causing fear or the feeling of being stuck. We bring up and feel all qualities of this, breathing it in on the inhale. For the exhale, breathe out the love of a loving, some goodness of a situation in your life, ventilating, opening and sending out spaciousness, giving it out to the world on your exhale. 5 breaths, please.
Finally, we take in the overall fear of the world with the inhale, and for the world, we breathe out loving-kindness and compassion to all the world because everyone is feeling fear and pain. 5 breaths. Recognize that the uncomfortable fear you feel is something all sentient beings have and give out your love and joy to the world. We’re all sharing the same experience.
Ah, meditation. How I love you. If you want to make meditation a permanent part of your life or want to get back into it, try this free email course that’s helped hundreds:
2. But find the right balance when it comes to fear:
There’s a middle road that we’ve got to find with everything. Nothing is good and nothing is bad. But you know what is not good? Clinging too strongly to something or the opposite of that—-living in complete ignorance of it.
Back to Pema for a second: “Everybody’s middle way is a different middle way; everyone practices in order to find out for him or herself personally how to be balanced, how to be not too tight and not too loose. No one can tell you. You just have to find out for yourself.”
This goes for fear: you can’t be too loose and negligent of it, but you can’t let it dictate your actions, overpowering your mind. You can’t coddle it, and you can’t neglect it.
So if you’re one who clings to fear easily, you’re prone to anxiety, worrying and other little forms of fear a lot, then, for you, you might need to let go a little more than others. The person who is pretending fear is not a thing, who is never worried about anything because they are ignoring what could go wrong at all times, probably needs to tighten up and pay a little bit more attention to fear. This person needs to look more at fear, spend a little more time and precision on it.
Try this journaling practice:
Think of one part of your life causing you anxiety or fear: Write it down in all its glory, every detail, every person involved. Write it.
Write down the WORST that could happen.
Write down the BEST that could happen.
Write down now what you’ve been ignoring about this situation or person or whatever is causing you this fear (could be #2 or #3 above).
Now think about what you’ve been clinging too tightly to, how you’ve been fostering this feeling of anxiety or outright fear. What are you trying to hold on to too tightly? Is this holding you back? How? Write it down.
Calmly imagine you can sit down with this anxiety or fear and just listen to it and reason with it calmly. Can you write out a dialogue of this conversation? Can you be firm with the fear while at the same being a loving listener? Can you comfort the fear, embrace it and then let it go? Can you tell it “thank you, I love you, but now you’re free to go”?
Finding the right amount of love without spoiling, enabling or coddling is a major part of life. With people, but also with situations and ourselves. We have to have the right amount of discipline and the right amount of care. We have to carefully walk the line between being overly nourishing and being overly negligent. The safe road is somewhere in the middle.
All energy forms deserve freedom, including your fear (and your pain, its sister). We don’t cling to things or hold on to tightly because we would lose our minds. Everything must keep moving. Give your fears the attention they ask for, but be able to let them go. We can’t feed them forever.
3. Get in touch with the monster and the witch:
And this, my friends, is the fun part! The reward for coming to your edge, for befriending a not so friendly part of you.
You know you’re magical. I know that you’ve had moments when you’ve thought, "Am I some kind of witch? I think I just did that.”
I’m going to call out my mom here. We were in Nashville, trying to watch the solar eclipse last year, and the eclipse was about to happen. But there was this huge cloud coming slowly to cover the sun. “OH NO!!!!!” I was freaking out. All this hype, the biggest sky event in centuries, that I would probably ever see and now this stupid cloud was coming!
My mom said, “You need to walk away, you’re messing me up!” I did, and when I looked back, my mom had her hand over her face, she had her eyes closed, concentrating really really hard.
The cloud moved away, like shifted its course and went away.
My mother has powers, I have powers, you have powers, we all have powers. It’s your energy, folks. We’re all witches. Your mind can do amazing things. But it can only do these things with real love, backed by powerful energy of the heart. My mom does a lot of what she does with the purest form of love for my family and me when I visit her. I know that her power to move the clouds was backed by powerful love. Plus, she and I both really do love the sun and sky events. So desire played a big part there too.
Now here’s a little story for you, kind of:
This magical kind of love, which I will now introduce to you as “the witch” can only be accessed by moving past your fear, which I will now call “the monster.” As I said earlier, the monster protects the witch. A lot of people, as we well know, hate and fear witches and might even try to kill them. So the monster has to protect her. Hence, that tight armor that protects the most tender, loving parts of us.
There are probably a bunch of monsters protecting all the doors to the witch’s house (really getting into this Halloween analogy). These monsters operate on causing you fear. They are actually made of fear and keep you from magic because they scare you. Monsterness is contagious, just like fear is contagious. We’ve all thought to ourselves, “I’m acting like a monster.”
If you’ve ever thought you were being monstrous, then you were operating out of fear. You were scared. You might have been trying to push that fear off yourself and onto others. You were trying to pass the fear away from you. But since what you give, you get, your fear only got worse. These were the instances when you tried to get to the witch, but the monsters stopped you and infected you with fear, and you became one with them.
The monsters, though, are just doing their jobs. These are your monsters and your witch. So you have to know how to talk to them. Gather them around, hug and embrace each of them but don’t linger too long because they are hairy and slimy and some are sneaky. Use the clarity and warmth of your love to listen to them objectively, and then reason with them, using your love.
You’re at the edge of your magic. The edge of getting to the witch.
Tell them the truth, why you want to get back to the witch, why you want the magic of life back. Assure them you will protect the witch with love, but not fear. They won’t like that, but keep calming them and comforting them. Once they agree (and you’re the boss so they will), free them to frolic in the forest or maybe some of these monsters start working for you and the witch, alerting you of any problems that may come up while living your beautiful life.
The witch is about to blow your mind with her powers. All you have to do is feel love, believe in your own magic, keep the doors of her house open and always monitor the roaming monsters.
Be kind to the monsters. Respect them. Give and create with the witch, with your magic love. Watch your life expand upward.
Sometimes we need some herbal help with anxiety and that’s okay. The witch would approve of this:
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