Life will do this: put things before you that you have absolutely no prior context for, nothing that you can turn to for some sense of navigation.
I was flying blind, and the fear was acute. Note: this was recent, not years ago, not “Oh, back in the old-timey days, when I used to experience fear.” We’re talking about the year 2012.
(I know I repeat myself a lot on this point, but if you’re hanging out here for awhile it’s good to know that my philosophy accepts and embraces fear, rather than trying to get rid of it).
I was feeling tangled, confused, wires-crossed, with no pulling a thread and watching things unravel easily, with this one. Tough conversations were happening, crying, sobbing, moans of grief that started silently from the stomach and worked their way up–unstoppable. I was hiding in the shower to cry there, in private, the hot water doing its work on the emotional pain that ran a white-hot current through my body.
In the Eastern arts, there’s an emphasis on flow–flowing with the elements, flowing with energy. In Chi Running, flow shows up as letting gravity pull your body forward as you run, rather than pushing off, or “pounding the pavement.”
To have flow, you need to be right there–present with what is. You don’t have flow if you’re resisting what is before you, whether it’s the ground beneath you or a karate kick coming swiftly to your face.
You also need to develop your skills–practice the moves in small bits, and practice them regularly, so that when the time comes to call upon your skills, you are ready. Flow is not about sitting back and relaxing with a beer. Paradoxically, flow involves action and regular action, even as it is about being with and not pushing.
So there I was, completely in my fear.
The thought came to me: “If this happens, I won’t know who I am, anymore,” followed by more terrified crying.
But moments later, there was an unexpected surprise:
“I’m curious about that.”
Curious? It stopped me. I was terrified by my Story that whatever might happen, I wouldn’t know who I was, anymore. It felt very, very real.
And suddenly–I was equally as curious about who that might be, this person who didn’t know who she was, anymore.
Blank slate. Stripped down. All of the labels and illusions and identifications, wiped away.
In the shock of surrender and vulnerability, something in me was feeling the fear, totally–yet equally, I was sharp. I was honed. I was on a creative edge. I was riding the line where innovation resides, the place where life seems “risky” right before someone says, “What have I got to lose?” already knowing that the answer is: nothing.
How to Proceed
In the midst of what felt like a monumental personal tragedy–I had an appointment to go to. Life is this way sometimes, too.
I got in the car. I turned on Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart–the title so apt to the moment.
The fear was not going away–then again, I already knew that it wouldn’t, and in fact, did not expect it to.
Or, as I realized driving down the highway, nor did I necessarily need it to go away.
This fear that was sitting with me was telling me everything that I needed to know. It was an uncomfortable sensation to sit with, and yet, it was giving me ample information about how to proceed. Get in the car. Go to your appointment. Turn on Pema Chodron. Oh, and? Don’t neglect to confront these hard truths.
Everything was slowing down, yet not in a disconnected or distraught way. I felt simply present to all of it: the quality of light, the necessity of watching out for the correct highway exit, more tears pricking at the corners of my eyes, Pema’s simple, soothing voice.
It took nearly an hour to get to my appointment, and by that time, the fear had transmuted itself into something completely different: the realization that whatever happened, I was absolutely, unequivocally, and without a shadow of a doubt, going to be okay.
Loving What Is
There is a simplicity to fear that I have always admired–it shows up, you feel physical sensations in the body that are labeled “fear.”
I have made a career out of unpacking its stories and working with it, and these have been my practiced moves, checking in with myself, letting tears fall, practicing acceptance.
Now I was seeing (again) what happens with these years of practice, when a true test arises: a naked moment of clarity that there was nothing I could control in a situation that I desperately wanted to control.
Having accepted that, there was little left but to feel the fear, and dive in anyway–to keep moving along and listening carefully to my life, without pushing back.
With no navigation, with only the fear, I was inexplicably finding myself so wholly present.
With each breath, the realization was greater and greater: fear was right there. I could act anyway.
Fear was right there, completely real…and I was okay, completely safe.
There Are No Words
People spend so much time trying to get rid of fear altogether.
I don’t understand how they think they’ll ever do it.
I don’t understand why they don’t see the futility, the lost and wasted energy, that goes in to trying.
Fear just is, and in fact, it’s not so very bad. Wrapped up in it is the acorn of what is to come, what is to be born, and fear has this immense power to bring you to your knees–
–where you just might realize that the next right step is to start to pray, and that itself will be a miracle.
This experience was similar to others that I’d had with fear, and those experiences were transforming, too–but this one went deeper, to the core. Since having it, I’ve noticed a subtle and abiding sense of feeling gratitude for life, for my body, for the wide range of human experience that’s possible, including the fear that burned through me and that sometimes reappears.
We talk of everything in life being a teacher, and yet, most of us want to stop short of letting the things that are tough to be with be our teachers.
Here I am, to tell you that fear has been one of my greatest teachers. It is exacting, and unfailing, and it will not let me cut corners, but there’s something about rising up to meet it that has me seeing it with greater compassion–that this exacting, demanding teacher, when looked squarely in the eye…secretly cries in the shower, the moans starting soft from her belly.
I see how she routinely plays her part in helping me to step into a higher vision for my life. I see all that she gives, rather than all that she takes away.
I am so grateful.