Gospel According to Luke: Jesus entered a village where a woman by the name of Martha welcomed him to her home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him. Martha, who was busy with all the details of hospitality came to Jesus and said, “Lord, aren’t you concerned that my sister has left me all alone to do the household tasks? Tell her to help me!” Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha! You are anxious and upset about many things. Your sister has chosen the better portion and will not be deprived of it.”
I would never recommend that anyone tell Jesus what to do. However, Jesus does not react to our fear and anxiousness. Jesus loves us as we are, here and now, just the way we are.
Underneath our ordinary lives, underneath all the talking we do, all the moving we do, all the thoughts in our minds, there’s a fundamental groundlessness. It is there bubbling along all the time. We experience it as restlessness and edginess. We experience it as fear. It motivates passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride, but we never get down to the essence of it.
Refraining and not reacting is the method for getting to know the nature of this restlessness and fear. If we immediately entertain ourselves by talking, by acting, by thinking—if there’s never any pause—we will never be able to relax. We will always be speeding through our lives. We’ll always be stuck with a good case of the jitters. . We can begin to relate with what’s underneath all the bubbles and burps and farts, all the stuff that comes out and expresses itself as uptight, controlling, manipulative behavior, or whatever it is. Underneath all that, there’s something very soft, very tender, that we experience as fear or edginess.
Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. (Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things!) The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons.
The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”
Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”
Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be intimidated by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.
This is how it actually works. Martha and Mary are the same person. Martha has to have some kind of respect for the jitters, some understanding of how her emotions have the power to run her around in circles. That understanding helps her to discover how she increases her pain, how she increases her confusion, how she causes harm to herself. Jesus believed in Martha’s basic goodness, basic wisdom, and basic intelligence.
It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space.
A thoroughly good relationship with ourselves results in being still, which doesn’t mean we don’t run and jump and dance about. It means there’s no compulsiveness. We don’t overwork, overeat, over pray, or over seduce. In short, we begin to stop causing harm.
We don’t start blurting out words just because no one else is talking and we’re nervous. We are at home in the world because we are at home with ourselves. We are at home with Jesus in our bodies and in our homes. We don’t feel that out of nervousness, out of our habitual pattern, we have to run at the mouth. Our speech is tamed and when we speak, it communicates. We don’t waste the gift of speech in expressing our neurosis. This is the liberation that naturally arises when we are completely here, without anxiety about being perfect.
I saw a bumper sticker today that read: “I’d rather be here!”
Now my prayer becomes real. I simply pray:
For wisdom, for courage, for comfort…In weakness and fear…be near. Hear our prayer O God.
Jesus responds: “Do not be afraid. I am with you always!”
*Story and notes taken from Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. 1997. Boston: Shambhala.