Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Working With Words And Fear

I heard a story today from a friend that made me think of two things: fear and the power of words.  My friend was having some difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and so visited her doctor.  He sent her over to the Emergency Dept of her local hospital, the quickest way to get an xray.  In the course of examining her and reading the Xray the attending physician learned she had breast cancer 4 years ago.  He immediately jumped to the conclusion that the fluid they found on her lungs was the result of cancer and told her she was probably now sorry that she had declined conventional treatment and would have to see an oncologist and have chemo or radiation this time.  All this prior to any test results.  Needless to say, my friend was left reeling and spent a very uncomfortable weekend waiting for test results.  By Tuesday she was relieved to hear that the tests showed no cancer.

I felt angry for my friend, that this doctor, a person in a position of power, would have such little knowledge or regard for the power of his own words, that he would share his hasty conclusion and his treatment biases with her in the blink of a beady eye.  It  would seem he had no understanding that  his words would instill deep fear in her.  I assume no one in the helping professions would knowingly set out to arouse fear in another.  I can't know this for sure.  The only thing I can know for sure is that words carry power. They can hurt or they can heal.   They can inspire and create hope.  They are probably as powerful or more so than the drugs and treatments this doctor believes in.

Everyday we use a lot of words, mostly without examining them very carefully.  My friend's story made me think of "right speech", one of the Buddhist eightfold path.  It reminded me of how important it is to consider what we say to others, to hold our words up to the light and examine them carefully as if they were small jewels or perhaps tiny granules of poison.  I was reminded of how we can hurt people with our words without even noticing it.  I was reminded of the energy and power of words and how we should handle these harbingers of joy and harm accordingly.

Then I thought about fear, how it can suddenly well up inside us, for any number of reasons.  The situation my friend faced would incite fear in most people.  I have spent time with the C word and it is a very scary place.  So what do we do with that fear.  Well my experience is that  we hold on for the ride.  We experience it in our bodies, if we can sit there, feel our hearts race and our body tremble.  As much as we can we try to be present for that physical sense, to experience it directly.  Sometimes we can and sometimes our minds race away.  Sometimes we need to get up, have a walk, turn on some music, watch a funny movie; skillful means.  I can remember when my daughter was young, our Naturopath commented about fever, "fever is good  but you don't want it to overwhelm the body."  My experience with fear is the same,  that sometimes if the fear is intense we may need some relief from it.

And if you watch fear, it comes and goes, just like everything else, it is impermanent.  We might think it is always there, but there is an ebb and flow to it.  And mostly if we can just stay with it for the wild ride, we find that it either changes or it isn't exactly how we thought it would be.  And if we are present for it, we can take the next tiny little step needed and keep moving and readjusting from the points along the path.  And weirdly fear can be an opportunity, an opportunity to connect with others, to experience their caring and generosity of spirit, an opportunity to soften up a little, to recognize how vulnerable and frightened we all are inside, an opportunity to get to know ourselves and how we operate just a little bit better.

There is a sign I love in the parking lots of some of the regional parks around here.  The signs read, "Thieves operate in this area."  (like they have some kind of special permit or license).  We are kind of like the park.  You never know when fear will operate in your area.  


  1. You wrote that you "assume that no one in the helping professions would knowingly set out to arouse fear in another."

    They key word here may be "knowingly." I too have experienced a similar scenario when a doctor I went to examined me and announced in a rather panicked voice that "this could be cancer!" I never went back to her...

    It seems the current healthcare system *is* fear-based and reactive - a medical machine of sorts. It should come with a warning label: "Enter at your own risk. Dangerous to your well-being." :)

    As always loved your story today - hanging on for the ride when fear arises and going with the ebb and flow. Yes, lovely. Thank you.

  2. Yes that would be a great sign "Enter at your own risk!" because the allopathic system does seem to have an energy like a vortex all of it's own and you are right the scent is definitely one of fear!

    That being said it has it's place, it is just another part of practice to use it with vigilance. Got a broken bone? Great place to have it set.