I am afraid. I am afraid to share my inner feelings, to allow myself to be truly authentic, to speak my truth. I am afraid to be vulnerable.
I lose you?
You do not accept the real me?
I have to grieve?
It is our fear that keeps us at a distance from others—and from ourselves. It is fear that causes us to build walls. But our inner sentries do not protect our most sacred self. Instead, they protect the terrified ego—the belief that by controlling a situation or people through manipulation, we can get what we want: a life in which we do not have to experience suffering.
Relationships are not about power plays or crafting padded prisons. No one outside of ourselves can provide the things we crave the most: to be valued, loved, accepted.
We want so badly to connect with others, yet our very desperation to be fed when we feel empty keeps us from forming genuine connections. It means I speak from a mindset of abandonment and loss rather than from love and a desire for truth. It means I am always trying to please others or say what I think they want to hear so that they won’t leave me. But I want my freedom, and I want yours too. I want to engage with the spirit of each other rather than with our carefully constructed façades. How do I do this?
Loss and change are natural conditions of life. Seasons turn. We watch as the trees lose their leaves, but they aren’t frantic to cover themselves so we won’t see them exposed! They don’t give up on the idea of growing new leaves just because the old ones didn’t stick around. They aren’t resisting at all.
What we see when we look at those trees isn’t a portrait of grief; it is a portrait of patient acceptance of the moment. Nature teaches us the natural progression from seed, to bloom, to slow wilt, and finally, a return to the earth so that something new can form in its place, and yet we cannot accept this same principle in our own lives.
We cling so tightly to the things we value—to life itself—that to relinquish them causes us to suffer.
Fear means we are willing to lock ourselves in with hungry tigers. Or we run, move far away from the experience of authentic connections. We do not want to feel the fullness of our feelings. We do not want to experience true closeness because then we will have to face the possibility of loss. In our fear, we reject the beauty of any genuine experience we cannot control. We refuse to surrender.
It is also possible to be so afraid of change and loss that we become frozen in our lives, unable to act when action is required, speak what is in our hearts, or to reveal ourselves to others if it means revealing the tenderest parts, the vulnerability born from the hopeful self that has known disappointment. Then we are in darkness—but this darkness does not have to be a bad thing! Often, we can find the treasure it has to offer through acceptance rather than resistance.
We feel fear, and there is great benefit to be had by acknowledging it, but this does not mean that we cannot still move forward, and we do this by understanding that we can survive this darkness; we can survive what comes next. Mourning our losses is an important part of the cycle of destruction that leads again to creation.
We live in a society that discourages true mourning.
When someone is in the void, we want to draw them out of it as quickly as possible. We do not like to be reminded that there is suffering, that there is the chance we might also suffer loss. It makes us uncomfortable to see someone cry, or express pain, or to see someone who is shattered and deep in the depths of despair.
But there is great value to be had in allowing ourselves and others to mourn, in learning how to mourn.
This is permitting ourselves to discover what we are feeling and then to grant space for those feelings. Rather than fighting them, or locking them away, we can trust that these feelings will carry us where we need to go. We can trust that our feelings are a vital component of our growth and the move toward a deeper state of connection—the acceptance of all aspects of ourselves and the conditions of existence.
A normal life filled with responsibilities does not automatically require us to maintain a “stiff upper lip” or to “buck up,” “put on a brave face,” and cultivate a stoic exterior.
These are usually conditioned responses, ways of denying ourselves true emotional expression so that we can maintain an even flow in our lives and continue with the illusion that we can control losses and gains via careful repression and strategizing. But to keep our feelings trapped may simply redirect or delay the collapse. All of the things that we leave trapped within us build up.
We may put on that brave face and go about our life, disallowing feelings, and then suffer from high blood pressure. We may be plagued by poor digestion, headaches, low energy, weight fluctuations, or a general lack of well being. Our feelings, unreleased, create toxins within our bodies. So while we are busy suppressing our emotions, our very arteries could be busy suppressing blood flow to our heart!
Courage is not about having no fear, it’s about moving forward regardless of the fear.
Speaking our truth is not about trying to manipulate someone else, it is to discover our authentic self and grant that self the power to act in the best interests of our spirit. Allowing space within us to feel our true feelings is not about being egocentric or self-indulgent. it’s about dismantling the ego strategies we employ to keep ourselves insulated from the facts of life, which are that we will experience loss, and change, and that these are absolutely necessary to growth. Then, in being an open system, we can create true connections with others rather than forced and forged mergers where the bond is between two unyielding people playing characters.
I have discovered that fear can be our best teacher when we stop running from it, when we stop trying to shove it away from us so that we don’t have to examine it. Knowing this, I work to embrace my fear. I look at my shadow aspect and accept it, as only I can. I feed it love, as only I can. I do not seek to transform it through resistance or denial. Instead, I allow it as a valid and valued part of myself. Everyday, I have a choice: I can acknowledge the fear, and still act from love. I can see the potential for loss, and still act from love. I can learn to grieve when it is necessary. And when the fear of pain no longer controls my actions, I can move closer to my self—closer to truth.
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Assistant Editor: Jane Henderling / Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: elephant journal archives