I don’t remember feeling afraid of much when I was a child. Perhaps getting up in the middle of the night for a glass of water was a bit terrifying; having to walk down those winding stairs past that strange nook that 70 years prior was the maid’s entrance. Pitch darkness brought on images of disturbing, half decayed animals thanks to a certain Stephen King movie and that was about the extent of my fears; crazed pets of the past coming to devour me.
As life rolls on and tragedy blindsides, fears of people dying or parents divorcing started to seep in, followed by fears of being bullied, ostracized or humiliated by peers. Adolescence brings hilarious fears, of wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong or simply being rejected by anyone anytime for anything. Into adulthood the fears somehow become more real (or the mind tells us so,) fears of making the wrong choice, failing at something important, or taking actions that result in long term painful consequences. As our world becomes more complex, so it seems, do our fears.
So this is a bit of a mishmash of perspectives on fear that have, over the years, touched and inspired me in certain ways, a bit of a ‘bricolage’ if you will. The first time I ever thought about fear, (rather than just unconsciously reacting to it) was when I read Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch when I was fourteen, the simplicity of the words made me relax and to this day, still do:
“Every action taken by human beings is based in love or fear, not simply those dealing with relationships. Decisions affecting business, industry, politics, religion, the education of your young, the social agenda of your nations, the economic goals of your society, choices involving war, peace, attack, defense, aggression, submission; determinations to covet or give away, to save or to share, to unite or to divide--every single free choice you ever undertake arises out of one of the only two possible thoughts there are: a thought of love or a thought of fear.
Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hoards, harms.
Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals.
Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends.
Every human thought, word, or deed is based in one emotion or the other. You have no choice about this, because there is nothing else from which to choose. But you have free choice about which of these to select.”
A blog post about fear by Seth Godin landed in my inbox. I love this man’s brilliance, irreverence and unrelenting demand that each of us step into our own right as leaders and do the work we’re meant to be doing. He ignites my courage time and time again. Here's the post:
Waiting for the fear to subside
There are two problems with this strategy:
A. By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you're not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant. The reason you're afraid is that there's leverage here, something might happen. Which is exactly the signal you're looking for.
B. The fear certainly helps you do it better. The fear-less one might sleep better, but sleeping well doesn't always lead to your best work. The fear can be your compass, it can set you on the right path and actually improve the quality of what you do.
Listen to your fear but don't obey it.”
Pema Chodron, whose teachings I turn to time and time again, in moments of joy or pain, when I am centered, seeking deeper practice or when I can’t seem to find a shred of compassion for myself, her words always cut through bullshit and remind me what it means to be a warrior. Here’s a few from her, couldn’t resist speckling the page.
"There is a common misunderstanding among the human beings who have ever been born on earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same. A much more interesting, kind and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our curiosity is bitter or sweet. To lead to a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we are committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing."
"…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are."
"We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart."
"Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."
Rosa Parks, the ‘mother of the freedom movement’, didn’t set out to be a civil rights activist:
“It was not pre-arranged. It just happened that the driver made a demand and I just didn't feel like obeying his demand. I was quite tired after spending a full day working.”
I guess our lives can just go that way, our work simply comes to us in a moment of being fed up with the way things are, when the pain of facing the fear is less than the pain of what is occurring. Of fear, Rosa is quoted saying:
“I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
And finally, here is Mae West. I can’t help but feel tickled and wowed by what that woman was willing to do and say. The words of hers that make me blush I have left out, but below are a couple of lovelies that when applied to facing fears feel like solid and encouraging words.
“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”