A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


The Archetype of the Coward; Facing Fear Part II

What is the core spiritual teaching of the Coward Archetype? Let me illustrate through my personal experience.

I discovered the Coward accidentally during the CMED/Sacred Contracts workshop in January 2009. The Coward, most often seen as a shadow component of the Bully, had not resonated with me enough during my own studies to put it on my stack of archetypes. But just as soon as I began working deeply with my survival archetypes, the Child, Victim, Prostitute and Saboteur, the Coward jumped off the page at me. (I sincerely thank the fabulous CMED teachers, Jim Curtan, Peter Occhiogrosso, Lynn Bell and Caroline Myss for bringing this particular archetype alive during the workshop.)

Sure enough, when I cast my Sacred Contract Natal Chart, the Coward Archetype landed in my first house!

For those of you not  fluent in astrology, the First House represents the self, how we appear to the world, our identity, ego, and personality. It’s the very first place to start.  I resolved to come home and, starting there at the beginning of my chart, to give each of my archetypes one week of attention. That would give me twelve weeks of work and then I could take another month to circle back and look at anything interesting that came up before attending the second installment of the yearlong Sacred Contracts Workshop.

I had no idea that, as my first house archetype, the Coward holds a major key to my chart and thus my entire spiritual life.

As I explained in the first installment of this piece (see The Archetype of the Coward: Facing Fear Part I), the Coward’s primary relationship is to fear itself. In this sense the Coward relates closely to the wisdom family of archetypes (Mystic, Philosopher, Seeker, Alchemist) whose primary focus is to locate Truth, which eventually resides within the self.

In my own case, I have bumped up against the concept of fear in many forms throughout the spiritual literature and traditions. For example, when doing the Daily Inventory in Al-Anon 12 Step work, the self questioning always leads to an underlying fear as the basis for unhealthy behavior, whether fear of security, survival or not getting emotional needs met.

In A Course in Miracles, Fear is contrasted with Love. This is common in many Christian traditions as well. Fear is the Darkenss or absence of Love/Truth, or Light.  In Tibetan Buddhism, fear belongs in the department of anger, one of the five “mind poisons” or forms of negative thinking. In the Buddhist view, fear is resistance to what is.

The final school of thought I’d like to mention is the Release Technique pioneered by Lester Levenson and well taught by Hale Dwoskin in his book the Sedona Method. Dwoskin clearly inventories every negative thought/emotion/belief while offering a valid practical technique for releasing them. The point here is that analyzing the fear or negative thought keeps it alive. If we simply resolve to allow and then release fear it melts away. This has been particularly useful in my case.

So here I was after the SC Workshop in early February with my Coward archetype staring me in the face, in the form of my very identity, self-image and outlook on life. It manifested throughout my life as an inability to “put myself out there,” a fear that if I truly express myself, no one will love me and I will be alone. It also manifests as “fear of my own shadow,” and a strong and willful but “hidden” ego.

The only way to cut down the habit of fear, I realized, was to own it, experience it and feel it, then release it. With the help of the Sedona Method, I resolved to do just that. I started out small, releasing fear in the form of procrastination, worry and obsessive negative thoughts. Within days of doing this, miracles began to happen to point the way as I began to search for information on the Coward.  Finding very little on the Internet other than definitions and derivations of the word, I started there, releasing my fear of going down the wrong track.

One day over lunch at a friend’s home, I decided to discuss my findings and asked him, “What does the word coward mean to you?” As he began to tell me, there was a knock on the door. A friend of his had arrived to pick something up. He walked into the house, a large person with an imposing 6′ 4″ frame and emblazoned across his tee shirt was the word “FEAR” in large red letters. My friend and I stared at him incredously! (Who says Spirit doesn’t have a sense of humor?!!)

The next day I was doing errands when I saw a car with a vanity plate that said “FREADM.”  I don’t know what the intended message was, but I read FEARDOM, as in the opposite of FREEDOM. I saw in that instant that freedom from fear is LOVE. Just to make sure I got the point I saw the car again later that day.

The following day, I picked up a movie that an acquaintance had recommended several weeks earlier. I had no idea what it was about but I was attracted by my friend’s description of scenes shot in Northern India where I had just been. I watched in astonishment as the story of The Fall unfolded. The movie is a story of a man who would rather die than face the pain of lost love. He is saved by the courage of a little girl. It is the best depiction of the Coward I have ever seen on film. Cool! Now I was on a roll.

Next, my writing teacher randomly told a story about the way lions hunt. Apparently the females do all the hunting for the pride, while the males hang around lazily (Wow!!!) But the two groups work cooperatively. The lionesses all line up on one side of the prey, say a herd of elk. The males then roar ferociously on the other side. This terrifies the herd which then runs away from the roar and straight into the waiting line of female hunters. The moral of the story, what the enlightened Coward knows, is that we should always “run toward the roar!”

Soon after hearing that story, I spoke to a friend from California. In the context of our discussion and without her knowing about my work with the Coward, she recommended a book, When Fear Falls Away, by Jan Frazier. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in their relationship to fear. Talk about running toward the roar! It blew me away and helped me enormously. I began to sit with my fear of being alone. Once I began to work with this most primal fear, I began to ask for what I truly want and need in relationship. I began to set real boundaries for the first time. I began to see that to cave in to fear is to abet the ego, to resist what is. And love can not exist where there is fear, resistance. Within 8 weeks of discovering my Coward archetype I have done what I never thought I could do. I have chosen not to be in a love relationship that is not good for me, that does not nurture me. I am now single and happy and facing my fears on my own two feet. Thank you Coward!!

The Coward has a lot to teach us about facing our fears rather than running away from awareness and acceptance. I believe that the core spiritual teaching of the Coward is to eventually bring us back to the roar of own hearts and the connection with Universal Love which awaits us there.


Relationship; It’s Habit-forming

In recent posts I have openly portrayed relationship challenges, mostly spiritual in nature, as they have appeared in my life. Here’s the latest.

My beloved and I did face that fork in the road and we did, indeed, decide to walk separate paths. (See Relationship IQ) It was coming for a while and closure feels good. We stayed long enough to express the enormous gratitude we have for one another and for the process and path that we walked together. Seeking personal transformation when we came together, we faced enormous personal fears and challenges. When we reached the top of those mountains we were complete, both as individuals within the relationship and as a couple. Some day I hope to write about this in more depth and detail and to chronicle a wide perspective on the healing miracle of love and relationship in my life. Until then, I have some observations, a witnessing of my current spiritual path. I’d like to tell you how I am doing now.

The past many months and weeks have been a continual process of letting go. At first I let go of the newness of our union, the giddy coming together and the freshness of each new thing we discovered about one another. Next I let go of the things we discovered together, as more of our experiences became patterns and routines. Lastly, I have had to let go of the idea of being together permanently, the hopes, dreams, fantasies of making a life together. I have had to release the belief that we could be anything other than what we are now. This last thing — the idea that anything or anybody can ever be different from what they are at this moment — this is the thing that must die a permanent, gruesome and memorable death if I am ever to be truly happy.

I have thought a lot about impermanence. Like life itself, romantic relationship is precious because it is fleeting. As I grieve the loss of this life, the life of “us,” not yet ready to begin anticipating a new life ahead, I see that the only problem is habit. As soon as the relationship becomes a habit, it is dead. As soon as relationship leaves the stage of newness it is already declining. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to get a new relationship. It means that it is time to wake up to whatever is new.

I spent part of last week waking up to my life, noticing the grief inherent in each moment that held associations with my former beloved. Monday was the last dinner we will ever eat together. Tuesday is the first day that I will not speak to him. Wednesday is the first time I will not hear about his yoga class. Friday is the day I will tell my son that we are no longer together. This is the first weekend that we will not hang out together, sleep in late together, make lazy love in the afternoon. There will be no “family Sunday dinner,” tonight.

Each morning as I awoke, alone in my own bed, I reviewed my habits of mind: thinking first about him when I awoke, planning out time together, reviewing teh many wonderful times we have had together. Eventually I experienced the involuntary nature of these thoughts. I began to ask myself, “if I were not thinking of the past with him, what would I think about?” I began to play with allowing my mind to wander to other things — the sunny morning sky and fragrant Daphne right outside my bedroom window; my growling stomach eager for breakfast oatmeal, the quiet space containing my life as I sit at my computer to write.

There is no need to be violent, wrench the memories and reminders of our life together from my consciousness. But neither is there the need to dwell, to enable and ingratiate sentimental thoughts when they arise. So I will continue to ponder the fact that habit — being asleep — suffocates every relationship. Waking to the present, even when it is painful, remains the greatest gift of Love.


How To Be New at Anything

You don’t have to be a professional newbie to join the exhilarating ride called the learning curve. Whether you are looking to bring passion and excitement to the mundane aspects of your life or just anxious about an important upcoming life change, learning to embrace the beginner’s mind can enhance your experience.

I arrive at a downtown hotel, on time but rumpled and sweaty after hiking three blocks in my best heels. I stop for a name tag and choose a seat among dozens of jovial professionals as my panicky thoughts begin to drown out the din in the massive ballroom. Will I fit in? Will I say something stupid? Will they know that I am new?

I have just entered my first continuing education luncheon in my new career as a real estate broker. I stop to take a deep breath and ponder my current situation: middle aged, divorced, on my third religion and embarking on my fourth career, once again I have no idea what to expect. Yet having played the role of newbie hundreds of times in my life, I know that I will get a lot more than chicken salad out of today’s meeting if a follow my own simple rules for being new.

First, give up all pretensions of expertise. No matter how well you have polished your shoes or your story, everyone can spot a beginner. Once I began to relinquish my need to know every fact and my obsession with looking like I know what I am doing, I relax into the kind of in-the-moment intuition that opens doors and increases my learning capacity. Others agree.

Nancy Thompson recently put her corporate business travel career on the back burner to follow her passion as an event planner. Her company, Flourish, targets successful women like herself by offering forums and events to enhance the body, mind and spirit. With the open mind of a newbie, Nancy soon realized that despite a formidable professional business plan, she had no idea what she was in for. It wasn’t until she abandoned the plan, slashed her budget and scaled back her operation that her concept began to take off, attracting best-selling authors in intimate venues, events which bring women back month after month. Says Nancy, “by letting go of the way I was supposed to look, I filled an unmet need in the Portland community.”

Embracing rather than squandering your amateur status is another technique for the new in the know. “You will never be more focused, more curious or more passionate about your subject than you are at the beginning,” says. Nikki Gardner, top producing realtor at Windermere Realty Group in Portland, Oregon. Just a few years into her career, Nikki used her natural “drive to find out” from the get-go. “Having more questions than your clients,” pays off when it comes time to compete for a listing or represent buyers in a transaction. Nikki understands that by replacing her fear of the unknown with a curiosity for what might be, she let her enthusiasm substitute for the momentum that she lacked. Beginner’s luck is anything but!

Successful newbies also take advantage of their status as the new kid on the block. You will never be more popular or attract more good will than when you are new. When I was learning to windsurf in the Columbia Gorge, I rarely had to worry about getting my rig off the car alone in 40 knot winds. And if I was having difficulty with a particular move in the water, impromptu lessons regularly happened. People in this world-class windsurfing capitol were more than happy to share their experience with me and to show me their secret tips.

For some, being new is a well-developed art form that begins out of necessity. Rahul Vora, software engineer for the multinational software company, Autodesk, has mastered the art of being new. On arriving in the United States from his native India 23 years ago, Rahul confesses being overwhelmed by the changes. Now as chief architect for multi-million dollar software products, he uses the skills he honed as a student in a brand new country. Stress levels soar when deadlines loom and cultural and communication issues arise. “When I go into a high level meeting with the thought that I am hearing these issues for the first time, I begin to relax and become more creative. Often my relaxation is enough to ease the tension of all the participants in the room.”

I take a break from writing to attend my 12 year old son’s Little League game. Asher doesn’t know that he is my favorite coach in the art of being new as he readies himself to pitch for the very first time. Good-naturedly warming up until it’s time to take the mound as starter, he walks the first batter, strikes out the next, and then fumbles the ball resulting in a stolen base. One of his throws sails way over the catcher’s head. His team rallies behind him, cheering him on until the inning ends without a score. Asher’s wide grin across freckled cheeks tells the whole story of how to be new at anything—enjoy yourself and don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes!


The Archetype of the Coward: Facing Fear Part I

cowardly-lion6I admit it. I’m a Coward. Yet thanks to the work I have been doing with Caroline Myss http://www.myss.com/CMED/home/ in her yearlong Sacred Contracts Course (or Scared Contracts), I have some new tools for facing my fears. I’d like to explore the archetype of the Coward and share my own experience.

First, let’s define the word. My trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the term coward as “one who lacks courage or is shamefully afraid.” The word comes from the Latin cauda, or tail. The coward would be the one who “turns tail” to flee rather than face danger.

Many archetypes face personal danger. Some examples are the Hero, the Martyr, the Warrior, and the Knight, to name a few. Each of these stands out because of its unique goal or prize. Thus, the Hero conquers the ego, the Warrior vanquishes the enemy, the Knight wins the lady’s hand by facing dangerous tasks and the Martyr takes a stand against injustice or immorality.

But the Coward, alone, has his primary relationship with the Fear rather than the goal. He faces his fear and choosing to act or not, he learns about himself. As primarily action archetypes, the others–Hero, Warrior, Knight–undoubtedly experience fear, they just don’t give it a second thought. Therefore I would argue that the Coward is primarily an archetype of the mystic or wisdom family. While he might accomplish great tasks in the process of facing fear, he primarily wrestles with his own thinking. As William Shakespeare put it, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

The Coward, therefore, has much to teach us about facing our fears. Two well-known American figures, one real, one fiction illustrate the archetype well: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and The Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.


While FDR is best known for single handedly pulling our nation out of the Great Depression, his most famous quote, uttered in the first paragraph of his inaugural speech in early 1933, marks him as a Coward:

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It is interesting that FDR used the word “paralyzes,” as he himself, a paraplegic polio victim, never allowed the press to photograph him in his wheel chair. Indeed, he must have faced many fears during the illness that robbed him of his mobility and that could easily have killed him. A staunch introvert, FDR was known to be adept at keeping people at a distance. Although very charming and engaging in person, very few people claim to have known him well, and perhaps this is another manifestation of the Coward archetype.

FDR held back in other ways, as well. His political campaign against Herbert Hoover in 1932 during the lowest point of the Great Depression was most notable for its lack of concrete solutions to the nation’s financial problems. His inaugural address, with its spiritual tone, speaks of the nation’s “common difficulties” concerning “only material things.” Clearly FDR recognized that we would never solve our practical problems without first healing the spiritual crisis. (You can listen to this inspirational speech online at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/) In classic Coward style, he challenged himself and the nation to face our fears, our own negativity. Rather than bully his opponents, FDR transformed his Coward through spiritual honesty, integrity and will, while accomplishing national political reforms that stand to this day. The transformational energy of the Sacred Coward comes through very clearly in his speech.

The Cowardly Lion

On the lighter side, most of us are familiar with the Cowardly Lion from the book and movie The Wizard of Oz. The lion represents the companion archetype to the Coward, the Bully. For every Coward who does not successfully transform, bullies himself or others as the Lion bullies Dorothy and her other companions on the Yellow Brick Road. His famous lament, “If I only had a heart!” of course refers to courage — from the Latin cor meaning heart — the elusive quality the Coward covets for himself.

During the journey to Oz, the Lion repeatedly encounters the dangers perpetrated by the evil witch and each time he must conquer the urge to run. At one point, startled by his own tail, the Cowardly Lion begins to see his fear as illusion, his tail signifying the internal and personal nature of the struggle. Only after he understands that it is his own fear, not the outside world, that undermines his power, is the Lion fully initiated. The Wizard then confers the medal of valor and we see that lovely moment when the adorable Lion owns his rightful place as a tenderhearted soul.

Every Coward must ultimately uncover his own fears as unjustified or remain forever the Bully, acting out his unconscious desires for real power against himself or others.


In my own Sacred Contracts Archetypal Chart of Origin, I have the Coward in my First House, the house of the ego, the personality, the identity. In the next installment of this article I will elaborate on my own experience of facing fear. Stay tuned!

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Awareness Practice

I’m not big on meditating for hours, chanting at the feet of a guru or flogging myself mercilessly, although I have tried all of these things (albeit mental floggings only!). I do believe that one can practice spiritual awareness with or without religion and spiritual tradition. Here is one of my favorite practices. I call it the License Plate Game.

I make a habit of noticing vanity plates when I am out driving. At first I just enjoyed deciphering the cryptic messages. But soon I began to notice synchronicities. A few years ago while driving south on I 5 with a friend, we became engrossed in a conversation about the Gen X generation. We spoke about famous people and popular cultural icons representing the group. Eventually our conversation drifted to people we know and how they typified their generation. I mentioned a friend of mine who drives a black Jetta, the car I had decided most typified Gen Xers. Just then a car pulled up very fast behind me. I moved to the right lane and as it passed we noticed in amazement that the vanity plate read “Jen X!” These license plate connections happen all the time.

Just several days ago I experienced a transformative personal event that brought up a lot of fear. Shortly after releasing the fear completely, the problem totally dissolved. The next day I as I pulled out of a parking spot in my neighborhood I noticed a car drive by with a plate that read “Freadm.” I don’t know what the owner of the plate meant to convey, but I connected Freadom (Freedom) to its opposite, Feardom. I made a major shift in that moment and a realization followed my recent experience: I saw that the path to freedom is always to let go of fear. As if to punctuate my realization, I saw the car again later that morning.

My little vanity plate epiphanies are rarely amazing or profound. But they do occur regularly. I have broadened my awareness to synchronicities involving billboards, signs, songs on the radio, and just about anything that contains a message. A few more examples follow.

While reading the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I took a break one day to walk to the coffee place around the corner. As I left the place with my steaming cup, a man opened the door and we met face to face and said a few words. Something in the book had affected me profoundly and I felt an incredible outpouring of love for this stranger. At that very moment I heard a loud noise and looked up. A truck was going by with the words “Ekhart Moving Company” painted in large letters on the side.

I delight in the magic of synchronicities every single day. I love the way I seem to look at the clock each afternoon at 2:22. I love the way the number 22 follows me around, as when on a recent trip to Chicago I was assigned row number 22 on the airplane, the taxi exited the freeway at 22nd Avenue on the way to the hotel, I was on the second floor and the room service number that I used everyday was #22. Even my skeptical friend Chris had to admit how funny it was that I happened to be in his old car the day the odometer read 222,222!

I know that some of you are wondering what this has to do with spirituality. I can feel the eye roll I’m getting from certain folks. One or two of you are saying, “So what. This is just coincidence, nothing more.” Others might counter that there are mathematical and statistical laws that account for these random occurrences.

To these objections I say, you are totally missing the point! The whole point is to wake up. What better way than to notice things, lighten up, relax, smile, have fun, wonder, open up to new explanations, free the mind? In my life it has made no difference whether I watch my thoughts, watch my breath, or watch license plates. All that matters is that I am watching. There is watching. Who is watching?

PS. Six hours after I posted this I got an email saying that a periodical would like to publish one of my pieces. While celebrating–this is my first published piece of writing–I noticed that the time stamp on the email is 2:22!