When you are frightened by something, you have to relate with fear, explore why you are frightened, and develop some sense of conviction. You can actually look at fear. Then fear ceases to be the dominant situation that is going to defeat you. Fear can be conquered. You can be free from fear, if you realize that fear is not the ogre. You can step on fear, and therefore you can attain what is known as fearlessness. But that requires that, when you see fear, you smile. ~ Chögyam Trungpa, Great Eastern Sun
It started as a nightmare journaling session.
I keep a notebook beside my bed, and I find those wee hours between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. are when I wake up flooded with ideas, memories, and thoughts. So I scribble them down.
This is what I found scribbled this morning: If you are not afraid, you are doing it wrong.
But fear is my helmet, my breastplate, my shield. Fear, she directs me away from danger and toward safety. It’s innate, primitive, our most basic survival instinct. It’s meant to protect us.
What? Really? Is it?
When I saw my scribble this morning, the hairs on the back of my neck rose to the occasion. My arms erupted in an applause of goosebumps. My stomach had been up in my throat most of the night, dropped back into my belly.
I get it now. Yes, it is safe and warm in that comfort zone, but nothing ever grows there. It is time to step outside of it.
But as we do, fear shouts really loudly:
“Stop this. You are having a midlife crisis. You are too old. It’s too late. It’s too long and hard a road to travel. Girlfriend, they are going to laugh at you. You are a hot mess of existential questions without answers. You need Botox, a tummy tuck, a boob job, a tan, thicker locks, and a pair of knees that don’t knock or that won’t hit the floor the moment you open your mouth.”
And I’ve been trying to interrupt my scared self when she pokes her nose into the present tense by yelling, “Go away!” every time she interjects, as if fear was my enemy.
But…what if she is not?
What if fear is not about hiding from what feels dangerous, but rather walking through it to the other side? What if fear is just the gatekeeper, and we hold the keys?
What if there are 365 “Fear Nots” in the Bible to acknowledge fear is there, every dang day of the year, but it does not have the final say? We do.
What if fear is just an invitation to show up as ourselves without the armor?
Maybe I just need to approach fear by sitting down and having a chat with it, like one would an old, dear friend who simply is trying to protect me?
I can be gentle and kind to my protector’s views and still say, “I hear your voice, your arguments, your thoughts on the matter,” and then remind her that I don’t need to hide anymore. “That thing is in the past. We arrived safely. You did your job, and I’m grateful but you really need to take the backseat, because I am driving now.”
Notice I didn’t kick fear out of the picture, I just put her in her place.
She can ride in the backseat. She can even ride shotgun, but she cannot be the driving force in my life anymore.
So perhaps my middle-of-the-night, random thoughts are not so random after all. If we never do anything that frightens us, we would still be a 10-month-old, clinging to people and things, to steady ourselves, instead of allowing ourselves to fall on our behinds, survive the fear, get back up, and try again.
Maybe, fear is simply there to say, “This is a risk” and not to say, “It’s not a risk worth taking.”
Maybe the only way we get anywhere is by stepping into the unknown, as scary as that might be, and doing what we fear regardless.
Maybe if we aren’t afraid, we will never know what it means to rise to the challenge set before us.
Maybe fear is just another sign that we are finally on the cusp of the cliff, and it’s about time we freaking jump into the murky waters below, embracing the free fall.
Maybe fear is meant to be a lifejacket, not a restraint.