Fear, and its many declinations, is not a favoured topic, I know.
Fear is, culturally speaking, one of our very favourite topics. Disguised in layers of judgemental slurs, bold red letters, makeup, photoshopping (funny how this could read photo-shopping), what-will-others-think?, you’re-not-good-enough-why-don’t-you-do-this-other-training?, get-this-other-dress?, eat-this-other-thing?, do-this-other-thing?, avoid-this-person?, give-up-already-what’s-the-use?… why don’t you? Why don’t you? Why don’t you?!
Whether the fear stops you from actually doing that thing you dream of, or it makes you do this thing you hate just because… You’re not alone. We’re all doing it. And most of us don’t even know it’s fear. We call it by so many names.
As one of my retreat colleagues shared a few years ago: “No matter what it is I sit with, discomfort in my life always boils down to fear. Always. If I’m uncomfortable with silence, I fear what I might hear. If I’m uncomfortable with the dark, I’m afraid of what I might find. If I’m uncomfortable with my dark-skinned neighbour, I fear the unknown. If I’m uncomfortable speaking up in a group, I’m afraid of what others will think. If I’m uncomfortable in any given situation, it’s usually because I’m afraid of how it will end.”
Fear has been ever-present in my life. I am the family’s official scaredy-cat. Before I started chanting in my classes, I was dreadfully scared of singing in public. When I started sailing, I was afraid of water. Both have become sources of restoration and power for me. On the other side of fear is where your true power lies.
My most pervasive fear is the one of what others will think. Still, it freezes me over when I want to do something like wear my favourite old rag of a sweater to go to the grocery store or even when I write. Yes, dear reader, I’m afraid as hell of what you think.
How did I do it? How do I overcome and grow? Two things have helped me.
Number 1. I immerse myself in the felt-sense of both options. A) I give in to the fear, and I don’t go sailing, and I don’t write, and I don’t sing. How does that feel? Safe. Almost like relief. But very limiting. It feels like living in a B&W scale. B) I face my fear, and I walk out in my favourite sweater (without a bra if I want to!), and I write and share, and I get on that plane alone to go to Russia (yes I have, twice!). How does that feel? Nerve wracking at first, but oh-so exhilarating! I make friends. I discover superpowers I didn’t know I had. I meet a beautiful 73-year-wise woman who tells me she believed that she was feeble all her life and has recently discovered otherwise, and I cry. It’s ME she’s talking about. It’s all of us.
The first time I taught yoga in my teacher training in 2010, I was so scared I could barely speak out the words and I couldn’t remember the sun salutation from pose to pose, but my fellow students helped me. And we all survived this dreadful experience, together.
And this takes me to Number 2. I remember I’m not alone. Others have done it before, why couldn’t I? On a human scale, it pays off to voice our fears and get some support, or at the very least search for examples of others who have done the same or been through a similar experience. Search your memory, your family’s memory, Google. Music works wonders on me. Biographies and stories are a great source of support too. Even fiction helps! If someone wrote it so touchingly, it’s because they know the feeling.
As I re-read my words I am suddenly taken by fear. Am I really going to share this online? Am I oversharing? Am I even making sense?
I look over at Bhuvaneshvari’s image and I know I have a new writing companion. As the holder of the universe, the Great Cosmic Mother, she is the space we inhabit. This means that She holds everything, and I mean Everything. Yes, even the fear. Through Her great expansive presence, she takes and purifies everything that we hand over. And she’s right here for us, all the time. All we have to do is quiet down and sense.
With her right hand, she gestures, “Fear not.”
*Image pulled from Ekabhumi Charles Ellik’s magnificent The Shakti Coloring Book.