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7 Fears, 7 Treasures, 7 Shadows, 7 Others

The 7 Treasures

So, as I have tried to briefly suggest, our fears are intense and real, and in order to avoid them we generate symptoms.  Becoming psychologically well, however, involves more than simply removing our symptoms.  For without them we are merely exposed to our fears without any understanding or means for moving forward and metabolizing our experience.  A formula for being frozen by terror!  What we need is courage; and our motivation for cultivating courage can be accessed by having some sense of what we may gain by overcoming our fears.  Beyond the 7 Fears, and accessed by our courage, are what we could call the 7 Treasures.

Each of the following 7 Treasures are directly related to each of the 7 Fears of Wellness.

  1. Vividness and Vibrancy (Experience)
  2. Self-Awareness and Confidence (Solitude)
  3. Love (Intimacy)
  4. Empowerment (Responsibility)
  5. Transformation (Identity Loss)
  6. Mastery (Excellence)
  7. Energy and Humor (Impermanence)

1.  Vividness and Vibrancy (Experience)
By overcoming our fear of experience we can access a vast range of experiences and accommodate more intensity and vividness in our lives than we think is possible.  This is invigorating and allows us to feel the depth of our human potential.  We can feel our emancipation from the ghosts of earlier oppressive caretakers and remain open to whatever may arise around or within us.  We can gain more physical and emotional vibrancy and approach everything with a sense of curiosity that nourishes our learning and growth.  Of course, the challenge is to remain open not only to pleasurable experiences, but all experiences, including those that are painful.  By doing so we are filled by the richness of being human, which is far better than occupying a mere sliver of existence.  I am not aware of any research to support this, but I imagine our courage to embrace experience also confers health benefits.

2.  Self-Awareness and Confidence (Solitude)
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” – May Sarton
“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within.  It is there all the time.” –Anna Freud

Courageously facing solitude allows us to become our own best friend.  As Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says, “we can turn our own mind into an ally”.   Entering solitude allows us to gain self-awareness, self-understanding, self-acceptance, and a deeper sense of confidence.  Because of courageously encountering whatever arises in our solitude, we no longer need to seek out others in order to avoid ourselves.  This brings tremendous clarity, relaxation, and freedom to our relationships.  We no longer have to organize our lives around avoiding ourselves, and this calms the subliminal sense of being on the run.  We become familiar with ourselves so that when some previously hidden aspect of our experience arises, we can embrace it with curiosity and compassion, rather than shun it back to the cellar or woodshed of our minds.

3.  Love (Intimacy)
“To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” – David Viscott

The benefit of overcoming our fear of intimacy is, of course, love.  Giving and receiving love, whether parental, filial, or erotic, opens us to the joy of communion with others.  It allows us to participate in the miracle of “inter-subjective space”.  Making a case for the value of love hardly seems necessary, as it is self-evident to whoever has experienced it.  And I would contend that there is not a soul alive who could be reading these words without having received and given love at some point in their lives, no matter what else has happened.  At its simplest level love is simply a connection with another being, human or otherwise, that is marked by care.  Without this none of us can survive. 

4.  Empowerment (Responsibility)
When we take responsibility for ourselves, and stop casting blame externally, we gain access to the power of authorship for our own lives.  We begin to recognize our own choices and so gain the ability to change those choices if we prefer different results.  With responsibility comes empowerment.  (Or as Spiderman says: “With great power comes great responsibility.”) This doesn’t mean that we ignore or deny injustices in the world and assume a solipsistic sense of power and blame.  It does mean that we recognize our own contribution to any injustice done to us, and seek first to change ourselves before crusading to change others.  This consolidates our energies where they are most likely to be effective.

5.  Transformation (Identity Loss)
By letting go of who we think we are and must be we are free to become something new, more expansive, and express our deeper potentials.  We can then discover our greater identity, which liberates all kinds of possibilities for being and doing.  A psychological metamorphosis can unfold, revealing marvels and wonders we never imagined about ourselves.  When we transcend the stories that make up our identity we can see that they are just that- stories.  We no longer need to be defined or limited by them, and can create new ones.  Finally, we may discover that our ultimate identity has nothing to do with the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, but is the unconditional ground of being that is identical for every other person who has a story about who they are.

6.  Mastery (Excellence)
“The ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.” –John F. Kennedy

By striving to fulfill our highest aspirations we get to feel a deep sense of pride, satisfaction, and meaning in our lives.  There is an exhilaration that comes with each degree of mastery and accomplishment, or with even making the effort to live by one’s own values and priorities.  Having the courage to pursue excellence teaches us that failures and mistakes are not the end of the world, but in fact provide great feedback toward continued effort and learning.  By holding a vision for our own excellence, and continually stretching ourselves in that direction, we have a way to orient our actions that stimulates our energy and creativity.  There is a reason to get up in the morning. 

7.  Energy and Humor (Impermanence)
The benefit of not denying and hiding from loss, impermanence, and death is the return of all the energy we waste in this futile avoidance.  It takes tremendous ongoing effort to pretend that the world can be relied upon to be solid and unchanging.  This siphons off energy and attention we might otherwise have available for a more creative, dynamic participation in the changing stream of events.  Accepting impermanence makes us suppler and endows us with a greater sense of humor.  Rather than clinging tightly to our notions of how we want things to be, we can release all of that energy with a deep belly laugh.  We can also let go of all the guilt we feel for the casualties of impermanence- as if they were our fault and we could stop them if we were better, more powerful people. 

“Humanity has unquestionably one really effective weapon- laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution- these can lift at a colossal humbug- push it a little- weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast.  Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” – Mark Twain

Beyond our greatest fears lie our greatest treasures.  So if we are not willing to face our fears, there is little chance that we will ever really be well and whole.  This seems to be the fundamental challenge of human life.  If our care is about fostering wholeness and wellness in others, then we will have to support and challenge them through their fears.  And we cannot do this very well from an abstract distance; it will require our own courage and our own conviction in the treasures to be gained.

Often times we have so thoroughly avoided our fears that we are scarcely even aware of them.  We simply proceed through life in a habitual, semi-sleep state, numb to any sharp edges of fear.  So the first step is to recognize these fears and feel them.  We should touch and taste our terror.  There is no point in minimizing our fear, pretending it is smaller than it is.  Fearlessness is not absence of fear.  It is the ability to experience fear and not be ruled by it.  It is to create the psychological space that accommodates fear and also penetrate through and past it, where lies the treasure of our wellness.  By refusing to feel our fear we only suppress the energy and treasure that is bound up in it.  It is this raw energy that activates the hidden benefits.  It is probably true that the greater the fear, the greater the potential that awaits release.  This should be an encouraging idea to those of us who feel especially gripped and shaken by fear.

In summary, we are afraid of psychological wellness and wholeness and defend against it with our symptoms.  Our avoidance comes at a high price.  Sooner or later we begin to wonder if it is worth it.  We would like to be rid of our symptoms, yet they have served us well.  Finally there is no way around it- we will have to be courageous.  This becomes easier and more worthwhile when we realize that there are treasures to be gained by facing our fears directly.  Having some personal experience at feeling and courageously going beyond our own fears, we are in a better position to understand and be helpful to those we care for.  If our care is to go beyond simply providing bandages and soup and be comprehensive, or integral, it will aim at revealing these 7 treasures and assisting others toward making them real in their lives.

Please visit The 7 Shadows

Mukpo, M.J.  Turning the Mind into an Ally, New York: Riverhead Books, 2003.


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