There’s a line in one of my favorite books: “fear is a lack of faith.” Fear is also a lack of gratitude.
Every time we feel threatened by an actual or possible situation, we’re forgetting both to be grateful for all the wonders we’ve received in the past, and all the wonders inherent in what we think may be threatening us.
It’s not possible to simultaneously be in a state of deep gratitude and a state of fear. Why? Because fear is a condition of being closed down, of clenching up in order to protect oneself from anticipated blows.
Gratitude is a condition of softness and openness. It’s receptive and allowing. That’s why every new thought prosperity guru on the planet will tell you that if you want to increase the flow of goodness into your life, you need to increase your gratitude. Gratitude is expansive: it makes room, it invites in. It’s the precursor of all gifts.
There’s lots of folks who like to say “experience the fear and go on ahead.” That can be an empowering message if you feel chronically paralyzed by fear and unable to take action. Most people I know, though, aren’t so much paralyzed by fear as blinded by it.
I prefer the ethos of “soften into gratitude and do it wisely.” Why? Because when I take action while I’m in a fearful mode, that action tends to be a little desperate, and it tends to promote alienation and division rather than unity and love.
Here’s an example: the university department for which I work is sending a professor to supervise my class this week and evaluate my work. Fear comes up.
It says: “He’s going to grill you about why you’re allowing your students to assign themselves their own grade; he’s going to disapprove of and insult your woo-woo teaching style; you’ll probably be fired by Friday and not allowed to graduate with your degree.”
This is a string of alienating thoughts that appears from the part of my mind that believes in separateness, in subject-objectness, in the possibility of attack.
Under the basic “feel the fear and do it anyway” ethos, I’d show up to class on the scheduled day of the supervision, but I’d still be in my fear. I’d probably be brusque, evasive, or overly solicitous (3 favorite defense mechanisms) when talking to the supervising professor.
Under the “soften into gratitude and do it wisely” commitment, here’s what I’m doing instead: feeling grateful for all my time as a teacher; for my students; for my own bravery in designing a class that fits what I believe is true rather than what’s conventional; for this professor who has his own humanness and thoughts and feelings and who may having something insightful to show me.
I practice holding the awareness that I don’t need to defend myself— I can just love instead. I don’t need to be right and I don’t need to make myself safe. That’s just not my job. My only job is to offer love freely and without condition.
My experience is that when I make unconditional love my highest priority (putting it on the list way above shoring up my ego and position) I receive an illumination. I may not get what I think I want (to avoid criticism; to avoid discomfort) but I get what I need– which is usually a lot more valuable (a clearer picture of who I am; a more honest connection to others).
I can easily prevent myself from receiving those gifts of clarity and honest connection by choosing to act while fearful and allowing fear to make me defensive and manipulative in my efforts to protect myself.
When I choose not to protect myself, but to simply surrender to my duty to love, I can move forward without fear into greater union with myself and the very people I first imagine are threatening me.
Edited by Hayley Samuelson.