I often refer to my philosophy on working with fear as “practicing courage.” Courage is feeling afraid, diving in anyway, and transforming. The practice is in being willing to feel the fear (rather than try to affirm it away or numb out), head towards that what we desire anyway, and transform–and when we meet our fear, transformation always happens. Always. That’s the beauty of it.
Transformation doesn’t always mean “complete life overhaul.” But in bits and pieces, the circle of that with which we are comfortable widens, and becomes bigger, and then there’s less to be afraid of. Also–and this is pretty cool–fear just stops being as big of a deal. Instead, it just becomes part of the process.
To be fair, it’s not nuts to imagine that someone would be frustrated with a statement like that: “Fear just becomes part of the process? Oh, yeah, sure–I’ll just flip a freakin’ switch and not be afraid! Is that what you’re peddling?”
Nope. Not at all. What I’m peddling is letting fear literally be…part…of…the…ride.
Assumption #1 about anyone working as a Life Coach or counselor is that they have their shizzle figured out and that’s what makes them competent to work with others. Ha! I only wish it were so. True, the competency in supporting others does come from working through lots of my stuff and seeing what that process is like–I’ve done a lot of personal work. If asked my opinion of the Coaching industry, I’ll be frank in saying that I think that simply going through a training program is not enough–we’re only as helpful to others as we can be to ourselves, so that means personal growth and self-inquiry, not to mention a shitload of integrity. In other words: Coaches need to be working on their personal stuff on a continuous basis.
So, even though I’m a coach, there are still those things in life that one finds terrifying, things I’m working on. And I’ll be honest about one of mine: I have huge issues around my body. Nope, not my curves (spend enough time in San Francisco and inevitably, you’ll attend a body-positive naked workshop. I’ve done two). I’m talking about mistrust of my body.
Years ago, I had a foot injury that defied logic. The doctors couldn’t understand how it happened or why my foot wasn’t responding to treatment. It was two years after I was injured before I found a doctor who could help, and that 2 years was a difficult time. After finding the doc who could help, it was another two years before I was back to running again–when you spend a prolonged time limping, all sorts of other things in the body get out of whack, and I spent a long time with hip, knee, lower back and neck problems. It was painful and costly and both the most difficult thing as well as the most beautiful experience–beautiful, because it opened me up to a whole new meaning of surrendering to what-is and spiritual practice.
Fast forward to the relative present: For the past three years, I’ve entered myself in Bay to Breakers, San Francisco’s quintessential 12k race. Each year, I never even made it to the starting line.
Yes, that’s right–the Life Coach who encourages everyone else to stay the course has quit something (more than once). A combination of my body simply not being ready, as well as training too hard too fast, have been the fatal flaws. Last year, I threw my neck out in early January and when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to train for the race until at least March, I bowed out early on and decided to do six months of Bikram yoga, instead (and that, frankly, was amazing, and my neuromuscular therapist dude said that he’d never seen anyone progress so quickly with treatment, which he ascribed to the yoga practice).
So now it’s 2011, and I still want to run this race–and–I don’t trust my body. Why? Because my injury from so many years ago came out of nowhere. It felt like some kind of cosmic joke, a karmic punishment for some misdeed I’d done. Imagine if, for two years, you couldn’t stand for more than 5 minutes and you kind of limped everywhere else. Not fun.
So, there’s baggage–I have serious fears that come up around trying to run, again, even after MRIs revealing that there is no scar tissue, and even after I run four miles without pain. The fear is chronic. The fear is always the same: This could happen to you again, out of nowhere, and then what would you do? Go through all of that, again?
My foot stuff might seem like no big cheese compared to the larger ills of the world–heartbreaks and deaths and layoffs. But the fear pattern is the same for all of us. The woman afraid of getting into another relationship is afraid of going through the pain of rejection (again). The person who temporarily numbs out after grieving a death is afraid of loving big and losing (again). The person who was laid off gets a new job and feels anxiety that their new position could be downsized (again).
So, rather than trying to affirm my fears away (which felt fake) or push them away and ignore them, I’m with my fear. I accept, I surrender, I will simply be with this process–my fear is along for this ride.
My fear is there when I’m heading up hills, or if I stumble even slightly, or if I have sore muscles the day after a run. My fear is there even though I now know the doctors who could fix my foot if it ever injured again. My fear is there, chattering away, telling me that I am not enough, I am not ready, I cannot do it.
And this past Saturday, I finished a small 5k race–in part to prep for the 12k Bay to Breakers in May, and in part to prove to myself that I could run a race and not lose my shit.
The fear showed up as starting to cry in the parking lot outside the race because I was so scared. The fear showed up as me assuming that of course I’d be one of the slowest runners, and thus I went to the back of the line.
But then I got about a half mile in. It was raining. We were running right along the bay, and the wind was whipping the rain right in my face. The clump of people thinned out as people settled into their paces. I settled into mine.
I had only two goals: finish the race, and run the entire time. I had no pacing goals, no fantasies of coming in first or even tenth. Just finish, and run the entire time.
Feel the fear, dive in anyway, transform. Don’t let the fear stop me from doing this thing that I want to do.
And here I am, crossing the 5k finish line (yellow rain slicker is around my waist; Andy is videographer):
I know that it isn’t the easiest thing to be with your fear. But I know this: it gets easier to BE with fear, with practice. Running this race proved something to myself–and the thing it proved was not that I could run a race. What it proved was that I could meet my fear, and move towards it, into it, and beyond it.
That’s the gift of learning how to BE your journey, BE with your fear, practice courage.
And–I assure you–it’s absolutely priceless.