“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Fear gets its power from our not looking, at either the fear or what we’re afraid of it being when we face it.
However, once we shine the light into the darkness, it ceases to exist. It seems whatever you fear — be it love or truth or death — we all have this choice, again and again: to either dance with faith or be thrown around by fear.
The one you choose will dictate the life you lead. Dance on.
The Parable of the Trapeze
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.
Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.
I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.
But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.
Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.
Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”
It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.
I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?
NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.
So, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapezes. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.
Defining your fears instead of your goals is the best way to do anything uncommon. If you are unable to identify exactly what your fear is or you cannot act on it, you must forget it, because it is illusory.
Today, you will work on defining 1–3 of your biggest fears and start removing obstacles to you getting through it.
Mindfulness is not about banishing fears, not in the slightest. What it will help you do is work with your fears more effectively. You will be able to realize when they come up and give you the space to act accordingly.
- Pick one pursuit and thing that causes you great fear, whether that is quitting your job, leaving a relationship, or flying on a plane.
- Give it a number between 1–10 (1 being it might be good for you and ten it would be life changing)
- Get out a scrap piece of paper
- Draw three columns
- In the first column write out the absolute worst case scenario if you pursue the thing from item (1). Write down whatever comes to your head. (i.e., I will die, I will be homeless, etc.). All things that I fear btw.
- In the second column, for each of the fears in column 1, write out a way that you could mitigate this fear from happening.
- So, for example, let’s say your great pursuit that brings you a lot of fear is quitting your job and starting a business. Your worst case scenario may be that you end up broke and homeless.
- Okay, how could you mitigate that today? Maybe negotiate a paid sabbatical with your company, start saving more, get a part-time job, sell some of your things on eBay, or moonlight the business until it makes enough to support you.
- In the third column, imagine that your worst case scenario happened (i.e. your business failed, and you had no money). Now write how you would get back to where you are today. How could you meet people, learn skills, etc. that would put you in a position to get a new job.
By defining our fears and shining light onto them, you may just realize that what you fear the most is not that scary.
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