No, not that "F" word...to me this one is far worse than the other. Fear. I know I have a whole pocket of fears, perhaps an entire backpack. Actually, I've taken a personal inventory of fear and I have listed out 24 to be exact. That is scary to realize in itself.
Fear is that backseat driver, always looming in the quiet distance, rearing it's little head out when I least expect to say, 'hey there, not so fast!"... Let's get you really anxious, sweaty, maybe a little hysterical with tears before we leave this moment.
I feel as if the subject of fear might make some people uncomfortable. Maybe you are shifting in your seat right now, pondering what fears you might have, if any, coming to a conclusion that no, no fear lives in your heart - you are fearless! All of the cute, encouraging, inspiring quotes on Pinterest tell us fearless is the way to live. So we concede that is what we are and how we will live - fearless! But, in all honesty, I think we need our fears in life to teach us and guide us out of our comfort zones. If I was fearful of some things, then I wouldn't need courage to walk through them. And courage, well now, I could write a whole book on that word.
Instead of being fearless, I choose to recognize my fears that make me so human and vulnerable, call me coward if you will. My fears I will get to know like an old friend, that way I can recognize understand them, no matter how long they live in my heart.
All this fear talk stemmed from a minor incident I experienced Tuesday evening. I was driving home from work on the interstate. Traffic was heavy and rain was pouring down when I was rear ended by a large SUV. I didn't see it coming. The noise of the impact scared me more than anything and I immediately began to hyperventilate and cry with anxiety. I was stricken with fear. Fear of what exactly though? I was totally fine, everything was fine, but I could not calm myself down. Yea, getting in an accident is a scary thing of course, but the fear in that moment and the days after where nightmares ensued, I am coming to realize was just my reaction to something much bigger...
So I have spent the last few days pondering fear. When I first think of fear, as might you, the more commonly admitted fears in society come to mind: fear of heights, or spiders. Fear of the dark, or fear of small spaces. Fear of tomatoes (no? just me?). Then there is the stuff no one really every talks about - the deep rooted things: Fear of never finding love, or fear of failure. Fear of going through life and never feeling fulfilled or finding passion. Fear of having no purpose. Fear of death and leaving loved ones behind. These fears are less talked about. But, why? Surely I'm not the only one who fears these things - I know I am not. Why is everyone so damn scared to talk about it then? Fear of talking about fear?
I have watched fear creep up in my yoga practice as well. In the heated room full of deep breathing, sweaty bodies, I hear my instructor call out, "lay flat on your bellies, lift your chest, pull your shoulder blades into your spine, reach back...." and boom all of a sudden I feel like I have to pee. I know bow pose is coming next and it is really difficult for me to reach back into bow pose. My fears of looking like an amateur, kicking and reaching to try to make hand to shin contact like a fish gasping for air out of water, come to life. I immediately want to flee.
This is where the decision is made. This is where I choose the person I am to be in this very moment. Do I let my fear get the best of me and tip toe quietly over practicing yogis toward the restroom, OR do I stay and try again? Maybe this time is different. Maybe I flail a little less and learn something new about my body that helps get me there easier. Perhaps if I stay and do bow pose, my fear lessens a little more that day. Maybe it does not. I'll never know unless I breathe, stay and try.
After my accident Tuesday, what would it have looked like if I would have brushed off the tears and my following nightmares as if it meant nothing and made the choice not to explore the deeper rooted feelings? It's not guaranteed that I won't be totally full of fear if I ever experience a car accident again, I most likely will. But, because I made the decision to confront what was going on in my head and heart following the incident, I understand myself and my reaction that much more and next time, I will recognize it and know how to cope with it next time it shows up. And say hey, "fear #18, I remember you, we got this...".
Elizabeth Gilbert opens her book Big Magic with a section on courage. Courage as you know is deeply tied to fear. So, I'll conclude with her words:
"It isn't always comfortable or easy - carrying your fear around with you on your great and ambitious road trip, I mean - but it's always worth it, because if you can't learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you'll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.
And that would be a pity, because your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you are still here. I know that's what you want for yourself because that's what I want for myself too. It's what we all want."
So, perhaps we don't live our lives trying to be fearless, but courageous instead by getting to know our fears, moving alongside them, and living BIG despite all of them. It won't be easy of course, but totally worth it.