In the children’s book The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy – the heroine of the story – finds herself in a strange land after a cyclone had descended on her Kansas prairie home and miraculously carried her away. Bemused and bewildered in this new landscape she embarks on a quest to find out how she can return home safely. When she meets a witch she is told that the only person who could possibly help her is the Wizard of Oz who lives in the Emerald City. So with instructions on how to find the wizard, Dorothy departs….
During her journey she befriends three strangers: Scarecrow (who is looking for intelligence), Tin Man (who is searching for feeling) and Lion (who is seeking courage). She suggests to them that as the Wizard of Oz is said to have wonderful, magical powers then perhaps they should all join up together as travelling companions to seek him out. And so they all set off on their adventure full of hope and confidence that the wizard will grant them all their deepest wishes.
After a long journey, via the yellow brick road, our travellers eventually arrive at their destination – the wizard’s castle. When eventually they are given permission to meet the Wizard he tries to trick, deceive and frighten them, which is his practice with the population of Oz in general. But in time, through many trials and tribulations, all three of Dorothy’s friends acquire what they have longed searched for; however they were mistaken about the source. Scarecrow, believing that he has been ‘given’ intelligence by the wizard in the form of a brain (made up of straw, bran, pins and needles) takes on a new confidence in his judgements and views. Tin Man, believing that he has been ‘ given ‘ the capacity for feeling (in the form of a silk heart, filled with sawdust) is very happy indeed with his newly felt inner warmth and sensibilities. Finally Lion, believing that he as been ‘ given ‘ courage (in the form of a liquid that he had to drink) celebrates his new found bravery. But all their newly acquired qualities, for which they had been seeking, were in fact based on an illusion – the illusion that the wizard had ‘ownership’ of these attributes and could magically offer them to others. In reality everything that they so desperately wanted, everything that they where searching for, everything that they needed in their lives, was already waiting within them, but unfortunately they didn’t realize this. The wizard though, knew the power of suggestion in peoples lives and reluctantly applied this to great effect to empower our three friends.
Dorothy’s timid Lion, who had lost his roar, was gripped by feelings of doubt and fear – feelings very familiar to most of us. For instance, there have been key moments in my life, when confronted with a challenge, an opportunity for fresh direction and personal growth, I have backed off feeling uncertain about my abilities and desires, uncertain about disrupting my hitherto, established life. But now, in looking back, I can see something of lost opportunities because fear had gripped my heart, like the lion, and kept me back – kept me from growing….
Fear at best is only a partial view of things. It is limiting in its scope simply because it is based on projection, speculation about what MIGHT happen. It can never predict totally what actually WILL happen. It is never counsel to full vision, it never acquires full understanding. It does not see the bigger picture in our lives of infinite possibilities that unfold in each moment.
Our active engagement with fear can condemn us to a self-imposed prison where an undermining of our self view takes place that restricts what we can actually do. Fear expresses a lack of confidence in our innate ability to turn things around, to change our fixed position; it constricts learning and refuses to risk the adventure that life presents to us.
Fear internalised not only closes us down from our full potential; it can also feed through to find an outlet in anger and attack. For what is anger if not a product of fear trying to be heard; a cry for attention because our personal boundaries have somehow been threatened in some way, our self-worth challenged?
There are times when we can cultivate sufficient resistance to our ‘afraidness’, only to fall back to our previous position through a lack of confidence, a loss of faith in our ability to master its power over us. Whatever way we respond to its presence, however, one thing is for certain, left unattended it will almost certainly grow. Fear, in all its manifestations, is undoubtedly a powerful life shaper.
In our everyday existence where constant decisions need to be made, some with quite serious consequences attached to them, a degree of caution is essential to temper our judgement, but caution has a rational voice; fear never does. Fear cannot accept rationality, cannot accept a well-argued, meaningful position, cannot accept the truth, because it is afraid of losing its grip on us, losing its influence. As for faith, it just doesn’t understand this at all. Faith is seen as untenable and spurious, arousing suspicion because it can transcend fear and destabilise it. But whatever we positively try to do to combat and overcome our frightened mind states, I do believe that fear never really disappears completely. Its potential power always seems to be there in the background, just out of view of our awareness, hiding from our consciousness making it difficult to see, touch or feel. But it is there, always there in the shadows, ready to make its presence felt in a moment of possible uncertainty and doubt.
Whilst I have tried to summon up confidence in my life in order to confront my fears there have been times, strangely enough, when I felt that I had gone too far and tasted the ‘ sweetness ‘ of fearlessness. But thankfully caution prevailed in these moments and I settled down to see how I could be taken too far into risk, coaxed into danger by its impulsive nature. If tapping into our deeper, inner wisdom of reflection and balanced assessment is a good safeguard against being influenced unduly by impulsive feelings that could endanger us physically and emotionally. Also seeking out the advice and guidance of ‘ significant others ‘ could bring us a new perspective to help considerably. But it is our own experience, with its weight of authority, that must be listened to, especially when it taps us on the shoulder and says:….. ” No, don’t do that ! You know what can happen if you do. Just think of the consequences that might follow. ” But whether we pay attention to its warnings, or not, is obviously our decision.
In my meditation practice when fear has strongly surfaced from my inner depths I have not tried to ignore it or block it out, which would be a wasteful exercise anyway. What I have attempted to do is stay with the feeling and listen closely to what it is saying. I have tried to feel its size and intensity, feel its texture, feel its pulse. Then eventually, after I have given full attention to its expression, what I have found is that I have become closer to understanding its composition. Having opened myself up in this way to almost befriend this hitherto stranger I came to the profound realisation that it is the anticipation of it, not the realness of it, that scares. Fear is only a product of the mind with no real existence independent of this.
Back to the story…
Fear had not only gripped Lion’s heart for, when we look closely at Scarecrow and Tin Man we can also detect, at the very core of their heart-felt desires, a fundamental fear that had held them back. Scarecrow’s quest for intelligence had to overcome fear that had him bound to a fragile, challenged confidence. Similarly, Tin Man’s quest for feeling had to overcome fear which had pulled him back from exploring his full emotional potential. Fear, in all three cases, was the enemy within that had to be confronted.
Scarecow, Tin Man and Lion eventually found what they were looking for but what about Dorothy, did she? Well, she found her way home at last to her house in the Kansas prairie but perhaps she was never lost in the first place. Perhaps her journey to Oz was only a dream and the three companions were just figments of a young girl’s fertile imagination that represented inner feelings of uncertainty and apprehension in an ever-changing, unpredictable world?
Something that I have increasingly come to learn and respect over the years is the idea that stories and myths can interweave profoundly with the realities of our own lives giving them a deeper expression and meaning. The story of Dorothy and her companions is not exclusively theirs, it has relevance to all of us, that is part of its appeal. We are all on an adventure, entering a path of exploration and self-discovery, whether we are aware of it or not, and the question is – do we allow fear to grip our hearts and immobilize our intended actions or do we seek its full resolution? Dorothy had lost her way for a while, but through her tenacity and perseverance she found her way home again. And so in our lives we can lose our way, wander off to the call of some distracting journey that take us off ultimately to where we do not want to be. But this is also part of our path, part of our learning. Our spiritual quest, like Dorothy’s, has awakening hidden in every step, wherever we go. An awakening that makes us ready to receive the truth – the truth of our own, innate empowerment. But without the journey, without the difficulties to confront us along the way, there is no awakening.
Our Oz travellers were full of hope, full of determination that they would find all that kept them from self-completion and although they were confused over the source, they all embarked on their journey with faith and confidence in good heart to eventually realize their desires – inner completion. The real prizes that they were searching for, the ones that took them off to adventure, were not in the hands of an all powerful wizard. They were inside them all the time but they didn’t know it. However we do not suffer from the same ‘ innocence ‘ as our friends, we are grown adults living in the real world. So we know better. Or do we?
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