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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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.