A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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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.

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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.

FDR

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!